U.S. Markets open in 7 hrs 8 mins

How Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes built a Barcelona pipeline

Peter Vermes has been in charge at Sporting Kansas City since 2009. (Getty)

It all began with a move to the birthplace of Salvador Dalí; to Figueres, a city in the Northeastern-most province of Spain, and home, in 1991, to a second-division soccer club. It’s there that you’ll find the roots of one of the more unlikely MLS pipelines: from Barcelona to Kansas City.

It began with a captain who would go on to work at FC Barcelona; but who, just as importantly, doubled as de facto club social director; who ran a high-end clothing store on the side; and who wanted to practice his English.

Peter Vermes, at the time, was trying to learn Spanish. So the U.S. national team regular, living in his fourth country in four years, struck up a convenient relationship with that captain. His name was Pere Gratacos.

Gratacos was a former Barcelona B defender who had moved to UE Figueres for the final chapter of his playing career. During the two years he and Vermes overlapped, Gratacos and his wife would take Vermes and his wife on sightseeing tours of the region.

“Pere and I were good friends,” Vermes says now.

And it’s a good thing they were. Because 20 years later, Gratacos was one of several links that helped Vermes, now the ninth-year manager of Sporting Kansas City, craft this unique connection. A relationship with the world’s most famous academy that has yielded an MLS Cup-winning defensive midfielder, and now a second No. 6 who has started all but one game en route to the 2017 playoffs.

In all, four La Masia products have arrived in Kansas City in five years. Two are on the current roster that will face the Houston Dynamo in a Knockout Round match Thursday night. One of the two, Ilié Sanchez, has played every minute of every MLS match, save for an August game at Seattle three days after a 120-minute U.S. Open Cup semifinal.

But the pipeline’s foundation was built last century in Catalonia, where Vermes played with at least six future Barca employees. And its pioneer arrived in 2012, as a scrawny 20-year-old. That pioneer was Oriol Rosell.

Oriol Rosell was a hit in Kansas City after taking six months to add physical strength. (Getty)

Rosell was originally one name on a list that Peter Smith, a former teammate of Vermes, had passed on to the Kansas City coach and technical director that summer. Vermes perused the list of available players, which featured “a slew of Barcelona kids,” then handed it off to assistant Kerry Zavagnin. Pretty soon, Vermes was on the phone with Gratacos, at the time a director at Barcelona’s training facility.

“I had called Pere and asked him about [Rosell],” Vermes recalls. “And he said, ‘Look, he’s a young player, he’s probably never going to play at Barcelona, but he’s got some good talent.’” That conversation, coupled with what Vermes and Zavagnin had seen on film, led them to arrange a trial for Rosell in Kansas City. And three days were all the Catalan midfielder needed to convince Vermes to sign him.

Two years, 43 MLS appearances and one championship later, SKC sold Rosell to Sporting Clube de Portugal for $1.5 million. But his departure didn’t terminate the Barcelona connection; rather, he had become another link.

Fast forward to this past winter, and one day after Sanchez got off the phone with Vermes for the first time, he grabbed his phone again and called Rosell. The two had played together for one year on Barcelona’s B-team, with Sanchez often starting ahead of Rosell. Sanchez also rung up Jordi Quintilla, who signed with Sporting KC in 2015 and spent 10 months at the club. All three players had come up through Barca’s academy, and overlapped in the Barcelona B setup.

“We still have a very good connection and relationship with Rosell,” Vermes says. “So it’s easy when a guy like Ilié can pick up the phone and say, ‘Can you tell me about the club, and how things are there?’ And when you have a former player who gives a raving review, it obviously helps you.”

Sanchez remembers all the conversations. “They mentioned that Uri had a really good time here,” he says of his talks with Vermes and Zavagnin. And when he spoke with Rosell and Quintilla, “they both explained to me more or less the same idea.”

This past summer, it became Sanchez’s turn to relay his experiences in Kansas City when the club became interested in former Barcelona B winger Cristian Lobato. But Lobato didn’t have to dial up an old friend for the first time in a while, because he and Sanchez already spoke weekly. They were close during their Barca B days, and via the phone calls, Lobato already knew about Sanchez’s positive reviews. They weren’t the sole reason he signed – and the info Sanchez relayed to the coaching staff wasn’t the sole reason the club made on offer for Lobato – but they clearly weren’t a hindrance.

Ilié Sanchez celebrates after converting a penalty kick in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal against San Jose. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

The relationships between old La Masia mates, though, aren’t the only ones that sustain the pipeline. Over the years, Vermes has built a Catalonian network of sorts. He has contacts inside Barcelona, despite Gratacos’ sacking earlier this year. He had kept in touch with Tito Vilanova, another Figueres teammate, until the former Barcelona manager died from cancer in 2014. He also played with Jordi Roura and Aureli Altimira, the current La Masia directors.

In fact, in 2013, after Sporting won MLS Cup, Vermes and Zavagnin traveled to Barcelona for 12 days of comprehensive, behind-the-scenes access at the club. Vermes had arranged it through Vilanova and Gratacos. Over the 12 days, he and Zavagnin saw everything, from first-team training to an in-depth presentation from an academy goalkeeper coach. “That’s how specific we were getting,” Vermes says. “It was tremendous.”

Even with Gratacos no longer in his old position, and Vilanova having passed away, Vermes says he still has “the ability to call on some people” within the club if necessary.

But over the years, he’s also developed contacts “on the periphery” – former players, “I think you would call them agents,” who give honest assessments of players rather than blindly promoting clients. One of these contacts identified Lobato this past summer. One also connected Vermes with Sanchez six months earlier.

Vermes and Sanchez spent over an hour on the phone when the connection was made. Vermes also called Gratacos, who knew Sanchez well from his time at Barca. But the decision on Vermes’s end was already made.

“We were actually looking at a few other defensive midfielders that we had spent quite a bit of time on,” he explains. Then Sanchez “became available, and we didn’t even hesitate. It was like, OK, I know we looked at all these other guys for quite some time, and we had a pretty good idea of who we wanted… we’re going to take Ilié.”

Because this wasn’t the first time Vermes had looked at Sanchez. Sporting had identified him three years earlier. Back then, the timing wasn’t right, mechanisms weren’t in place, sufficient funds weren’t available. Three years later, it was, and they were.

In a way, Sanchez is not only a steady, rock-solid fixture in Vermes’s team, but also an embodiment of the pipeline. He represents every tenet of it. The eye-catching performances at Barca B. The relationship with Vermes’s Figueres teammate, Gratacos. The connection via an agent. The use of Rosell as a resource. And now the willingness to become a resource for Lobato.

Oh, and he’s had instant success, too. That, in the end, is the objective here; the whole point of all the connections and relationships. Sanchez fit in immediately. And that’s not a coincidence. “Our model of play is one in which some of the characteristics are similar,” Vermes says. “It’s a seamless transition for a lot of those players when they come to us. It’s not a big jump.”

Sanchez echoes that thought: “There are a lot of things similar between Barca and Sporting. Eighty, 90, 85 percent? I don’t know the percentage. But it’s very much similar.”

Which is why Sanchez hasn’t just fit in, he’s excelled. It’s yet another reason why this improbable pipeline has been beneficial. And it’s a reason it likely won’t dry up.

“Spain is a country we look to recruit players from,” Vermes says. “Because a lot of teams play a 4-3-3. It makes it a lot easier when we are bringing players in that are already playing in a very similar model. So it’s definitely a country that we continue to look at, [Barcelona is] is a club that we continue to look at, and closely monitor as well.”

– – – – – –

Leander Schaerlaeckens contributed reporting.

Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

  • The ‘smart money’ says it’s time to buy the Chinese internet giants and the U.S. FAANGs

    The ‘smart money’ says it’s time to buy the Chinese internet giants and the U.S. FAANGs

    When the media and investors turn negative on stocks but the “smart money” is bullish, it’s a good time to think about buying. After all, exactly what is the smart money, and how do you know? Lately, several fund managers who pass this test have been pounding the table on Chinese internet names.

  • Can AMD Stock Go on a Bull Run Once Again?
    Motley Fool

    Can AMD Stock Go on a Bull Run Once Again?

    Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ: AMD) shares have fallen off a cliff over the past month, as investors are probably concerned about whether it can sustain its rally in the face of a fading tailwind and rising competition. The chipmaker has minted a lot of money thanks to cryptocurrency mining, but that catalyst is fizzling out and rival NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) has launched a new generation of graphics chips to reclaim its lost market share. AMD blames weak GPU sales to the cryptocurrency market for this slowdown, but recent developments indicate that it could easily surpass the low-balled guidance.

  • Which Canadian Marijuana Stock Will Enjoy a Bigger Bump From Its NYSE Listing -- Aphria or Aurora?
    Motley Fool

    Which Canadian Marijuana Stock Will Enjoy a Bigger Bump From Its NYSE Listing -- Aphria or Aurora?

    Maybe Wall Street should be called "Weed Street." Big Canadian marijuana grower Canopy Growth listed its stock on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) earlier this year. Aurora Cannabis (NASDAQOTH: ACBFF) begins trading on the NYSE on Tuesday, Oct. 23. Aphria (NASDAQOTH: APHQF) filed last week to list its stock on the NYSE.

  • Saudi Arabia Summit Loses Its Swagger as Elites Question Kingdom

    Saudi Arabia Summit Loses Its Swagger as Elites Question Kingdom

    Hosted by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the three-day conference that kicks off in Riyadh on Tuesday was meant to showcase the opportunities created by reform efforts to break the economy’s dependence on oil and unveil billion-dollar contracts in front of the world’s business elite. Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- who posed for selfies with hundreds of delegates at last year’s conference -- will be keen to show that it’s business as usual in the kingdom, even as European leaders and President Donald Trump demand more information on how the Washington Post columnist was killed at its consulate in Istanbul. No-shows from the likes of Deutsche Bank AG’s Christian Sewing, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink will deal a blow to the 33-year-old leader and the kingdom, which has built close ties with Wall Street executives and relies largely on global banks to finance its ambitious plans.

  • Say Goodbye to Amazon's Blockbuster Revenue Growth
    Motley Fool

    Say Goodbye to Amazon's Blockbuster Revenue Growth

    Throughout its history, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has possessed a certain ingenuity in finding new ways to grow. Just when the company seems to be maturing in one sector, it finds a new one to jump into. Since the company's early history, its quarterly revenue growth has cycled between 15% and 50%, depending on where it is in the growth cycles in the above businesses.

  • This Warren Buffett Stock Is Dirt Cheap Right Now
    Motley Fool

    This Warren Buffett Stock Is Dirt Cheap Right Now

    Warren Buffett has amassed a large portfolio of bank stocks for Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) with major holdings in Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), and American Express (NYSE: AXP), just to name a few of the most well-known and largest investments. Synchrony is a major issuer of store-branded credit cards and also operates a rapidly growing online banking platform.

  • Democrats Hold a 9-Point Lead in Midterms. But Trump's Job Rating Is at an All-Time High

    Democrats Hold a 9-Point Lead in Midterms. But Trump's Job Rating Is at an All-Time High

    Democrats hold a nine-point lead going into the midterm elections Nov. 6, but President Donald Trump’s job rating is at an all-time high, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. The Democrats’ nine-point lead is among likely voters, who prefer Democratic Congressional candidates over Republicans by that margin. Trump’s job rating among registered voters between Oct. 14 and 17 was at 47% approve to 49% disapprove, compared to 44% approve and 52% disapprove a month earlier.

  • Religious Extremists Got Their Justice. Now They're Going To Strip LGBTQ Rights.
    HuffPost Opinion

    Religious Extremists Got Their Justice. Now They're Going To Strip LGBTQ Rights.

    While much of the country was in an uproar over the nomination (and confirmation) of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, anti-LGBTQ religious extremists in Texas filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Austin targeting its anti-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBTQ people, claiming it infringes on their religious liberty. Like many municipalities and less than half of U.S. states, Austin protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people broadly from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

  • Don’t cheat yourself with the 4% rule

    Don’t cheat yourself with the 4% rule

    If you’re planning for retirement, you’re probably thinking about how much you’ll need, how long the money will last, and how much you can safely take out each year. You recognize that in retirement there will be a balancing act between spending on current needs while also preserving enough for your later years. Instead, all-too-often, retirees use simplified rules of thumb to determine how much to take out each year.

  • Rep. Gabbard on how US should respond to Khashoggi's death
    Fox Business Videos

    Rep. Gabbard on how US should respond to Khashoggi's death

    Saudi prosecutors say 18 Saudis are being held as suspects in Jamal Khasoggi's death; reaction from Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

  • 3 Dividend Stocks That Pay You More Than Coca-Cola Does
    Motley Fool

    3 Dividend Stocks That Pay You More Than Coca-Cola Does

    With a better than 50-year history of paying dividends, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) is seen as an icon of stable, strong, secure payouts. Although Coke and its dividend are not in trouble, there are better investments to be found. Three stocks that these Motley Fool contributors particularly like are Dominion Energy (NYSE: D), AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV), and MGM Growth Properties (NYSE: MGP).

  • Get Ready for Intel Earnings
    Motley Fool

    Get Ready for Intel Earnings

    Ahead of Intel's earnings release, it's worth recapping what the company told investors to expect and what the analyst community is expecting. When Intel released its second-quarter financial results on July 26, it provided detailed financial guidance for the subsequent quarter, as well as for the full year. The company told investors to expect third-quarter revenue of between $17.6 billion and $18.6 billion and operating margin of "approximately" 32.5%.

  • Better Buy: Aurora Cannabis Inc. vs. Canopy Growth Corporation
    Motley Fool

    Better Buy: Aurora Cannabis Inc. vs. Canopy Growth Corporation

    Canadian marijuana producers have entered a new era. After several years of supplying medical marijuana nationwide, they have begun moving into Canada's recreational marijuana market, which opened on Oct. 17. Canopy's share price has soared three times higher than Aurora's has.

  • Business

    Barron's Picks And Pans: Alibaba, Citizens Financial, FAANG Stocks And More

    This weekend's Barron's cover story shows why emerging markets may be ready to rebound. Other featured articles examine why stocks will rally in 2019 and how to play preferred stock as yields rise. Also: the prospects for Chinese internet giants and

  • 3 Warren Buffett Stocks Worth Buying Now
    Motley Fool

    3 Warren Buffett Stocks Worth Buying Now

    Known as the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett has collected both an incredible investment record and a deservedly vast following among investors of all types. Every move he makes is scrutinized in the hope of gleaning  wisdom from his investment choices.

  • 3 Reasons Alibaba Stock Could Rise
    Motley Fool

    3 Reasons Alibaba Stock Could Rise

    After reaching an all-time high of $211.70 in June, Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) shares have shed nearly a third of their value as fears of an escalating trade war between China and the U.S. rattled investors. China's e-commerce market will grow to $1.8 trillion by 2022, according to Forrester, up from $1.1 trillion this year. With only 38% of China's 1.4 billion people currently making purchases online, this massive market is set to grow briskly for many years to come.

  • How the Heck Did Netflix Stock Go Down Last Week?
    Motley Fool

    How the Heck Did Netflix Stock Go Down Last Week?

    Everything seemed to go right for Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) last week. It has another hit on its hands with The Haunting of Hill House, an eight-part horror series based on Shirley Jackson's novel that has even won the praise of the immortal Stephen King. Netflix is killing it, but investors are unfortunately singing a different tune.

  • Hate Taxes? 37 States Make Social Security Tax Free
    Motley Fool

    Hate Taxes? 37 States Make Social Security Tax Free

    Over the course of your career, you'll probably have tens of thousands of dollars in Social Security payroll taxes withheld from your paychecks. Workers are confident that by paying those taxes up front, they'll be able to collect Social Security benefits

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk Signals 'Dog Mode' Could Be on the Way

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk Signals 'Dog Mode' Could Be on the Way

    Tesla is considering fixing one of the most important issues for dog owners with a car—at least according to a tweet from Elon Musk. The company’s CEO replied to a tweet late this week signaling that the company could add a “dog mode” feature for when a pet owner has to step away from their car while leaving their furry friend inside. Tesla introduced a v8 software in 2016 that provided a feature called “Cabin Overheat Protect” that would keep the car at a “safe” temperature for a duration of time, and operates even when the car is off, according to electrek, which first reported on Musk’s response. The feature was designed for child and pet safety.

  • Better Buy: Ford Motor Company vs. General Motors
    Motley Fool

    Better Buy: Ford Motor Company vs. General Motors

    Both Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) and General Motors (NYSE: GM) have been investor favorites in the not-too-distant past, and both pay good dividends. Ford has a slew of new products on the way, starting with a brand-new Ranger pickup early next year. Ford and GM have both had a rough year in the stock market.

  • Sears Holdings Hopes to Live On After Bankruptcy. Here's Why It Won't
    Motley Fool

    Sears Holdings Hopes to Live On After Bankruptcy. Here's Why It Won't

    The bankruptcy filing everyone saw coming finally arrived. Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD) announced early Monday morning it was seeking Chapter 11 protection and had arranged financing that would allow it to keep operating, at least through Christmas. While other businesses have reorganized and emerged successfully while under the protection of the bankruptcy courts, including retailers like Payless ShoeSource, True Religion, and Gymboree, don't expect the same of Sears.

  • Here's Which Marijuana Stocks Investors Are Betting Against the Most
    Motley Fool

    Here's Which Marijuana Stocks Investors Are Betting Against the Most

    Canada's recreational marijuana market is now open for business. Some are confident enough that certain marijuana stocks will fall that they're putting a lot of money on the line expecting that's exactly what will happen. The marijuana grower's low stock float and wild swings over the last month have received a lot of attention.

  • Business

    Bulls & Bears Of The Week: Apple, Disney, Ford, Home Depot And More

    Benzinga has featured looks at many investor favorite stocks over the past week. Bullish calls included leaders in entertainment, tobacco and video games. Bearish calls included a Detroit automaker and big box retailer. Last week began with a mystery

  • A Reduced Payout Could Be Coming for These 3 High-Yield Dividend Stocks
    Motley Fool

    A Reduced Payout Could Be Coming for These 3 High-Yield Dividend Stocks

    The bull market has been churning higher for nearly 10 years now as the S&P 500 has more than quadrupled since the market bottom in 2009. Investors in some high-yield dividend stocks may be worried about a payout cut, especially with rising interest rates making bonds more appealing. Let's take a closer look at three high-yield dividend stocks that could see a reduced payout.

  • Suze Orman has a killer question for your retirement

    Suze Orman has a killer question for your retirement

    Suze Orman is one of those singular personalities in the financial business who seems to be right on the pulse of everyone she meets. She’s written books, starred in her own television show and made innumerable appearances in person. Like Oprah