What Timbers can learn from Sporting Kansas City

During my lunch break today, I read a blog post today that blew my mind a bit.

It was about Sporting Kansas City, a team I haven't followed at all until this year. The parallels between them and the Portland Timbers are astonishing, not to mention those between Gavin Wilkinson and Peter Vermes.

Read it for yourself:

After the jump, I'll highlight some key points:

Similarities between SKC and PTFC:

1. Both Gavin Wilkinson and Peter Vermes hired and fired coaches who promised an attacking style, but couldn't put any consistency together, and often reactively reverted to more conservative methods.

2. Both GW and PV took over as interim coach of their respective clubs upon the firing of the previous coach.

3. SKC used to play on a more narrow field, as the Timbers do now. They now have a wider pitch, as the Timbers plan to have in the near future.

4. Both the Timbers and SKC have a core philosophy centered around the development of young talent and an attacking style of play.

5. Like Wilkinson, Vermes was often criticized for not having a handle on his job as technical director, during some of SKC's more difficult years.

Now, obviously, we appear to be gunning for a more creative, techincal playing style, vs. Sporting's more physical, direct-buildup game (my one major disagreement with the blog I referenced---SKC may play an attacking, possession game, but the fluidity of movement is fairly limited). We also are hiring another coach, rather than making GW permanent. And we have a rabid fanbase that wants to win now.

But if we are the equivalent of SKC in 2009, what can the Portland Timbers learn from their journey?

1. Pitch widening. Their narrow pitch was due to the stadium they played in. They were able to widen it when they got their new stadium. There must be a good reason most teams prefer more width.

2. They established a clear identity in their system of play (direct possession-game; aggressive, physical, high-pressure defending). Call it what you will, it's an identity and it's working better and better as time goes on.

3. They cultivated and built around a core of young players. Graham Zuzi, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, Chance Myers, Roger Espinoza. These are all young talents they are now relying on as the core of their team.

4. They stuck with a good, though somewhat green, soccer mind, rather than seeking a more experienced person. Gavin Wilkinson is, today, who Peter Vermes was in 2009. A general manager being panned by the fans for incompetence, having to figure out what went right and what went wrong over the last couple of years, and move forward with an improved plan. Is GW a great soccer mind? To draw that conclusion now would be absurd, but those who say he is a clearly a soccer idiot are, frankly, soccer idiots (and I don't mean to confuse those folks and members of the Timbers faithful who have other reasons for disliking him).

5. Designated players are overrated. Sporting Kansas City unloaded their last one in the offseason, and are proceeding to have their best season in over a decade with ZERO DPs. That's not to say a DP is always bad, just that you should invest in a DP if it benefits your team and system, rather than building your team and system around a DP.

6. Prioritize the big picture and think long-term. This is part of why Vermes is successful today, and it will be key to Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter's success as well. Vermes didn't let the desire to see immediate results and reward the fans, trump his focus on long-term growth, and his patience and long-term vision are paying off today.

In reality, I really dislike Sporting Kansas City. Their style of play, to me, is brutish and lacks flair in the possession game. I'm all for what we are doing in terms of going for a more creative, technical style of play. While conventional wisdom would suggest that SKC's style of play is more suited to MLS---a league that thrives on athleticism---I have my reasons for believing in a different approach for us. Those are for another post.

The point of this post is that, in spite of my sentiments towards SKC as a Timbers fan, I have to notice and appreciate what Vermes and the other folks running the club have accomplished. They have done a fantastic job in their patience, long-term planning, young-player development emphasis, and consistency in a competent system of play. Ultimately, it's taken some time, but it's paying off now, and SKC fans are loving it.

If we have learned from the journey of teams like SKC, I'm hopeful that their story can be ours in a few more years.

Alright guys, I don't believe I have to say this but, just in case, please do not submit anything racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise not appropriate for even the younger Timbers fans.

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