The Answer: How Sporting KC's Jacob Peterson has become Peter Vermes' most versatile weapon

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jacob Peterson has a simple formula for getting on the pitch and staying in his club's plans: Play wherever his coaching staff puts him, and outwork the other guy no matter what position he happens to be playing.

That strategy is still paying off for the Sporting Kansas City forward nicknamed “The Answer,” who has helped the defending MLS Cup champs stay atop the Eastern Conference this year despite a near-constant roster shuffle. Whether his task is winning the ball, marking an opponent or contributing a timely score, Peterson attacks it full-on.

But it's a formula that took some time coming together for the versatile veteran, who came off the bench on Saturday to score the match-winner as shorthanded Sporting beat Toronto FC 2-1 for their fifth straight road win.

“Honestly, that probably wasn't the mentality when I was growing up,” Peterson told reporters on Tuesday. “When you're the best player on the field when you're young, it's different. You have to adapt, and I think as my career has gone on, I've realized that there's certain things I need to be better at than other people, for me to be successful – and outworking my opponent is one of them.

“So that's really what it came down to is, is recognition that I physically need to be able to run the guy into the ground,” he went on. “But it's not just me. It's everybody on this team that does it.”

Still, manager Peter Vermes said, Peterson – now in his third season with Sporting after playing for three MLS sides in his first six years in the league – exemplifies the club's hard-working style.

“I think he's one of the guys that, when you look at his work ethic on a daily basis, there's no doubt that the guys have an incredible amount of respect for him,” Vermes said. “Because they know that they never have to question his commitment.”

Vermes also likes Peterson's versatility, which allows him to play in the midfield as well as at a wing or center forward spot – and could see him starting at fullback on Friday against Philadelphia (Friday, 8 pm ET, NBCSN), with Sporting's back line thinned once more by injury, suspension and international duty.

“I think he's embraced the idea that he can do that, and it's almost like a coat of armor for the guy,” Vermes said. “Like he really is proud of the fact – and he should be – that when you can play multiple positions and know that the coaching staff has confidence in you, that you can be thrown into any situation and any position on the field, and they have confidence that you'll get the job done for us.

“And you should be confident, and he is,” Vermes added. “I think he understands his roles within the group. He never comes here and has a bad attitude. He just comes and works hard, and gets ready for the next game.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.