Peter Vermes on what MLS needs to get right with new youth program and what's on front-burner for season's re-start

by Paul Kennedy @pkedit

Peter Vermes, Sporting Kansas City's head coach and sporting director, came to the MLS club as technical director in 2006 after serving as the technical director at the Blue Valley Soccer Club in Kansas following his retirement as a player.

He has been involved in youth soccer a long time and believes that MLS must step carefully as it continues its player development efforts following the collapse of the Development Academy.

"The first step of U.S. Soccer announcing they won’t be a leader in that space is an important one," he said on a media conference call on Wednesday, "because nobody is investing more money into player development than MLS. For us to lead that space, it only makes sense. I also think that we have to be very careful. There were some really good things that came out of the DA, and there were also some things that were done poorly. Hopefully, we can learn from the things that were done poorly and expand upon them."

Vermes says the new league can't be just about the MLS academies.

"It’s about the non-MLS academies and standalone youth clubs," he said. "They also need guidance and assistance, not that they don’t have good directors in their clubs, but I think our country is due for a good leader in this space who works with all of the groups in a very collaborative manner. I don’t think that’s taken place in the way that it should have. There’s been too much dictation and at times unrealistic terms or standards set. It’s hard to expect certain clubs to pay for everything. It’s just not feasible. They have to generate too much revenue, which is not part of their model. There has to be a different way of laying this out."

Like others involved in player development around MLS, Vermes says international competition will be an important part of the youth programs the clubs adopt.

"I also think that MLS academies have to make sure that we continue to have challenging competitions that optimize the potential that we have within our clubs," he said. "That would also include international competition for some of your younger groups. I think it’s feasible, absolutely, but I also think MLS doesn’t have to be the fastest to the table with a plan. We have to be the group that comes to the table with the best plan. I don’t think we have to be quick in putting something together. It’s about quality and high-level competition for all of the groups, not just MLS academies."

Vermes believes MLS will come out stronger following the financial hit it will take because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We all know that this situation has affected the global economy," he said. "Sporting Kansas City and MLS are not immune to that. We do have something that we can at least hang our hat on. We have incredibly stable ownership groups in this league. I don’t think any of them ever got in for the short term. I think all of them got in for the long term. It’s like the stock market. If you look at the stock market over its history, there’s been times of downturn. But it always overcome that, surpass that and get stronger over time. I feel the same thing will happen with MLS. Regarding players, I think they are as motivated—if not more motivated—in that they want to get back on the field as soon as possible. I know there are negotiations between the league and players, but I’m not privy to those. I’m very confident we will navigate this environment, and I truly believe that at some point we’ll be stronger than ever."

Vermes says MLS is formulating plans for the resumption of training -- individual workouts, then small group trainings and eventually full-team training sessions -- and has discussed the idea of playing league games in a tournament format.

"There are some cities that are a lot more open than others," he said, "and some cities that will become open a lot more quickly than others. If you had to wait for all 26 cities to open up, you could be waiting for a long time. We’ve talked about the possibility of having [up to] four locations where you could aggregate a number of teams in each of those locations and then play games that would count towards league play. It would be more a tournament style, and as you’re doing that over a certain number of weeks, as other cities open up, you could start to go back to your home cities. It’s definitely something that’s on the front-burner at the moment and something that has a lot of legs about possible implementation. You also have to realize that you’d be moving mountains to make that happen. There would be a lot of logistics, so there are a lot of people behind the scenes looking to see if that could actually happen. I’d like to think it could."

Vermes notices things opening up in the Kansas City area as he jogs near his house.

"There’s a golf course close by and I’m amazed," he said. "The parking lot is completely full, the driving range is completely full and there are people on the putting greens chipping everywhere. Our environment is a little different compared to New York."