COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – In the early 2000’s, Robin Fraser and Peter Vermes shared the field as players and the Colorado-Kansas City rivalry was one of the marquee match-ups in Major League Soccer.
Nearly two decades later, they’ll share it once more — now as managers — this Saturday when Sporting KC hosts the Colorado Rapids in a fight for positioning in the Western Conference.
“At the time [the rivalry] was all about proximity,” Fraser recalls. “It’s not that close but [Kansas City] was the closest thing to Colorado when the league started. There were tough games, close games, playoff games.”
A lot has changed since then. Both are now head coaches of their respective clubs; Fraser now four games into his head coaching tenure with Colorado and Vermes a constant fixture at SKC for a decade. The rivalries have also changed. Colorado now claims Real Salt Lake as its biggest rival while SKC also claims bigger rivals in RSL and Houston.
One thing that hasn’t changed is a mutual respect between Vermes and Fraser.
“I know Robin really well,” said Vermes. “He’s a great guy. He knows the game. He’s a serious guy and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Likewise, Fraser was complimentary of his colleague.
“Peter has done a good job with that team,” he said. “One thing you know is, you 100 percent expect, is for them to be well organized.”
Vermes and SKC aren’t taking this one lightly, either. Colorado has taken nine out of a possible 12 points in the games under Fraser and has averaged two goals a game in each of the four games since his hiring.
“Colorado is playing well. We need to get points, we’re playing at home, so we need to give everything we have for the game,” said Vermes. “[Fraser] is really good at what he does and is slowly putting his mark on the team and getting a chance to evaluate players. They’re going to have to show him if they’re going to be around for another year.”
Evaluation will indeed be a major part of Fraser’s process as the team looks towards an important rebuild this off-season, which Rapids GM and vice president of operations Padraig Smith has billed publicly as one of the most important in franchise history.
“You’re assessing everything, really,” Fraser explained. “Decision making, ability, technical execution, adaptability to different asks in terms of what the team is doing, and just see how they fare and all these different scenarios.”
Both teams still have an outside shot at the playoffs if they win out and receive help, making Saturday’s game all the more important. A single point currently separates SKC (37 points) and Colorado (36 points) in the Western Conference standings.
“Whether you agree or not, the games at the end take on a different life,” said Vermes. “They’re more like playoff games than regular season games towards the end of the season. That’s what these games are now.”
Maybe there’s still a little luster left on that old school rivalry, after all.