SKC’s Vermes, Sallói call for roster changes after Houston loss

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes is fed up with the effort from his team after a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.

2-5-5 Sporting has been winless in six consecutive MLS matches since beating Toronto FC 3-1 on March 30 and sits five points outside of a playoff spot at 11th in the Western Conference standings.

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Vermes called the two goals that Sporting relinquished “atrocious”. The first goal from Houston midfielder and captain Hector Herrera put the Dynamo in the lead in the 31st minute with a lofty right-footed shot to the top right corner, right outside the box off a corner kick for a 1-0 lead.

Herrera had lots of space to set up for his goal, the sixth set-piece goal that Sporting has given up this season (which ranks in the top five of Major League Soccer), and Vermes pointed out his team’s lack of effort as the sole reason for his frustration.

“I’m the head coach so I have to take responsibility for it, but the organization is always put together on set pieces,” he said. “The second goal is a lack of effort. And it’s really easy to see who those people are.”

Houston’s second goal came in the 78th minute. The Dynamo took advantage of Sporting’s high press in their 4-2-3-1 formation with Houston goalkeeper Steve Clark lobbing a ball to wide-open right back Griffin Dorsey in the right wing.

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Dorsey cut through the midfield as Sporting players were steps behind in transition and sent a line-breaking pass to wide-open attacker Ibrahim Aliyu on the left wing. Aliyu then sent a right-footed shot past SKC keeper Tim Melia to take the lead.

Vermes didn’t name the players who lacked effort, but attacker Dániel Sallói was the first SKC player on Dorsey as he accelerated through the midfield and bumped Dorsey before he stopped.

Center back Robert Voloder also stopped right in front of Dorsey before he passed the ball. Midfielder Memo Rodriguez was closing in on him as he sent the pass to Aliyu. Aliyu accelerated past attacker captain Johnny Russell and right back Jake Davis in the left wing to score.

“A lack of effort to get back there because their player ran by a couple of ours,” Vermes said. “That’s not Sporting Kansas City mentality. It’s not. I have a real problem with that aspect of it. I’ll be dealing with that very quickly because that’s just unacceptable to me. If there’s one thing that I can’t put up with, that is the lack of effort on plays.

“The other thing is we have a responsibility to our fans when they come into this place to leave your heart on the field and to leave your blood, sweat, and tears on the field. I think certain guys do that and I think certain guys don’t. If I have to make the changes within the starting lineup then I will do that. It’s unfortunate.”

Sallói scored his first goal of the season in the 61st minute and echoed Vermes’ sentiments about discarding players who don’t give enough effort.

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“If there’s players who don’t have the mentality, get rid of them, and move on,” he said. “We’re playing professional sports. If you don’t have the mentality then what are we doing? If it’s me, get rid of me. If it’s others, get rid of others. Every year we have this problem then change it.”

“We got ourselves in a bad form, like a bad run. And it’s difficult to get out but the bare minimum is always the mentality I think and if you’re lacking that, then we have a bigger issue.”

Last season, SKC began the season without a win through the first 10 matches before clawing their way into an 8-seed wild-card playoff position and upsetting 1-seed cross-state rival St. Louis City SC en route to the Western Conference semifinals of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Only three players on this year’s roster were not on last year’s.

“That team figured out, from a mentality perspective, to do what they did last year, which was, in my opinion, pretty impressive once we got our guys back. It’s a mentality right now,” he said. “It’s not that they don’t have it, it’s that it’s not happening. And as I said to you, I’m the first person to say I’ll take responsibility but when I have to do that, but when I was talking about suffering, there will be some suffering over there, some real suffering.”

This season, Sporting also dropped four straight home leads at the start and never was in front of Houston on Saturday. Vermes didn’t say if the issue came to a head in the Houston match but wants to stop the team’s skid ahead of time.

“I sure don’t like the fact that we’ve had points here at home and leads where we’ve given up those leads. And that comes down to mentality. Now the situations were that we were firing on the other side and now there’s a lack of aggression even in some guys going that way, as well. Does it all come to a head tonight? No, I don’t think so. I’m just not letting it get out of control because, right now, I don’t like where it is.”

Vermes repeated “change of mentality” three times as the only way to fix the team’s issues.

“Change of mentality. That’s it,” he said. “Sports are all about desire and passion. That’s what it’s about. In sports, you suffer. You suffer in different ways. Sometimes you suffer a result. Sometimes you suffer because of the amount of effort you had to put into a game. That all is part of it. I don’t believe that every guy on that field suffered that way tonight.

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“Mentality and heart, you have to have it. If you don’t have it, you might as well forget about it. You can’t walk into the stadium and you can’t step into the field and you miss the most important ingredient. It is effort. If you don’t have that and if you’re not willing to outwork your opponent – because I know soccer is 11v11 — but at the end of the day, especially the players, they’re 1v1.”

He continued, “There are 10 guys. They’re 1v1. They play against the same guy a lot in the game. Sometimes you play against another guy, sure. But you have an individual duel with the guy that you really see in the game. We all don’t dominate those environments. And you have to. You have to do it physically, you have to do it mentally and then you have to do it technically and tactically as well. You have to do that. And that’s not being done by quite a few guys.”

Vermes did point out what the team did well throughout the match but lamented the team’s decision-making as to why they did not score more.

“In the first half, we had some incredible opportunities where we turned them over in their half but our decision-making was very poor,” he said. “We’re shooting from 35 yards out when we can actually dribble right into goal. We stole one and we shoot and Willy (Agada) is wide open. If you just give it to him, he’s walking in 1v1 with the goalkeeper. Decision-making, that part of it has to always get better. That’s something that you’re always working on. But you also have to be able to take advantage of the things that you have created for yourself. That’s why I go back to those situations.

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“We won the ball. We turned them over in the first half. We should have scored two goals easily, if not three, based on some of the opportunities that we turned them over on. Did they finish their chances? Sure, but they were both just terrible, terrible defending on our part.”

SKC faces Austin on the road at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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