Jason Kreis - New York City FC - arms crossed
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Vermes: No doubt that Jason Kreis would've done better at NYCFC this year

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Peter Vermes and Jason Kreis did their share of verbal sparring when Kreis' Real Salt Lake side and Vermes' Sporting Kansas City were in the early years of forging their on-pitch rivalry.

The two share a mutual respect, though, and it showed when Vermes was asked how much credit for NYCFC's rise to the top of the Eastern Conference should go to first-year manager Patrick Vieira, who replaced Kreis after the club's disappointing expansion season in 2015.

“I think if Jason would have stayed there, there's no doubt in my mind that he would have gotten them in a better place this year than they were last year,” Vermes – whose club hosts NYCFC on Sunday (8 pm ET, FS1) – told reporters after Wednesday's training session. “There's no doubt in my mind. I think he's proven it over the years, and I think he would continue to do the same."

Kreis, who most recently was a member of the US national team coaching staff for the annual January training camp, parted ways with NYCFC when the club went 10-17-7 in 2015 and finished eighth in the 10-team Eastern Conference. Vieira wasn't the club's only key offseason acquisition, though, with Costa Rican defender Ronald Matarrita and 19-year-old English midfielder Jack Harrison – taken with the top pick in the MLS SuperDraft this January, and then acquired from the Chicago Fire – among those making significant contributions this year.

“I think the biggest thing is that a lot of the changes that they made within that team are personnel, and the personnel are people that I think are more suited for MLS,” Vermes said. “I think that's probably the biggest thing.”

Vermes – who, like Kreis, also played in MLS – has long talked of the difficulties of managing in a single-entity league with a salary cap and roster restrictions, something Vieira had not done before this season.

In a March interview, the NYCFC manager acknowledged those challenges and said coaching in MLS is harder than coaching in Europe.

“He's already said it earlier on in the year,” Vermes said. “Coaching in MLS is harder than any other place in the world. He said it himself. I don't have to speak for him. He's already said it.”

That doesn't mean a coach has to have experience in the league to be successful, Vermes said.

“I think it helps immensely – immensely – to know our system here in the United States,” he said. “That's one. If you're not going to do that, then you have to surround yourself with a lot of people that do. Because this coming in and not understanding what this league's all about, and what the system of soccer is like in this country, then I think it becomes very difficult for someone – because our rules are not like anywhere else in the world.

“So you come in, and you don't know. You're learning on the fly, and that can be a dangerous set of circumstances for anybody.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.