KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It wasn't just Peter Vermes' successful turnaround of the club's MLS fortunes that led Sporting Kansas City to lock their manager and technical director up through 2017.
Winning trophies – especially the MLS Cup, which Kansas City hasn't hoisted since Vermes helped the then-Wizards to their only league title as a player in 2000 – remains the club's top priority. But Sporting also want Vermes to build their academy system into a model for the league – and a tool to help US Soccer contend for a World Cup.
“It really allows us to kind of embark on the other part of our plan that we've talked about really for the last six or seven years,” club president and co-owner Robb Heineman said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Obviously, championships are the most important thing in this organization, but I think having a real world-class youth-development program is important.”
The long-term extension, Heineman said, will give Vermes time to do the job.
“Knowing that we've got four-and-a-half years to go and really execute on that, and take that program to the next level, I think is important,” he said. “I think Peter's got the skill set to do it. He's proven it in the draft and in developing players with the senior team, so I think extending that to the youth level is going to be a really important step for us as well.”
Vermes has been the club's technical director since November 2006 and manager since August 2009, led Kansas City to first-place regular-season finishes in the Eastern Conference in 2011 and 2012 and to the 2012 US Open Cup title, which qualified them for the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League.
Over his tenure here, Heineman said, Sporting have fielded plenty of interest in his services.
“Peter's a guy that we get a lot of phone calls about, on whether or not we'd be willing to allow him to talk to other clubs – here in the US, in Europe, all over the world,” he said. “So for us to know that he's going to be with us here is really important to this ownership group, and we're excited to have him here.”
Vermes said he was excited to build a strong, comprehensive academy system, calling it “paramount” to Sporting's future success.
“It really has to be something that we're not only the best in MLS, but the best in the CONCACAF region,” he said at Tuesday's news conference. “It's something we really have to strive for, because if we're really going to be a long-term player in this game – which I know that our ownership group is committed to being – we're going to have to be able to develop players that play our style and not have to bring players in all the time that we have to turn and adapt and adjust to who we are, but actually just bring them up in our system to play exactly the way that we want to play.”
Sporting also want to position themselves as a hub for US international player development, Heineman said, and a strong academy is one key to that strategy.
“We want to win the World Cup,” he said. “And I think there's responsibility for all of us as Major League Soccer owners to build as good of a youth development program as we can to help achieve that goal. So the way you that is with facilities. The way you do it is with curriculum, and the way you do it is with really talented people. And so that's what we're trying to build here in Kansas City.
“We talk a lot about Kansas City being the soccer capital of America, and we really mean that,” he added. “That's not just a brand thing that we throw out there. We want to have the absolute, ultimate facilities in Kansas City to build what soccer needs to be in this country. I think Peter's vision and how he develops players, both at the senior level and the youth level, is the best in our country. So I'm excited to have him as kind of the captain of our ship on this stuff.”
Vermes, a member of the United States' 1990 World Cup squad, said the push toward strong academy systems was something he couldn't envision while he was growing up.
“When I was very young – I'm talking about nine, 10, 11, 12, I used to go back with my parents to Hungary every summer and spend a month training with an academy there,” And nothing like that ever existed here in the United States, so it's good to see that really come to fruition here.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.