Dominic Kinnear and Peter Vermes may be looking to one up each other when their scoreless Eastern Conference Championship series resumes on Saturday, but the two head coaches have a much friendlier bond than this weekend's second leg will likely indicate.
The pair go back a long time, friends since their days with the US men's national team in the early 1990s. Kinnear and Vermes have been with MLS from their days at Spartan Stadium in San Jose in 1996 to the sold-out crowds today at Sporting Park and BBVA Compass Stadium. As the friends are standard-bearers for MLS coaches today, their success shows the league could be best left to those who understand it.
“As far as coaches goes, even as far as soccer goes, he’s a good friend of mine,” Kinnear said of Vermes. “Our history goes back quite a ways. I think the one thing about the American coaches, we understand the rules. The toughest thing for coaches who come here is not just understanding the rules, but to live by them year in and year out and accept them.”
Vermes' and Kinnear’s success is no coincidence, as both have been around U.S. Soccer and MLS from the beginning. Vermes started his career as a forward before moving to the back, winning MLS Defender of the Year in 2000, all while playing for the US 67 times and in the 1990 World Cup. Kinnear, meanwhile, made 54 appearances for the US.
Both joined MLS early on and played during the early years of the league, and those playing days bleed into their teams via their similar playing styles: aggressive and tough with a strong mental edge.
"I think we see soccer more or less the same way,” said Kinnear.
Both Kinnear and Vermes share an affinity for details, meticulous in their approaches but differing in their approaches. Vermes is more of a taskmaster as a detail-oriented coach that will try and exploit tactics and styles in a game while Kinnear likes to keep the game simple.
“They get it and they both played in the league and their attention to detail is as good as anyone in the league and I think that’s why they’re as good as they are,” said Dynamo goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley. “I know they respect each other a great deal and I think they’re both happy about each other’s results.”
Their success has led to back-to-back-to-back meetings at season’s most important time. So far, Kinnear’s gotten the better of Vermes in the playoffs, winning their previous two meetings on the way to back-to-back MLS Cup appearances. As their clubs have become postseason rivals, the coaches have engaged in some friendly clashes and their friendship does not restrict them from letting the other know what they are feeling.
“It would be the same as guys that played on the field against each other,” Hanley said. “They were teammates and friends before they ever did this. They share a common bond that’s a little different than what even the other coaches in this league share.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.