Ahead of milestone Sunday match, Sporting KC’s Peter Vermes recalls some greatest hits

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When Peter Vermes takes the sidelines as manager of Sporting Kansas City on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park, he’ll be doing so for the 500th time in his career.

Kansas City has a record of 215-166-118 with Vermes at the helm and will look to add to that tally against the New York Red Bulls.

Vermes’ arrival in 2009 ignited Sporting KC’s upward trend of on- and off-field growth and success. Here, The Star and Vermes, 55, take a journey through some memorable moments during a coaching tenure now at 499 matches and counting in KC.

Match No. 1 of 499

Curt Onalfo was fired after a 6-0 loss to FC Dallas on Aug. 3, 2009, and Vermes became the then-Wizards’ interim manager on Aug. 4. With a half-month between that loss and the club’s next game, Vermes today describes those two weeks as a “tone-setter.”

When the Wizards went on to lose 2-0 to the Chicago Fire in his first match in charge (Aug. 16, 2009), Vermes noticed how much his ramped-up training regimen — a trademark of his managerial style in prepping for games — had affected his players.

“I think it was like 30 or 40 minutes into the game, the guys were done physically because I had crushed them over two weeks,” Vermes said. “I was OK with that, knowing that I was trying to change the culture. And it was necessary.”

Despite knowing how physically drained the team was in the match, Vermes took the loss hard. He says he hates to lose more than he loves to win. So Vermes took his staff to his house and set up in the basement to watch the game on tape ... and break it down.

“It was probably 2:30 in the morning and guys were falling asleep on my couches in the basement,” Vermes laughed. “Finally, I told everybody, ‘You guys can go home.’

“The first year, we did that after every game, and I finally realized that wasn’t very productive. These guys were dying, they’re falling asleep.”

Win No. 1 of 215

Vermes called it one of those games where you simply hang on. And hang on they did. His first win was a 4-2 victory over the New England Revolution on Sept. 5, 2009.

The Revolution made it 3-2 late and were pushing for a win despite being down to 10 men. But Josh Wolff’s goal late in second-half stoppage time gave KC some breathing room.

“It was one of those (matches) where late in the game there was an onslaught, and the guys were fighting for everything, clearing balls off the line,” Vermes said. “It was a great feeling.”

Vermes and his staff — still, to this day, the same team of himself, Kerry Zavagnin and Zoran Savic — later celebrated with a bottle of wine.

“You could see the way we were trending,” Vermes said. “The team, and certain individuals, started to play really well.”

Most memorable/craziest result

On Aug. 15, 2015, Sporting had dominated the start of a match against Vancouver. But the Whitecaps made the most of their scant opportunities and led 2-0 at halftime.

“I remember going to the locker room and I just … I frigging went off,” Vermes said.

Sporting responded seven minutes into the second half, cutting it to 2-1 when Kevin Ellis leaped over everyone to head home a headed pass across the box from Soni Mustivar.

Pablo Morales scored a stunner of a free kick in the 75th minute to make it 3-1 Whitecaps, but an onslaught in the final 10 minutes produced one of the most memorable stretches in club history.

Dom Dwyer’s header got it to 3-2, and then Paulo Nagamura scored two goals just six minutes apart to give Sporting KC an improbable 4-3 victory.

“It was crazy,” Vermes said. “Their staff was going crazy, it was pandemonium. And the fans were dejected at halftime, and then we scored.

“They think we’re coming back and then the other team scores to go 3-1. And then we scored to make it 3-2, 3-3, and it was just a crazy, crazy game.”

Most aggravating result

Vermes said he has plenty from which to choose, deadpanning, “I’ve got a lot of them to be honest with you.”

Take this one for example. Sporting KC was playing in the nation’s capital early in the 2015 season. With the match tied 0-0, a nifty set-piece routine saw Ike Opara put the ball in the back of the net, only to be flagged for being offside.

Replays showed Opara was easily onside. Even the DC United broadcast team blasted the officials for their poor call. The match resulted in a 1-1 draw, so the negated goal would’ve given KC a 2-1 win.

“I remember sending the video to the league,” Vermes said.

That season, Vermes hired an outside company to take Sporting game film and use what at the time was an ESPN Sportscenter feature: They’d pause a play on a particular highlight, then whip the camera view around to see the play from a different angle.

“I had the company that was doing it at that time take the video and turn it into that animation and spin it around from the linesman’s perspective,” Vermes said. “And our guy was like 5 yards onside.”

Sporting missed winning the Supporter’s Shield that season by just one point.

“We tied that game, but that would’ve been two extra points,” Vermes said. “That play frustrated the hell out of me.”

Best atmosphere?

“Eastern Conference semifinals, leg 2, against New England in 2013,” Vermes said. “That was incredible ...

“Don’t get me wrong, the final (in which Sporting KC won the MLS championship) was, too. But that semifinal match was incredible.”

Best save

Jimmy Nielsen’s save against Sebastián Velásquez in penalty round No. 8 in the 2013 MLS Cup Final here in Kansas City, Kan. Lawrence Olum had missed the penalty prior, setting up a must-save scenario for Nielsen, who’s since retired and enshrined as a Sporting Legend.

“If the kid scores, they could’ve won it,” Vermes said.

Best goal(s)?

Vermes couldn’t pick just one, so his three favorites are as follows ...

Claudio Bieler’s winning goal in the 2013 Eastern Conference semifinals vs. the New England Revolution:

“Bieler opens up his body, he’s right footed, and with his left foot, he just opens up and just does what he did so well,” Vermes said. “He’s a great goal-scorer.”

Aurelien Collin’s goal to level the MLS Cup final in 2013:

“It’s the timing, it’s his ability to do what he did … he was a winner.”

Krisztian Nemeth’s solo run at Portland in 2015:

“He dribbled everybody. That was a big-time goal.”