Sporting Kansas City head coach and general manager Peter Vermes is gaining a reputation as a skilled talent evaluator after only a couple years on the job.
Last year in the MLS SuperDraft, he tapped a relatively unknown forward out of James Madison with the 10th overall pick. The selection was universally panned as a reach, with most observers noting that KC really needed a center defender more than another attacker.
Fast forward nine months and that unknown forward, CJ Sapong, was accepting the MLS Rookie of the Year trophy.
And look at some of his other recent high draft picks…
In 2008 it was Chance Myers out of UCLA with the 1st overall pick. Myers played little his first two seasons due largely to injury, but then exploded last season, the first time he was able to remain fit all year. He is now widely regarded as one of the best attacking wing defenders in the league. He also snagged Roger Espinoza the same year with the 11th pick. The Honduras national team player started most of the games last season and was consistently a difference maker with his physical ball-winning.
In 2009 it was Matt Besler out of Notre Dame that Vermes tapped 8th overall. Last season Besler was an all-star, and was arguably Sporting KC’s most valuable player.
In 2010 it was Teal Bunbury out of the University of Akron with the 4th pick. Bunbury has been a mainstay for KC, leading the team in goals in 2011, and has been called up several times for USMNT duty. Many see him leaving sometime this year due to substantial European interest in the athletic striker.
The fact is, Vermes has not missed with a single of his high level draft picks, not one. Sure, there’s a little bit of luck involved with any draft in any sport. But there’s no arguing that the Sporting boss has been almost perfect so far with his most valuable picks.
Try saying that for Dayton Moore or Pioli. No way.
Which brings us to this year’s SuperDraft being held at the Kansas City Convention Center on January 12th. The draft airs live on ESPN2 starting at 11 a.m.
Will Vermes score another success? Remember, KC picked up experienced winger Bobby Convey already, as well as versatile midfielder Paulo Nagamura. They got rid of midfielder Davy Arnaud, striker Omar Bravo, and a couple other guys who rarely played.
So what are the team’s needs at this point?
Most mock drafts- including Fox Soccer’s Ives Galarcep’s– has Sporting taking a defender. Galarcep lists Austin Berry out of Louisville, a physical 6’2" player who is "strong and intelligent."
The thing is, all of the defensive starters are back – Besler, Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic, and Myers. So is Julio Cesar, who came on late last season as a solid presence, and who played both center defender and defensive center mid. Also, Michael Harrington is back. He started all year in 2010 before getting hurt last year and losing out to Myers. And Homegrown player Kevin Ellis might be ready to fill in. Vermes has consistently praised Ellis’ development and this might be the year he starts to contribute. Come to think of it, Espinoza is a serviceable defender, too, playing there for the entire 2010 season.
I just simply don’t see the need for another defender at this point.
Instead, my guess is that Sporting looks for another attacker who can back up the starters when they run out of gas.
Vermes’ stable of strikers at first glance looks pretty solid with Sapong, Bunbury, and Kei Kamara. Plus, Convey can get into the attack on the flanks. But they did lose Bravo, who co-led the team in goals. And considering the all-out attacking style that Vermes favors, it’s never a bad thing to have another guy who can find the back of the net.
Since basically the rest of the starting lineup is intact from last season, my money is on Sporting to select another athletic striker who can challenge defenders with strength and speed.