Union manager Jim Curtin knows just about everyone there is to know in American soccer these days, and he gets along with a lot of them. But a few of those people are in a higher class, and one of them will be on the visitors’ bench at Subaru Park this weekend.
Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes played against Curtin when the team was called the Kansas City Wizards, in Curtin’s early years as a pro with the Chicago Fire.
Vermes is the longest-tenured manager in MLS, now in his 15th season in the heartland. Curtin has the second-longest tenure, now in his 10th with the Union.
And to top it off, Vermes has deep roots in South Jersey, even if his many years in the midwest have turned his accent into a lilt. When Curtin was a middle-schooler in Oreland, Vermes was playing for the U.S. in the 1990 men’s World Cup in Italy.
Between the pandemic and the nature of MLS’s unbalanced schedule, Curtin and Vermes haven’t shared a sideline since 2020. They haven’t met in Chester since 2019, when Jay Simpson — still among the Union’s all-time busts — scored twice in a surprising win.
The wait will finally end on Saturday (7:30 p.m., Apple TV, paywalled). Unfortunately, both teams are in ruts right now: the Union have lost two straight games, and Sporting is winless this year. But it’s early in the season, so there’s time for both managers to see the bigger picture.
‘A great mentor’
“When you think of Kansas City, you think of Peter and what he’s built there — the trophies, the success, the strong teams — it’s really incredible what he’s done there,” Curtin said.
Those trophies include the 2013 MLS Cup and three U.S. Open Cup titles, beating the Union in the 2015 final. Vermes also won the 2000 MLS Cup and ‘04 Open Cup as a Kansas City player.
“He’s been a guy that I’ve looked up to a ton, a guy I’ve learned a lot [from] about the game over the years,” Curtin said. “Have been on different committees and coaches’ meetings with him, and licenses, or whatever it might be. And he’s been a great mentor, a guy that I’ve learned a ton from, and one of the best that our game’s had.”
Vermes returned the favor.
“I’ve known Jim for a long time, I have a lot of respect for him,” he said. “I think he’s got a good way [of] how he goes about his business every day in the profession. … His teams are organized, his teams play hard for him, and I think as a coach/manager, that’s what we all hope for.”
Curtin and Vermes have both learned the science of coaching over the years, earning all the licenses a manager needs to work in the professional game. But there’s also an art to the job, the intangibles and personal touches that really bring a locker room together. Both men succeed at that, too.
“When you take those licenses — and I’m not knocking them by any means, I’m just stating a fact — what they don’t talk to you about is all the other things that are incredibly important to your success, failure, and then at times, your ability to manage situations in between,” Vermes said. “It’s those intangibles that are that are incredibly, incredibly important to the profession.”
An eye on the future
Both men’s successes have made them candidates for jobs with the U.S. national team program — in Vermes’ case, many times. Most recently, Vermes turned down an overture from the consulting firm U.S. Soccer hired to find its next sporting director, though it’s not clear if that’s the job Vermes was approached for.
(It was the job Union sporting director Ernst Tanner was approached for, and he also said no.)
Curtin is among the candidates to be the U.S. men’s team’s next manager. He has made no secret of his willingness to take that job, or even an assistant position under the right boss. And he still doesn’t have a contract with the Union past this year, even though talks started months ago.
Vermes knew his turning down of U.S. Socer turned lots of heads, and he knows it could come up again this weekend. But he knows as well as anyone that running a national team is a very different job from running a club, so it’s not a distraction for him.
“It’s probably more of a distraction if you don’t have a lot of experience or you just haven’t been around it,” Vermes said. “You’re honored if you’re mentioned in that group of people, right? At the same time, you know, not every job is for everybody, and maybe at that time. … I understand that there’s a lot of really interesting, exciting things about that job at the moment, but it just may not be the right time for you.”
He continued unprompted, knowing what he had said before and was saying now.
“I want the best person to do that job, because I think it’s so important,” he said. “For the growth of soccer to take another leap in this country, it’s incredibly important that our team is good in ‘26. At the same time, as a former player, I have a lot of pride, and want to see that success; and then as a fan as well, I want to see that success.”
Then he concluded: “And so I am putting my faith in that they’re going to make good decisions on the people that we’re going to bring in, and that success is going to be there, because I think that’s the most important thing.”