The most wanted man in MLS

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Peter Vermes is no different than many other Major League Soccer executives in that he believes star power is the key to the sport's future progress in the United States and Canada.

However, the superstars Vermes sees as the builders of a brighter tomorrow are those of the business world rather than aging refugees from the European and South American leagues.

The most discussed additions to the MLS family over the past two years have been those of David Beckham, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and other international imports. There also has been a seismic shift in the boardrooms of several clubs, as heavyweight investors have seized the opportunity to grab a slice of a pie they hope magically will multiply in the next decade.

Vermes, the Kansas City Wizards technical director and former U.S. national team member, insists it is the arrivals of financial players such as Microsoft magnate Paul Allen, boxer Oscar De La Hoya and the Red Bull company that have been the real stories.

And that is why, despite offers from the Los Angeles Galaxy to become their general manager and from the Seattle Sounders to serve as their first MLS head coach, Vermes decided to stay put in K.C. His decisions to snub the league's highest-profile club and one of its most exciting newcomers left many confused, but that suits the MLS' most wanted man just fine.

"Any time you are offered something, you are flattered," Vermes said in a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports. "It reflects well on me and especially well on what we are doing at Kansas City Wizards."

A member of the 1990 U.S. World Cup squad in Italy, Vermes is a soccer man through and through. His father Michael played for Honved of Budapest in his native Hungary in the 1950s, a time when that nation was one of the soccer world's finest.

Yet Vermes has enjoyed his taste of the sport's business side. He has been involved in a $1.1 billion project that will include a new stadium for the Wizards, and he was not willing to give it up for a role, especially in Los Angeles, where he would not have enjoyed the same sort of freedom he does now.

From a personal point of view, the willingness of Wizards owners OnGoal LLC to include and instruct him in the club's business was too good of a chance to pass up. Among the partners of OnGoal are business powers from the information technology and financial sectors with track records of success.

"No matter what people say, MLS has to be run like a big business if it is going to be successful," Vermes said. "If not, then it will just remain where it is, and everyone has higher visions and expectations than that.

"In the past everyone thought you had to get soccer people to run these clubs. But you can find a million soccer people. Historically, it was very hard to find successful business people who wanted to be involved in the game. That is what will make real progress possible."

Vermes represents a new breed of soccer executive likely to emerge in the next few years. He has extensive soccer knowledge but has been identified by his club's savvy owners as having a natural aptitude for the business side.

Rather than panicking, the Wizards' hierarchy encouraged Vermes to listen to what the Galaxy and club owner Anschutz Entertainment Group had to offer. They were confident the opportunities and freedom they offer him would be hard to leave. So it proved.

Vermes' logic in insisting that attracting big-money men rather than just big players should be an MLS priority is sound. It is these deep-pocketed characters who are the real designated players. As far as the league is concerned, they are real superstars who can make a difference.

Beckham clearly has had an impact on attendances and shirt sales while the Galaxy has floundered on the field, but it is pure guesswork to speculate how long-lasting The Becks Effect will be. Who knows how many of the extra fans who come through the gates to squeal and scream at the mere sight of him will develop a genuine love for the sport and return year after year?

The fact that big hitters of business are putting in their dollars speaks more than the decisions of Beckham to finish his career here or other big-name foreigners who will arrive over the next few years.

Men such as Allen or Red Bull chief Dietrich Mateschitz or Cerner Corporation CEO and OnGoal chief Neal Patterson are not foolish with their money. Their involvement is driven by the numbers, the economics. It might not be sexy, but having forces such as these striving to help soccer grow so they can increase their investment can be only a positive.

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