KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes’ parents, Michael and Magdalena, fled Russian-occupied Hungary in 1956, eventually settling in New Jersey.
His mother’s house was bombed by Russian soldiers during clashes with protesters, and his father fought alongside compatriots during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
It also made Michael a wanted man, so Vermes’ parents tried to flee on multiple occasions before successfully reaching Austria and eventually immigrating to the U.S. when Magdalena was pregnant with Peter’s older brother, Ervin.
Watching the events unfold recently in Ukraine stirs haunting memories for Vermes, who spoke about the situation Wednesday during Sporting KC’s media day ahead of Saturday’s home opener against the Houston Dynamo.
“Russia has a history of going in and taking over so many countries that were all under the Iron Curtain, and that was not a good time in all those countries’ history,” Vermes said. “It’s sad that it’s almost like looking back like it’s going to that again. That’s a sad thing. You’d like to think you would be progressing, not regressing. I think that’s a regression in history.”
Russia, without offering evidence, has claimed it’s involved in a peacekeeping mission to prevent genocide of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
It also seeks to depose Ukraine’s democratically elected government, citing yet another unfounded claim that it’s been infiltrated by neo-Nazi elements.
The reality has more to do with the Russian Federation’s fear that a free Ukraine has sought to align more with the European Union and NATO from a political, economic and military perspective, drifting too far from Russia’s sphere of influence in Vladimir Putin’s view.
“I can’t even understand the reasoning for it,” Vermes said. “I do understand what the tactics are around it, but in this day and age, c’mon, do we really think everybody’s going to invade us? But the unfortunate thing is, it’s happening and it’s very difficult.”
Vermes doesn’t expect the war to impact how the club, which scours the globe for talent, constructs its roster — at least not in the near term.
“Probably because we’re already up and running, not so much,” Vermes said.
Instead, Vermes said the impacts of COVID-19 on the immigration process are having a bigger impact.
“It’s taking a long time this year for any of the foreign acquisitions that we made,” Vermes said. “The process to get them their work visa has been extraordinarily large. That has made things a lot more difficult, because usually I have my roster done before the preseason starts.”
Without being present for the full preseason, the new arrivals’ indoctrination into Sporting KC’s style and system has been disjointed or slowed.
Remi Walter missed two weeks while home in France working to secure a green card, and the delays lengthened the arrival and club assimilation process for newcomers Logan Ndenbe (Belgium), Marinos Tzionis (Cyprus), Robi Voloder (Germany) and Nikola Vujnovic (Montenegro).
In fact, Vujnovic, whose signing was announced Feb. 15, has yet to arrive as he wades through the work visa process.
Changes made to the immigration and visa application process during the Trump administration also have slowed the process, according to club officials.
“We’re going to have to use the season to get them indoctrinated,” Vermes said. “That’s probably the biggest challenge.”