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Four Major Takeaways from the Mike Burns Sporting Director Announcement

We learned a lot about how things are going to work for Mike Burns in his new role as Sporting KC’s Sporting Director.

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Credit: Sporting Kansas City

On Tuesday, Sporting Kansas City held its first press conference since announcing the hiring of Mike Burns as the clubs first new Sporting Director in 18 years. Peter Vermes relinquished one of his titles, as my For the Glory KC co-host has been asking him to do for a while.

Altogether, Vermes and Burns spent over 34 minutes talking to the media about a variety of topics. If you are even mildly close to being a ‘hardcore’ fan, both interviews are worth a listen in their entirety. If you don’t have that kind of time, let the KC Soccer Journal give you the tip of the iceberg highlights.

The Largest Budget in Club History

Let’s start with the headliner. According to Vermes, “the owners have committed, over the next four years, to giving us the largest budget we’ve ever had in our history.”

Because everything around the team is fairly negative right now, some are saying cynical things like the team can spend a single penny more and technically be the largest. And while technically that’s true, you don’t have to look too far into the past to see an offseason with a huge outlay.

After missing the playoffs in 2019, Sporting KC spent a record transfer fee to sign striker Alan Pulido. His fee was rumored between $6 and $10 million. That same offseason the team spent another $4 million to bring in Gadi Kinda. On the low end, that would mean a $10 million injection of cash into the team.

Hopefully it’s more than $10 million. The money portion of MLS can be a little opaque, though. If you only look at salary spend, Sporting KC were 15th in 2023 and slipped slightly to 18th in 2024. In a 29-team league, that doesn’t feel too bad.

That is, until you realize, Sporting KC are the only team in the league not to spend a transfer fee this year. In fact, they haven’t paid a fee for a player since Dany Rosero arrived early in the 2023 season. The last time they signed a Designated Player was the aforementioned Pulido/Kinda signings in the 2019-20 offseason.

Which lines up with his quote that they are basically in the basement of MLS spending.

“We’re in the bottom, bottom, bottom third [in spending],” said Vermes. “We need to be somewhere in the top middle third to the bottom of the top third. That’s where we need to be, and I think we have the ability to get there.”

While this talk of “thirds” is a little opaque, that would seem to indicate somewhere in the 8-12 range in spending in a 29-team league (30 teams next year with San Diego). It’s a heck of a lot better than at or near the bottom.

The Budget Is for Staffing Too

Sporting KC scored very low on American Soccer Analysis’ annual analytics survey. I’m not sure if Vermes or Burns are reading ASA, but the two long-time MLS veteran executives seem to be aware that what Sporting KC are doing isn’t enough.

While Vermes said, “we’ve got to improve our analytics department,” and Burns indicated they’d look to add staff there, both seemed a little apprehensive. The way they spoke of analytics is with the same generic terms I use, and I don’t know anything about all the data that’s available out there.

Burns saying he’s “not there yet” and that it is not “the ultimate decision maker” screams of a skepticism of analytics. And that makes sense considering both guys have been in or around MLS on a relatively consistent basis since their playing days. They both have a little bit of an old school vibe to them.

The way they spoke of adding a singular scout or singular analytics person feels too small. It feels like Sporting KC are behind in these areas and it’ll take a greater investment to catch up.

I’m willing to give Burns the benefit of the doubt since he’s still learning how Sporting KC function. He literally has worked for the team for three days. It’ll take time. Hopefully they press the accelerator to get ready for that big offseason rebuild.

Roster Moves are Coming but Maybe Slower than You’d Like

Back when Sporting KC missed out on four transfer targets during the winter window, I personally preached patience. There is no need to rush into signing a Designated Player, getting it all wrong, and being stuck on that contract for three to four years. Who knew Kinda leaving would have such an outsized impact on the club?

Well, you might need to exhibit even more patience. According to new Sporting Director Burns, “[Sporting KC] don’t have a ton of flexibility right now for the summer window. We are going to try to add a player, but we won’t be able to make wholesale changes this summer.”

He went on to add, “right now, we don’t have a ton of flexibility from a roster and budget standpoint.”

Part of this is no doubt true. There are 28 players under contract for the 2024 season and MLS rosters allow only 30 players. Ozzie Cisneros is out on loan to Carolina Core (MLS Next Pro) and Felipe Hernandez is on administrative leave, so that may technically clear two more spots.

The budget part is tougher to know. The team touted the flexibility they would maintain by temporarily naming Daniel Salloi and Nemanja Radoja as Designated Players that they could buy down later. It seems between that, the money not spent on Gadi Kinda and the new rules coming this summer that should give another $1 million in General Allocation Money, more could be done. But with just two weeks until the transfer window opens, and this season mostly lost, there is probably no need to rush into a rash decision.

That doesn’t mean things won’t be overturned in the offseason. There is a lot of flexibility between the salaries coming off the books and the pure number of players the team can move on from. Burns did stress that doesn’t mean “everyone’s gone,” but the winter window should be more active.

One other nugget that Vermes dropped in the press conference seemed to allude to the strategy that the team may go with two Designated Players, four U-22 players and the extra $2 million in GAM (just $1 million this season). That always felt like where SKC would land, but it’s good to hear him hint towards it more fully.

New MLS Roster Rules and How Sporting KC are Impacted

Who Reports to Who?

One question on everyone’s mind when the news broke that Burns would be the new Sporting Director was if Peter Vermes would be under Burns, over Burns or equals. The media spoke with Vermes first, and he didn’t really answer the question.

Daniel Sperry (KC Star): “What does the structure look like? Do you report to Mike Burns or do you report to ownership?

Vermes: “I’m not trying to be funny when I say this. I’ve been here for 18 years, and I’ve been in charge of the technical side. It’s not as if someone is now coming in and gonna tell me the ins and outs of this club. It’s impossible… It’s not about that it’s about us all collaborating and working together.”

With Burns, his answer was much clearer, besides his weird use of direct report (personally, my direct reports at work are under me, not over as Burns says).

Burns: “My direct report is [to] Peter. And speaking frankly, that’s the way, in my opinion, it should be.”

Both full quotes are below for added context.

This is the issue probably most griped about on the internet since the press conference. And while I understand the sentiment, it was always going to be this way. For the eight days Gavin Wilkinson worked for Sporting KC, he was under Peter. And it’s likely that it was a limiting factor in the candidate pool and possibly why it took another six months to replace that rash hire.

Typically, the Sporting Director hires and fires the coach. Vermes fired his predecessor and put himself in the manager job. If Peter is going to get fired, it’ll be coming from ownership. Right now, they’ve said they won’t be doing that.

My sincerest hope is that Vermes will let Burns and his future staff do their job. Then, they’ll need to collaborate, as they both mentioned. It seemingly says that Vermes will have final say, but hopefully he trusts the people around him since there aren’t enough hours in the day for one man to do both of these jobs.

What were your take aways from the press conference? Did you watch the whole thing? Tell us in the comments if you did.
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Thad Bell

PR did come by after to make sure everyone understood that his use of direct report was understood. In the business world, direct reports report to you.

Shawn

It was interesting:
1) At least, albeit not encouraging, they admit that Peter is the top guy that all the reporting will go too. With that they also admitted that Peter is so engrained into the system that they do not know how to move away from him. I am guessing that wont change until he retires. Which, IMO, will happen at the end of his contract.

2) Again, not good, but at least they admitted that we wont be spending any real money this transfer window. I appreciate the openness. I will be interested in the One guy they bring in to play for this transfer. They did say they would get one guy. I wonder who?

3) With the money talk… It was nice to hear Peter say that the Ownership group has really keep the Organizations hands tied from spending any real money. So, maybe the last few seasons have not really been his fault (who knows). Maybe it was the ownership group not being willing to spend the money. I’ll be intrigued to see what kind of players they plan on getting in the next 2 windows.

4) I hope they do rely a bit more on analytics. I too think numbers are not everything but boy do they sure help out.

Overall, my option of the press conference was a mixed bag. I was glad to see they are at least making some kind of moves. But is this really the best way to move forward? We will see.

I will still watch SKC from the far off land of Iowa.

Eric Vidoni

To your point 3, over the past two weeks, Peter has been more direct and open about ownership than I’ve ever heard. He rarely airs dirty laundry. But starting with The Program two weeks ago, he’s been cautiously direct about budget challenges, including his story in this presser about being told ownership wouldn’t invest when they were in first. It’s been really interesting.

I obviously couldn’t say if this were watching power dynamics playing out in public or a carefully scripted release of information but it has been pretty eyeopening to see how many glancing shots Peter has taken at ownership recently. (I think the Shades of Blue pod guys said something similar.)

KCOutsider

Looking forward to seeing A&W’s latest convoluted explanation of how PV is not, in fact, in charge of everything. This absolutely fits what the rest of us have been saying, that PV is so entrenched there’s no way to get rid of him and no good candidate wants to take on such a strange position of being both over and under the same guy.

ar_jhawk

Was thinking the same thing.

Chadwyn(aka dachefsfan)

at some point peter would have to relinquish the manager role…

KCSpurs1996

I was harsh about the Mike Burns hire. Still feel skeptical. I don’t love the downplaying of analytics or PV’s evasive answer about the club hierarchy. That said, they’re mostly saying the right things here and I’m happy to be patient, but they’ve got to come good on their word now. Time will tell!

ar_jhawk

I just think they’ve about run out of time. Even if you make changes, they aren’t all going to pan out, but they’ve absolutely gotta visibly start the process to give the fanbase something to cling to. With the parity in the league it isn’t necessary to have a multi-year rebuild. But you actually have to start the process.

KCSpurs1996

I’m sort of on the fence. On the one hand, I agree they’re just about out of time. On the other hand, we as fans have been asking for changes and the club has finally listened (albeit, not the most promising of changes) and they’re telling us there is more change to come. So I want to give them an opportunity to follow through on what they’re saying they will do.

That said, they’re saying we’ll be very active once the winter window rolls around, and we’ll have the biggest budget the club has ever had, and we’ll be adding to the back room staff. Great. I’m saving those receipts. And if those things don’t happen on the timeline they’ve put out there, or at all for that matter, we’re going to have a big problem.

Mister Murse

Kc star had an awesome article. What I don’t get is how there was no budget forecast given to Peter to operate under. He was being authorized on a case-by-case basis. You can’t plan around that!

Pulido and kinda came in at around a value half if what was allowable.

Hiring someone who builds rosters not believing in stats is a pick.

The pool to hire people to build rosters is tiny because of the office structure. Which is indicative of dysfunction.

Roles need to be delineated. We will have issues building our front office until we do.

Speaking of building front office. We have two old school dudes, one of which is so tough on negotiating contracts that the league and then some know it. I am concerned about our clubs reputation.

KCOutsider

That article was fascinating. If ownership really is recognizing that they’re part of the problem, that’s a start. Though I also want to see evidence that they understand they need to improve the fan experience following the Current model, too. Better and more local food/drink, for one.

Kooth

Three questions I have,
1 PV clearly says that the budget is over four years so what other 4 years of the clubs existence is the comparison to?
2 Is it the blockbuster year of 2019 plus the budgets of the next 3 years or the previous 3 years? I bet those numbers are different.
3 What is the percentage increase over last highest budget per 4 year period, 5, 10, 25, 50 percent? The new budget could be just 1 dollar over the previous largest budget and thus technically is “the largest budget we’ve ever had in our history”.

Oh to live in interesting times.

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