Kansas City, Kan. When I first heard the name, Sporting Kansas City, I figured it was an exclusive yacht club on the river, where captains hats, blue blazers, white slacks and topsiders are the standard wardrobe. You know, one of those places where if you laugh too loudly you get accused of “ruining our entire evening.”
It’s no such thing. It’s the Major League Soccer club that used to be known as the Wizards. Not sorry to see the Wizards go — any reference to Wizard of Oz is so trite, so outsider — but Sporting Kansas City?
Well, the parent company is the Sporting Club, and Sporting Kansas City is its soccer club, a la Sporting Lisbon, a Portuguese outfit that includes a famous soccer club.
The name doesn’t roll off the tongue, but the guess here is the new soccer-specific stadium in Village West across from the Kansas Speedway will be a huge hit from its first kick, June 9 when the Chicago Fire come to town. KC Soccer Stadium, an under-construction, 18,500-seat, $180-million venue, will be packed with sweets, suites and, most important, not a bad seat in the house. (See for yourself at the virtual tour available on www.SportingKC.com.)
It became easy, after touring the stadium on a recent see-your-breath afternoon, to project that Lawrence sports fans finally will have the chance to latch onto a big-time sports franchise that plays its home games 30 minutes away in a big-time stadium, roughly half the time it takes to watch the Royals try to win without Zack Greinke in the rotation.
The idea behind the name is consistent with the organization trying to make its fans feel not just like spectators watching soccer matches, but like members of a club.
Levels within the membership will keep the youngish beer-and-peanut crowd hanging together in a sports bar-like atmosphere inside the stadium before matches, whereas the more well-off can become members of a more pricey club and have seats that position them to high-five some of the world’s most famous players as they make their way on the walk of champions and onto the pitch.
In the suites, various camera angles, such as a closeup on the goalie, or the sidelines or the stands, are available to play on the multiple TV sets.
Given the choice, I’d rather travel 30 minutes to watch major-league baseball, but the Kansas City T-Bones don’t resemble that, and for the past several years, neither have the Royals.
The intimacy of the soccer stadium that also will be used for outdoor concerts will lead to season-ticket holders — excuse me, members — feeling connected to Sporting Kansas City’s stars, including newcomer Omar Bravo, a gifted goal scorer from Mexico.
The MLS, fired up about Kansas City’s all-in commitment to soccer, has loaded Sporting KC’s schedule with road games at the start (the season opens March 19 in Carson, Calif.) in order to ensure the stadium is ready for the home portion of the schedule, which runs deep into October.
The MLS has 18 teams, and each club plays everyone twice during the 34-match schedule, a season long enough to develop favorite players and villains and short enough to create an urgent atmosphere for every game at the state’s newest stadium.