That Sporting Kansas City’s biggest signing of 2018 happened outside the transfer window doesn’t surprise me in the least.


No, that’s not a dig, though a goalscoring center forward in the summer would still be nice. I’m talking, of course, about the five-year deal Peter Vermes signed to remain Kansas City’s soccer czar (my words, not the club’s) through 2023.


In case you weren’t paying attention, Vermes is the longest-tenured head coach in the league, and his new contract will make him the longest-tenured head coach in MLS history. Meanwhile, 10 games in his 10th season, Sporting are first in the Western Conference with an opportunity to make a massive statement Wednesday night in Atlanta (7:30 pm ET; TV & streaming info).


Dom Kinnear was the head coach of the Earthquakes for two years before they moved to Houston. Kinnear led the Dynamo between 2006 and 2014, a nine-year span. Vermes will pass that mark this season.

I used the phrase “soccer czar” for a reason. You get the feeling the post is Vermes’ for life, should he want it, and everything on the sporting side goes through him. It’s no exaggeration to say his leadership is what has kept Kansas City in the playoffs since the club rebranded in 2011 and the key to keeping them in serious contention for trophies for the foreseeable future.


Players matter (duh!), but it takes far more than talent to keep up with the Joneses in this era of Major League Soccer. The league undergoes significant change every single year, every transfer window, every matchday. Same goes for the domestic soccer ecosystems in the US and Canada, from the grassroots all the way up to national-team level.


To succeed, clubs need the vision, both in the short- and long-term, to see those changes coming and adapt accordingly. Vermes knows this, and his teams reflect it. Bobby Warshaw wrote about the tactical shifts the club has undergone since 2011 earlier this week. Sporting’s owners know this, and that’s why they moved quickly to lock their head coach and technical director in until 2023.


That’s because, on the soccer side, Peter Vermes is Sporting KC’s greatest competitive advantage.


Sporting have never had the biggest player budget in MLS, and likely never will. What they have is Vermes’ vision. What Vermes has is the expertise and support of ownership and the stability that comes with it. Since November 2006, he’s steadily built on that vision to create the first-team culture and now pathway to the pros that the club is betting on in order to compete without spendingEzeqiuel Barco-esque money in the coming years.


Vermes has already done it via the SuperDraft, trades within the league, the ins and outs of the transfer market and with budgets that have steadily grown year over year. He’s done it in the age of expansion and now in the TAM era. The next step, according to Vermes, is via the academy, a noble goal but no easy feat. Sporting may not spend $15 million on a player, but they won’t be left behind because of it.


They’re already seeing promising signs from the pathway Vermes has been building for more than a decade, even if an all-academy XI is still a far-off dream.

Wiebe: Peter Vermes is Sporting KC's competitive advantage - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/USATSI_10777427.jpg?QUE_X4f5APQauyAeq03eqO2_zNb0cVqd

Homegrown forward Daniel Salloi has been starring for SKC this season | USA Today Sports Images


Erik Palmer-Brown may have left on the free, but the club still developed him and still hold the USMNT prospect’s MLS rights. Daniel Salloi, 21, made his way up to the first team after signing a Homegrown contract prior to the 2016 season and already has two goals and four assists in nine games this season. Gianluca Busio, 15, and Jaylin Lindsey, 18, have MLS deals, but their minutes come for Swope Park Rangers head coach and former SKC midfielder Paolo Nagamura.


In April, 19-year old Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, became the first player to progress from the academy to SPR to the first team. Felipe Hernandez, 19, is vying to make the same jump. Nagamura says his goal is to integrate the academy into the USL side as much as possible.


Kansas City won’t be buying the next Barco anytime soon, but they spend plenty and strategically. Much of it, outside Children’s Mercy Park, is just behind the scenes and outside the glare of national media. Sporting boast an academy from Under-12 to U-19s based out of their own training facility, a successful USL team and Pinnacle, a $75 million first-team facility designed to lure the U.S. Soccer to the Midwest.


Perhaps just as or more importantly, Sporting have spent big on human capital, with their head coach and technical director at the forefront. Scroll through this list of technical staffers. There are 35 names on the list from Vermes all the way down to Scott Frankum, the assistant team administrator for the academy. Those are just the full-time folks. I dug up the same list from 2007, Vermes’ first year as technical director. That list has 10 names.


All of this happened in a decade. All of this happened under Vermes’ careful watch. Whatever happens next will be under his watch, too.


More than a splashy DP signing or big transfer fee, Sporting Kansas City are betting on Vermes to be their game-changer, to help predict the next shift, the next big thing, the next strategic inefficiency in Major League Soccer. Based on the past decade, it’s a safe bet.