In this second part of Peter Vermes answers to The SBI Questions, the former MetroStars captain and World Cup veteran goes in depth to answer your questions on everything from his favorite swapped jersey to how he would help the United States develop better talent. He also discusses his first foray into European soccer, as well as the controversial ending of the very first playoff game in MLS history, between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United.
Vermes doesn't hold back. Here are his answers. Enjoy:
MR. DERP– Thanks for taking the time Peter. I'm wondering: Is there a favorite jersey you've got from a post-match swap, and what do players do with all the shirts they collece throughout the years?
VERMES– I would have to say it was Franco Baresi, just because it was the World Cup, we were playing Italy in Rome. I don’t know how you get any better than that. We had an unbelievable environment and at that time he was THE defender in the world. He was the man.
What happens with the jerseys? There’s probably a lot of guys that are similar to me. If you’re a player and you’re constantly trading jerseys, normally you just pack them away until you eventually settle down and can pull them out and hang them on a wall somewhere and remember when.
CHUCK– Wow, this is so random. I was litteraly just thinking yesterday about my time at Peter Vermes soccer camp from like 15 years ago. Anyway, I was hoping Peter could touch on the strides US Soccer has made since is MNT playing days and how he thinks we should improve our current youth setup to develop a truly world class player.
VERMES– What has happened in U.S. Soccer is absolutely incredible. It’s so hard to talk about the strides that we have made. In the 1990 World Cup, out of the 23-man roster we had, I was the only player at that time playing overseas. Every other player was playing in the United States and signed with U.S. Soccer. I was playing in Holland for FC Volendam. Everybody else was playing in the United States.
Now, we could make two full teams of the players playing in Europe and two teams playing in the United States. We have a major professional league, with 15 teams, moving to 16 and 18, those things are amazing. The ’94 World Cup going into the second round, in 2002 going even farther. We’ve made some serious strides.
In 1990, Mexico was it, they were the lead show in our whole region. Today, they can’t beat us in our country and we’re the top dogs. It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time as a country in the game.
What does it take in the youth system to build the best player? I think that number one, the kids that are really interested in playing the game at a high level–I knew at six I wanted to be a professional soccer player. I woke up everyday thinking I was going to become one and I organized my life to become one of those guys– I think there are certain kids of certain abilities that are out there, but then there are kids you don’t know if they want it or not.
One thing we have to get away from is the idea that if you’re in a city and there’s a U-12 boys age group, and there’s 10 teams in that age group, and each team has one or two of the best players in that age group. All those kids wind up playing with kids that are much slower than their ability. What happens to those kids is that they normally wind up working very hard because they’re the best kids on the team and they wind up not getting challenged so they don’t improve as a player.
We lose a lot of those kids because they don’t get challenged, they get bored so they leave the game and go do something else when they get to middle school or right up before high school. I think the only way for those kids to progress, to get to the next level–and the next level doesn’t mean professional, it means the next level from where they are–for them to get there at a more accelerated pace and better prepared to be at that next level is to play players with like ability together. That’s so they can be challenged on a daily basis by players who are on the same level as they are. If you do that then you can figure out who rises out of each of those groups. To me, that’s how we’re going to create better players.
The second part is we have to become more focused on training than playing games. You go to a tournament on the weekend and a kid can play in five games. A lot of those kids are so much better served by putting in more training sessions and playing less games. We’re so fixated on winning. ‘We have to win this tournament.’ ‘We have to win’, and you play five games, and parents think more games is more important. But if you’re still doing the same thing wrong in the fourth and fifth game that you were doing in the first, second and third, then you’re still doing it wrong.
It doesn’t matter how many games you play. At the end, if you can practice to improve on those mistakes and become a better player, then in the next game, that’s where you can try out those things you worked to improve on. We just think it’s more games, more games, more games. You have to train, do functional training on your position. I think we’re getting there with the U.S. Soccer academy and MLS teams creating academy teams. These teams are bringing together the best players in their age groups and are training three and four times a week and that’s going to change the environment dramatically.
DAN– As the father of a soccer-crazy 7 year old boy from the Philadelphia area, I'd like to know your thoughts on how to keep his interest up in a sport that would have come after arena football in terms of interest, had arena football not folded.
VERMES– The first thing is if he can take his son to watch some high-level live games. It’s a whole different environment when you watch a game live.
The other thing that’s great for him is that soccer is a sport where the players are so accessible. They’re great ambassadors for our sports. It’s great when a little kid can go up and meet a Ben Olsen at D.C. United. What a tremendous thing for him to be able to do. Those types of things are invaluable because then the kid becomes hooked, he has somebody to follow. That’s huge.
The other things would be try to put your kid in an environment where it’s challenging but fun, and leave them be. Development takes many, many years. It just doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that at some point, if you really want it, it clicks in. If it’s always about being on the best and winning team, at some point you’re child is going to lose sight of the game. Is it more important to win now or is it more important to become the best player?
We have to be more concerned about keeping kids passionate and engaged in the game, challenged but not externally challenged all the time. The kid has to want to do it himself. You can’t always be the one motivating your kid to play. They have to want it.
PAUL LORINCZI– How many years did you play for (Hungarian club) Gyor? Did you enjoy your time in Hungary?
VERMES It was great. Both of my parents immigrated from Hungary in 1956, so for me the fortunate thing was that I spoke the language. I went there right after Olympics in 1988. The great thing for me was that was the place is where I learned what it was like to be a pro. Nobody gave you anything. You had to work for everything. The players were avery solid group of players who formed a team, but they also knew how to take care of themselves individually. I learned so much stuff off the field and on the field in my first year. It was a tremendous learning experience for me to have gotten that type of insight at such an early time in my career.
I will say that what I did you probably won’t find too many other guys in our league right now or since it started, do what I did. I actually lived at the stadium. The stadium had seven apartments, one for the caretaker which was a pretty big place, and six others that were more like dorm rooms. They were used were normally used for players to take naps in the afternoon.
When I got there I didn’t have any place to stay and they had offered me an apartment in the city. That day they were showing me around the stadium and I asked them about the rooms. They explained it to me and I asked them if I could just stay in one of those (rooms). They asked why and I said that “Well, I came here to play soccer so if I could wake up in the morning and be 20 yards from the locker room that’s great with me.”
I lived there the whole year, at the stadium, and I can tell you right now I don’t know too many guys who would have done that but for me it was perfect. I could do extra training, I could lift and do everything and not worry about going home.
SACK– Peter, when you took the game winning shootout kick against DC in the 1996 playoffs and said "Esse! If I shoot, we win," were you asking him, or telling him?
VERMES– I knew that the game was tied at that point and it was a combination of the two. I knew the answer but I was just clarifying to make sure we were on the same page, so I asked him, “If I score, we win?”
A little bit of my shin muscle tore away from the bone so in order for me to flex my foot back it was killing me, so that’s why I didn’t feel like going back out for the shootout. We didn’t have any subs left so I finished the game, when we went to the shootout I told Carlos (Quieroz) ‘If I need to shoot I need to be all the way at the end.” Then it gets to the end and I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
I remember going out there for the kick and Carlos said, “Hey, just take notice that the keeper’s always going down early.” That’s why I chipped him.
What do you think of Vermes' answers? Agree with him on youth development? Amazed that he actually lived in a stadium as a pro? Relieved to finally know the truth behind "Esse, if I score, we win."
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