KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes has developed plenty of relationships with his fellow MLS coaches over the years.
Some have been occasional antagonists, others familiar postseason opponents, but few have the relationship that Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese shares with him: teammates.
Both Vermes and Savarese played with the NY/NJ MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls) in MLS’s inaugural season in 1996. While Savarese stayed there through 1998, Vermes only stuck with the MetroStars for that year before moving on to the Colorado Rapids and eventually the then-Kansas City Wizards.
In that one year together, Vermes said he loved playing alongside Savarese.
“Great teammate,” Vermes said. “He was a team-first guy, he worked hard, a real competitor, he wanted to win, just a really good person. He was a good goalscorer.”
Savarese scored 41 goals in 85 regular-season matches in his three seasons with the MetroStars, and tallied 52 goals during his time in MLS.
His first head coaching job came with the NASL’s New York Cosmos, whom he led to a 71-44-30 record and three league championships in his five years in charge. Last winter, he took over the Timbers.
“I was really happy when he got the job in Portland,” Vermes said. “I know he’s been trying to see if he can get into MLS and what team he wanted to get with, and I think he made a good choice where he is, and they did as well.”
The Timbers’ struggles early this season had a few in the Rose City worried, but then they turned it around with an impressive 15-game unbeaten run in the spring and summer. By the end of his first season in charge, Savarese’s Timbers had surpassed 2017’s point total despite not winning the Western Conference in the regular season, and subsequently embarked on a deep postseason run.
They’ve done it by being a tough team to beat, with a clinical eye in front of goal. Vermes feels the current Portland side reflects the attributes that Savarese possessed as a player himself. Now the two men will face off head-to-head for a place in MLS Cup as Sporting and the Timbers open their Western Conference Championship series at Providence Park on Sunday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN2, TVAS).
“He was a hard worker, he didn’t cheat,” said Vermes. “He didn’t take shortcuts as a player and I think he demands that out of his team. You can see that in the way that they play.”