Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes had a palpable level of anticipatory excitement in his voice, and understandably so.
Speaking with Sports Radio 810 WHB host Soren Petro, the longest tenured head coach in MLS had the chance to provide a comprehensive preseason update from warm and sunny Arizona, where his team will spend the next three and a half weeks training in preparation for the 2021 MLS regular season.
Vermes was quick to focus on one area of the field where he believes Sporting will have multiple options to break opponents down. In midfield, veteran leader Roger Espinoza and fellow fan favorite Ilie Sanchez are joined by 18-year-old rising star Gianluca Busio and newly acquired Frenchman Remi Walter, who brings no shortage of pedigree from Europe.
“He’s excellent in possession, very tactically astute, and he’s going to adapt and adjust to our team probably faster than a lot of guys who have come through our program,” Vermes said of Walter, who is likely to feature in the box-to-box No. 8 position. “He has played (in France) in a very similar model of play with a lot of the same responsibilities, (so) I think he’s someone who is going to make a real impact in our team.”
As for Busio, the teenage wonderkid has entered 2021 fully intent on blossoming into a bona fide star. The Sporting KC Academy product said himself that he wanted to be “the guy” for Sporting moving forward, and Vermes was happy to see the confidence Busio exuded in taking the No. 10 jersey.
“With the No. 10 comes a level of pressure, no doubt,” Vermes said. “Right now, there have been a couple guys (in camp) who have been incredibly impressive, and Busio is one of them. He’s already taken a step up and I hope it continues for him because I can tell you—he’s put a lot of work in during the offseason.”
Busio made a huge splash in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, notably scoring in second-half stoppage time in a thrilling defeat of the San Jose Earthquakes at Children’s Mercy Park last November.
Sporting’s playoff run would end in the conference semifinals against Minnesota United FC, however, and Vermes said that one player’s absence in the postseason—that of striker Alan Pulido—was too costly to overcome.
“Obviously you want to do well during the regular season, but at the end of the season, a guy like him makes a difference in games,” Vermes said of Pulido, who amassed seven goals and five assists despite missing half of the 2020 campaign through injury or international duty with Mexico. “We missed him big time.”
Vermes also reacted to the fact that Sporting has been tabbed as the seventh likeliest club to win MLS Cup in 2021, based on the odds set forth by BetMGM. The 13th-year head coach had no qualms with the ranking, but wasn’t afraid to share his opinion about the way national media perceive Sporting.
“They don’t give us any credit for being consistent and they don’t give us any credit for constantly being up there and punching above our weight class being in a small market.”
Be sure to listen to the full interview above, as Vermes discsusses Sporting’s commitment to the professional player pathway, the imminent arrival of newly signed French center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, the tough decision to part ways with longtime club captain Matt Besler, and specifics around Sporting’s preseason training program.