Peter Vermes has managed Sporting Kansas City to three trophies as the reigning dean of MLS coaches. But in remembering Neal Patterson, Vermes credited the club’s late principal owner with helping to instill the organization’s winning culture.
“His presence in meetings was more than felt and put everyone on high alert, because I think he demanded high quality from everyone,” Vermes recalled in a news conference on Monday, a day after Patterson’s death at age 67 from cancer. “And I think that’s one of the things that made this organization a high-performance organization, just because of his demand to be the best.”
Vermes was hired as the then-Wizards’ technical director in November 2006, just three months after founding owner Lamar Hunt – then in the last months of his own life – sold the team to a group led by Patterson and his Cerner Corp. co-founder Cliff Illig.
He recalled a meeting early in the new owners’ tenure, when the Wizards were not doing well. Vermes expected the worst – but got a surprise that still affects how he runs the club as manager and technical director.
“I thought, ‘Here we go. I can only imagine what this is going to be like,’” Vermes said. “And I’ll never forget this statement that Neal made to me. He said, ‘You know what? I don’t really care one way or the other – I want to win, but I don’t really care, one way or the other, how we do it. Whether we’re a defensive team, whether we’re an attacking team, we’re scoring goals. Because I find it pretty easy; we gotta score more goals than the other team.’ And we all laughed.
“Then he said, ‘But the one thing that I do not like, and I want to change immediately, is that I want the message and the narrative to be the same. So if we say that we’re going to be a really good defensive team, then we shouldn’t be winning games 5-4. And if we say we’re going to be an attacking team, we can’t be losing games 1-0 all the time.’
“And I remember leaving that meeting and thinking to myself, ‘It’s a simple statement, but it really meant a lot to me. Because when I became the coach, it was very clear to me. I knew how I wanted to play, and so whenever I talked about our club, I talked exactly the way we were going to go do it on the field. And I think that was an incredible insight by him – and I actually really think that it has helped to shape the message of who we are over the years.”
That identity now includes an MLS Cup in 2013, and U.S. Open Cup titles in 2012 and 2015 – none of which would have come to Kansas City had Patterson and his partners not bought the team with the sole intention of not letting another city take it away.
“I know it sounds corny, maybe, but it’s really true,” Vermes said. “He was a driving force in saving a major league team in our community.”