Sporting Kansas City: A Legacy of Success and Soccer Culture Expansion

In 1995, shortly following the 1994 World Cup in the United States, a new domestic soccer league was announced. This was Major League Soccer. The league was set to start in 1996 with ten teams. One of those teams was the Kansas City Wiz. 

The Wiz decided to play at Arrowhead Stadium, located in Kansas City, MO. In April of 1996, The Wiz played their first game. This game ended 3-0 in favor of Kansas City over the Colorado Rapids. Around 21,000 fans were in attendance that day. This is an ironically familiar number, as it is the fire marshal capacity at the current stadium, “Children’s Mercy Park”.

Parker Johnson/IONYOU Media

One year after the inaugural season, the Wiz decided to rebrand just a bit. They changed their name to ” The Kansas City Wizards”. Fans continued to see the Wizards having success being led by their star player, Preki. The Wizards concluded the 1997 season with a record of 21-11 with 57 goals scored. Fans were quickly realizing this team had something worth watching! 

That was until the following two years. The Wizards failed to make the playoffs two years in a row. This called for a revamp of the players and head coach. 

Fast forward to 2000. Not only was this a very unique time in the world, but it was a fantastic year for the Wizards. This team had many fan favorites, like goalkeeper, Tony Meola, and (now head coach for Sporting KC), Peter Vermes. This talented roster worked together to find the team playing in their first MLS Cup Final. This game was played at a neutral site, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, in Washington DC. Kansas City faced off against the Chicago Fire in front of nearly 40,000 people. Miklos Molnar scored an early goal, and that was all KC needed to win the match 1-0! A great performance from goalkeeper, Tony Meola won him “Man of the Match” as well. 

Just four years later, The Wizards won another championship. This win came through a different competition, the US Open Cup. Once again, Kansas City faced off against the Chicago Fire. The score was level after 90 minutes, so the game went to extra time. This Extra Time format was very unique as it was “Golden Goal.” Meaning, the first team to score, wins! Kansas City did just that. 

After hiring former player, Peter Vermes as head coach in 2009 nearly fifteen years after the club was founded, it was time for another rebrand. This rebrand was a bit bigger than adding the letters “a r d s” onto the end of a name. The rebrand announced in 2010 was set to change the whole identity of the team. The KC Wizards were now named Sporting Kansas City. With the new name came new colors, jerseys, and a brand-new stadium! This stadium was built for Sporting KC and was designed to be a permanent home for a long time. 

Peter Vermes (Parker Johnson/IONYOU Media)

Sporting Park (now named Children’s Mercy Park) was a state-of-the-art soccer-specific stadium at its time. Seating just over 18,000 people, we have seen this stadium fill up to fire marshal capacity (21,650) many times. This stadium added a completely new identity to the team. Now, they had a home. And this home was a fortress. Known for many years as one of the toughest places to play away, the ruthless fans inside the stadium gave the new stadium a completely different level of home-field advantage. 

Parker Johnson/IONYOU Media

This was shown just three years later. Sporting KC found themselves once again in the MLS Cup Final. This time, the game was at home in front of 21,000+ fans and against Real Salt Lake. This game was recorded as the coldest match in MLS history, with the temperature being 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This game was tied 1-1 after regulation and stayed that way through extra time as well. This meant the game went to penalty kicks. After many saves from Jimmy Nielson and all sorts of drama. The final score of the shootout was 7-6 in favor of Sporting Kansas City after 10 kicks! This was now SKC’s second MLS championship as a franchise. 

Since the championship in 2013, Sporting KC has won the US Open Cup another two times. In 2015, SKC faced off against the Philadephia Union. This game ended 1-1 and was settled in penalties in favor of Kansas City 7-6. 2 years later, SKC found another US Open Cup victory against the New York Red Bulls 2-1 after extra time. 

Sporting Kansas City has produced many stars in their 28 years of existence. Notable players include Matt Besler, Kei Kamara, Dom Dwyer, Jimmy Nielson, Roger Espinoza and many more.  

Recently, Sporting KC has been developing the soccer culture in Kansas City. They have continued to build their youth program with fifteen affiliate clubs around the Midwest. Outside of youth soccer, SKC has grown its reserve team, Sporting KC II (formerly known as Swope Park Rangers). This team now competes in the MLS Next Pro league where they face off against other reserve teams to MLS clubs around the country. 

In addition to the youth and professional programs, Sporting Kansas City has built a state-of-the-art facility designed for the US Men’s National Team and SKC themselves. Alongside that facility, they have built massive turf complexes for other soccer events (mainly youth) such as the “Central Bank Sporting Fields” and the “Compass Minerals Sporting Fields”

Sporting Kansas City will look to continue as a contender in the MLS soon while adding to their broad expansions in the youth soccer world and inside Kansas City. 

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