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LISTEN: The guys get together in the middle of the night to rank Sporting KC's title run in MLS history. Plus, what's next for the Revs? Who can stop Atlanta United? How on earth did Montreal work over Toronto at BMO Field? Subscribe now and "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
After claiming the 2017 US Open Cup trophy on Wednesday night, Sporting Kansas City have now collected the most trophies of any MLS club since 2012.
There will (should?) be a conversation as to why and/or how.
Other teams spend more money. Competing clubs have bigger stars. I hate to point out an obvious notion, yet it is the obvious we often miss: SKC manager Peter Vermes has a style; he picks players who can implement his style; his team follows his style.
It perhaps seems too simple to suggest that a style will win championships. Not even a specific style, but merely the presence of any style at all. It is in that very fact that I spent so many sleepless nights as a player. It seems as though it should be so simple, and yet so few teams do it.
The Sporting KC Way
Vermes does not do anything overly complicated. He does not pay big money for star players. He does not ask for intricate interchanges. On a spectrum of NASA to American Apparel, the Vermes system more closely mirrors a plain t-shirt company than rocket science. He will not confuse anyone with the Xs and Os on his whiteboard. Yet you know exactly how a Peter Vermes team will play every week.
Every single pre-game speech by an opponent goes the exact same way every week: “Watch for the press.” “They will fight for every ball in midfield.” “Don’t let them beat us in transition moments.”
Perhaps Sporting will change their line of pressure every now and then, but it is a small tweak. And it is through the consistent implementation of this style that Vermes finds his success.
Everyone on his team knows how the team is supposed to play. Everyone on the team knows his own individual role. Every training session goes toward building the same muscle memory. The consistent repetition allows them to master the plan. Consequently, they are very, very good at the plan.
The value of keeping it simple
Some teams try to be good at multiple things. They diversify their time to be able to beat teams in different ways. In trying to get good multiple approaches, they don’t really get good at any.
Soccer is a tremendously difficult sport. It’s hard enough trying to possess well, or press well, or be efficient on the counter. It’s nearly impossible to good at multiple styles. If your team is really good at multiple approaches, then you deserve a trophy and your peers will applaud what you’ve accomplished.
Think about all of the teams around the world. How many would you say can win a big game on the counter or with fluid possession; sitting in a deep block or implementing gegenpressing?
Most of us fall in love because soccer can be a romantic game. There are so many ways to play and approach any given moment. I’m all about the prospect of this beautiful, complex, evolving game. Too often, however, we get lost in the romanticism. A machine comes barreling through and we get run over while we are staring at the stars. Don’t get caught up doing everything; pick something and nail it.
When you talk to Vermes’ players about his style, they chuckle. They don’t chuckle, as many players do, at the lack of a style. They laugh because they feel like they’ve found the easiest cheat code in the world.
When you watch your MLS team, it should be the first question you ask yourself: Does our team have a style? Do we have something that shows some consistency of approach, training preparation, and team selection? Is there any sign that there is anything holding the group of 11 players together on the field, or any method to the millions of dollars exerted on the madness?
It doesn’t matter what the style is. There just has to be one, any one.
I don't know Peter Vermes as a person, but I really like when his teams win. It’s a simple lesson for all of us, and the simplicity of his brilliance raises the bar for everyone.