Peter Vermes talks Roger Espinoza, transfer market, 2021 season start date and more

Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes spoke to media on Friday for the first time since the calendar flipped to 2021, covering a number of pertinent topics ahead of the new MLS season. The longest-tenured head coach in MLS discussed the club’s decision to re-sign Roger Espinoza, Sporting’s ongoing bid to acquire new players, contract negotiations and the uncertainty surrounding the start date of the 2021 campaign. His full remarks are below.


On what Roger Espinoza brings to Sporting…

The makeup of any team has to have different age groups of players. Roger fits in a way that is leadership. He still has a lot to give on the field, for sure, but the way he is with the young players is priceless. We have quite a few young players on the team, and having someone like him around as we continue to transition with players in the first team is very valuable to us. It was a signing not just for his play on the field, but for his intangibles that are sometimes really hard to find. The fact that he knows the club so well and has been here a long time—those were just add-ons.

On his contract discussions with Espinoza…

As I told him at the time, I said, “Let’s deal with it at the end of the season.” I didn’t feel like it was appropriate with any of the guys (to have contract talks) because we were still in the thick of the season and I wanted to keep our focus on the job at hand. But we felt the same way. We wanted him to come back. When the season is over and you can have meaningful conversations, some of it is a reflection of the past year and some of it is how you see things moving forward. Sometimes players want a different challenge, and it’s important to give them a little time to absorb and comprehend where they’re at. We had a professional conversation around it. I personally have a unique relationship with Roger and we’ve always had great conversations. This one was the same, so it was actually a lot easier than it was difficult.

On Sporting’s transfer targets…

We’re not done yet. There are still a few players and positions that we’re looking at. We have to be very strategic in that, and we kind of have a pecking order in terms of what we’re looking for first.

I won’t comment on specific players, but we’ll be very patient and we won’t settle for a player. We want to make sure we get a right fit for how we think that player would fit into the team.

On the complexion of Sporting’s roster and how Remi Walter will improve the team…

We feel we have a strong nucleus of guys in what’s returning, and the acquisition of someone like Remi Walter really adds to that. There’s an experience level there that is excellent as we move forward, especially in the multiple positions he can play and how he can help us out moving forward. Every year is a retooling of our roster. I don’t know if we’ve been in a rebuild yet. Rebuilds are wholesale changes within clubs, and I don’t think we’re in that place by any means. But I do think we have a much younger group than we’ve had in the past, and they’re still in that transition phase of trying to play consistently. They have to do their job, but we as a staff and the veteran players can help them become the professionals they want to become. We’re trying to build a roster that helps with that while also being in a position to compete. We’re still in a place of trying to add some other players to the club as we move forward.

On contract negotiations with Felipe Gutierrez and Gerso Fernandes…

We are in negotiations with Felipe and have been since the end of the season. It’s a different situation and I won’t go too deep into it. We’re dealing with an injury aspect, and as you all know, he didn’t play a single minute last year. He had a surgery that brings an unknown. He could come back better than he was, the same, or maybe not get back at all. This is more of us understanding that we have to put ourselves in a position to protect ourselves against the fact that he may not play again, or at least to the level that he was. If he was to come back, we need to be protected in that way. He understands that, and it’s just about whether or not we can get to an agreement where everyone feels comfortable.

In regards to Gerso, it’s a simple one. Gerso didn’t have an option at the end of the season. Based on the rules of the CBA, we had the ability to provide a bona fide offer and we did that. It wasn’t one that he accepted. We wanted to bring Gerso back, but he didn’t accept that. At this point, there is no negotiation because he declined our offer. At the same time, we retain his rights in MLS, so I’m not sure if he’s going overseas or what the plan is there. With the bona fide offer, our intention was to re-sign him, but there are no negotiations at this point.

On the challenges of acquiring players from abroad during the pandemic…

Each deal always has its challenges. Sometimes I believe there is naiveness in the market to think there isn’t a financial impact by the pandemic. You’re not going to get the same dollar amounts that you were going to get prior to the pandemic. Clubs eventually come around to that. The recruitment of players is always very challenging, and for so many reasons. I still think that remains. The challenge now with the pandemic is more the timing of bringing people into the country, quarantining and all of the logistics. That’s where the real challenge is.

On the start date of preseason and the MLS regular season…

We normally have preseason plans done in June or July of the previous year. Right now, our preseason isn’t even close to being confirmed. That tells you a lot about where things are at the moment. Most MLS clubs are probably the same right now. Because there are so many unknowns, you don’t want to put yourself out there financially with hotels and flights when you don’t know all of the confirmed dates.

We are using February 1 as our start date for preseason. If that changes, we’ll have to be adaptable like we’ve been all along. We’ll make moves and pivots based on where everything is.

On Espinoza’s positive impact in the community…

Part of our recruiting process is that we have an expectation of our players to be active off the field as well. As much as Roger has been fantastic in that area, any player that we bring in, we have the same expectation for them as well. If they haven’t done that in the past, they usually get onboard pretty quickly. Our job does a good job of creating opportunities to participate and to understand how meaningful their participation is to the different things we do as a club in the community. I’m always very proud of our players because they do a tremendous job in that area.

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