By Michael Lewis
In sports, you never know when you’re going to get your big break.
For many athletes, its being at the right place at the right time.
Take, for instance, Scott Vermillion.
In 1998, the 21-year Vermillion was a member of the Project 40 team that developed promising young players for Major League Soccer.
A day before the Kansas City Wizards were to play the New England Revolution in Foxboro, Mass. on May 15 of that year, Project 40 head coach Tim Hankinson, whose team was preparing to play the Connecticut Wolves, received a call from Ron Newman. The Wizards head man said that one of his defenders turned his ankle.
“He says, ‘Tim I hate to do this, but I need you to send me Scott,’ ” Hankinson said Tuesday, “because he was assigned to the Kansas City Wizards; he was their player under this system.”
Hankinson responded: “Ron, look, I’ve seen this happen before you guys take these guys at the last second, just to fill out the bench and then they don’t play, and they’ve missed their opportunity to keep their development going.”
To which Newman replied: “No, Tim, I’m going to start him. I’m going to play him.”
The Project 40 boss helped Vermillion get from Connecticut to Foxborough, Mass. Vermillion not only started, but he set up the winning goal with a cross to Digital Takawira, who scored the first of his two goals in the 76th minute for a 1-0 lead en route to a 3-1 win.
“The next call with Ron was that he’s not coming back to Project 40,” Hankinson said, adding that Newman said: “He’s going to start for me. He’s my guy. He was impressive and he’s ready for this level.”
“And so I said, ‘That’s great, that’s what we’re trying to do here. It worked out really took advantage of that moment.”
It was one of the high professional soccer moments for Vermillion, who passed away on Christmas Day. He was 44. His cause of death was not immediately known.
“Sad news,” former Wizards assistant coach Guy Newman said on Facebook. “Scotty was a great person and was a fantastic young player for us back in the early mls years. Did so well with his hometown club.”
Vermillion wound up playing 22 games for KC that season with some observers claiming he was a strong candidate for Major League Soccer rookie of the year. Apart from his debut, Vermillion’s most memorable match was in the 2-0 victory over the Miami Fusion Aug. 26 in which he scored his first MLS goal and set up another.
He played four years in MLS, starting 87 games of the 95 matches he competed in, logging 7,375 minutes. He scored three goals and added eight assists. The 5-11, 175-lb. center back performed for the Wizards from 1998-99, then for the Colorado Rapids for two seasons before he was traded to D.C. United. An injury ended his career in 2001.
Born in Olathe, Kansas Dec. 23, 1976, Vermillion earned All-American honors at Olathe East High School. A versatile performer as a youth player as a defender, midfielder or forward, Vermillion helped the Olathe Spirit of ’75 boys team win its second Kansas State Cup in three years in 1993.
He played for the U.S. Under-17 and U-20 national teams. He attended the University of Virginia for three years – he was a third team All-American – before deciding to turn pro after his sophomore season.
Hankinson said that Vermillion had “the guts to leave school and go Project 40.” He witnessed the young defender’s growth with that team and with the Rapids, of which Hankinson coached from 2001-04.
“He was a tough, tough center back,” Hankinson said. “Loved to get his body on the striker, a man marker and, but he also had soft, good feet, which you can’t play at UVA in that area if you’re not able to be a good possession player.
“Scott was a great guy and a true professional and nothing but great stuff to say about him.”
That 1998 Project 40 team included the likes of D.C. United’s Ben Olsen and Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Eric Quill.
“He had a good quality time in the league and was always a good pro,” Hankinson said.
According to his Linkedin page, Vermillion was a coach at the KC Legends Soccer Club from June 2005 to the present, directing Boys U-12 and U-16 teams and a Girls U-16 squad.
He also was a registered nurse at the University of Kansas Medical Center from 2013-15 and worked in the NA Transplant ICU at the medical center from 2012-13.
In November 2018, Vermillion was arrested in Olathe for aggravated domestic battery and was jailed with a $5,000 bond. It was not immediately known if he was convicted.