July 29th marked my third Sporting Kansas City match of the year. I’m undefeated so far, having seen one draw and two wins (granted, Sporting themselves are undefeated at home regardless of my presence). I’d love to see more matches in person, but it’s a long drive from Lawrence and I don’t get to make it that often, and tickets aren’t cheap. Every time that I go down that way has a purpose. I’ve set foot in either side of Kansas City only about five times this year, and three of them were for Sporting matches.
I find it a little bizarre having an attachment to a club only accessible via a 40 minute drive, and if I can get to the park itself for a match, it takes over the day. I’ll spend the morning hours thinking about the match ahead, I’ll read news articles and watch old highlights, completely immersing myself in soccer to get excited about it, just like I always have.
Every match at Children’s Mercy Park is a journey away, something I don’t do alone very often, in a city far away. It almost feels wrong to call them a hometown team, despite the fact that Sporting is more “my team” than any other nearby professional team is.
Sporting is an anomaly among sports teams. Very rarely does one get to grow up with a club, and I feel like I have done just that. My first soccer match was in 2006, I was eleven, Sporting – the Wizards at the time – played against who me and my dad think was Columbus, in a cavernous, three quarters empty Arrowhead Stadium. We walked around the concourse before the game and saw celebratory banners decorated in yellow and red, but nothing in blue and white. On the ring over the field were names like Buchanan, Dawson, and Stenerud, but nothing permanent even so much as mentioned the Wizards, nothing about the 2000 MLS Cup and Shield, or the 2004 Open Cup, and Preki, Takawira, and Meola didn’t join those names in the ring of honor. This was no home to soccer, just a place where a soccer played while the real tenants were out.
I still look back at those matches fondly, and I look back at the matches at Community America Ballpark fondly, but the first of those places was a lease on another team’s home, and the second was a temporary home. The park really feels like home. I’m excited just walking up to it, and the entire field is visible right upon stepping inside. Finding a place is always a little bit hectic, but I’ve never been in a bad seat in the park – and I haven’t had a seat at all in the park for the past two games and I’ve had a great time.
It’s been six years since the first time that I stepped in. It’s not new anymore, it’s gone through two different name changes and seen three trophies lifted. It isn’t new, it isn’t novel anymore, it’s just how it is. I’ve been going to games here for the past six years, and it’s just a part of what I love about sports now.
Last night’s game was invigorating. With Gerso suspended and Dom Dwyer on an extended holiday or something in Florida, I was very close to joining the chorus of pessimism from Sporting fans. Dom is great, and he’s worth all of the money that he was paid, but Sporting didn’t stop scoring when he left for the Gold Cup, and the front line of Latif Blessing, Diego Rubio, and Daniel Salloi played with such selflessness that it really seemed like they would open each other up for scores, and the open looks came (particularly with the third goal). Zusi and Feilhaber seemed more in control of this game as well, so I wonder if Sporting will come together as a team even in Dom’s absence, somewhat like they did in 2013 once Kei Kamara left.
I’m not worried about Sporting this year, and I will not be surprised if they pick up right where they left off once Gerso’s back in the starting lineup. I know that they’ve slumped in the late summers before, but this team feels special, and they have the potential to go far come playoff time. I just hope that I can be there if they do.