Over the last 10 years, few professional sports franchises have experienced a more transformational journey than Sporting Kansas City. From Wizards to Sporting, from minor league baseball park to world-class soccer stadium, from MLS afterthought to perennial title contender, the 2010s ushered in a Kansas City soccer renaissance as Sporting enjoyed a meteoric rise both on and off the pitch.
Throughout this decade of success, everyone tied to the club—from players and coaches to owners and fans—made priceless memories that will last a lifetime. As the 2010s come to a close, SportingKC.com is counting down the top 20 moments of the decade. The daily series will run from Dec. 12-31, looking back on the biggest matches, announcements and off-the-field developments that left lasting impacts on the club. The top 20 list was determined through voting among front office associates at Sporting. Click here to visit the top 20 as it unfolds.
In many ways, the No. 16 moment was several years in the making. It was the culmination of unwavering commitment to a project that had begun over a decade earlier, casting well-deserved light on the very lifeblood of Sporting Kansas City.
On Jan. 10, 2019, at Major League Soccer’s Club Executive Awards Ceremony in Chicago, Sporting received the inaugural awards in two different categories. Manager Peter Vermes was named the MLS Sporting Executive of the Year, while the Sporting Kansas City Academy received 2018 MLS Academy of the Year honors.
Vermes became the first MLS Sporting Executive of the Year recipient for his exemplary leadership, dedication and strategic vision in guiding Sporting to success. His resume speaks for itself, but the highlights bear repeating: one MLS Cup, three U.S. Open Cup titles, eight straight playoff appearances from 2011-2018, and the fifth-most wins in league history as the longest-tenured MLS head coach.
The past season saw Vermes continue his oversight of all soccer operations at Sporting, including roster management, scouting and the development of Sporting Kansas City II and the Sporting KC Academy.
Which brings us to the award that Vermes will be far more proud of—an accolade that stems from an organization-wide dedication to youth development.
Sporting has applied a holistic approach to player development at the youth level, cultivating a professional pathway from the Academy to Sporting KC II to the first team. With an experienced coaching and leadership staff, outstanding player care, a large network of Academy Affiliates spanning the Midwest and continued investment in first-class facilities, the Academy serves as the instrumental first step in Sporting's professional pathway.
More than 10 years of hard work from everyone tied to the Academy, from coaches and trainers to support staff and host families, has borne remarkable fruit: seven Academy products adorn Sporting’s current MLS roster, including forward Daniel Salloi (signed in 2016), midfielder Gianluca Busio (2017), defender Jaylin Lindsey (2017), midfielder Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal (2018), forward Tyler Freeman (2018), midfielder Cameron Duke (2019) and midfielder Felipe Hernandez (2019).
Sporting's Academy boasts a robust staff devoted to player development, including six head coaches from U-12 through U-19 plus one technical coach, two goalkeeper coaches and two fitness coaches. The staff also has multiple team administrators, trainers and physicians as well as a director of player care, nutritionist and Academy scout. Swope Soccer Village serves as the Academy’s state-of-the-art training facility with nine full-size fields, and players also have periodic access to the Pinnacle National Development Center, the world-class training home of Sporting’s first team.
During his tenure in Kansas City, Vermes has repeatedly championed the Academy as a vital part of Sporting's long-term path to success. The club's commitment to this endeavor was formally recognized in January, but the moment itself—and its No. 16 ranking on our list—says just as much about the club's exciting future as a premier developer of young talent.