KANSAS CITY, KS - AUGUST 06: Mid fielder Kei Kamara (L) of the Sporting Kansas City brings the ball up field against pressure from Mid fielder Osvaldo Alonso #6 of the Seattle Sounders FC during the second half on August 6, 2011 at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. The Seattle Sounders FC defeated Sporting Kansas City 2-1. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
Tomorrow is a chance for Sporting KC to change the script once more. It is the first time to paint the wall in the present instead of a herald towards the successes of the past.
Sometimes, Robb Heineman makes it too easy to love this team. The enthusiasm is always over the top and the disappointment even more palpable. The whole idea of Sporting Kansas City runs in contrast to its Major League neighbors to the east. Just listen to Heineman and picture the Glasses or whatever cabal is running the Chiefs at this moment being so frank (or optimistic).
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" ’Paint the wall’ has got to be our expectation," said Heineman, who’s fond of using the Twitter hashtag "#paintthewall." The "wall" is the northwestern corner of Livestrong Park where the team proudly displays its three major trophies: the 2004 U.S. Open Cup, the 2000 Supporter’s Shield (given to the team with the best regular season record) and the 2000 MLS Cup trophy. Not only are those the last three trophies won by the team, they are the only trophies won by a major sports team in Kansas City since the Royals won the World Series in 1985.
For years, we've waited for a winner in Kansas City. We've bled for one. To be fair, the franchise I cover (as the Wizards) delivered on that promise twice. In 2000, the Wizards using quite possibly the stoutest defense ever seen in MLS and the legendary number ten, Preki, won the franchises only MLS Cup. In 2004, as Preki's career was waning away the Wizards added a US Open Cup title, the second of which they chase today. The problem lies in the lack of novelty in those titles, the idea of a KC soccer fan was born but not quite cognizant of the important occurrences happening around them.
The results have been mixed for the other franchises. Denying that the Chiefs were in some way a winner during the past 25 years may be hard, but there hasn't been much to fall back on. Two playoff wins since Marty Schottenheimer and Carl Peterson came to town. To exacerbate the irrelevance of the problem, the owners have been stoic in many ways, legends built in the founding of the AFl and the merger.
I could talk for hours on the problems plaguing the Royals, but let's just say they're a team far from contention that hasn't really been in contention since the strike "fixed" baseball's problems. Suffice to say Kansas City, a city of winners in the '70s, became a city of losers two short decades later. (Also, to be fair the Blades and Comets had successful runs in the '90s, but we should never accept being a minor league city.)
In 2011, the game changed. Now, we had a team that was not only Kansas City in feel with local players, but also was a contender. In our first year with a legitimate stadium and fanbase, we won the Eastern Conference. This did not translate into a championship nor a finals appearance, but it generated momentum to what looks to be a formative campaign in the re-branding and definition of Sporting KC.
Now, we aren't the misfits, the program that did not belong with the soccer mad crowds of DC, the southwest and pacific northwest. We all still the bell cow when it comes to flashy stadiums, and as every new one is built we remain that through brilliant forward thinking. On the field, we have developed a distinct style that both wears out opponents but physically drains our players, leading to slumps as the past month has displayed.
Tomorrow is a chance for Sporting KC to change the script once more. It is the first time to paint the wall in the present instead of a herald towards the successes of the past. It is the first time to win a championship under a new banner, and the first time for any player associated with the current team to win any silverware in Kansas City. There are many things standing in this way but none loom larger than the same casual failures that doomed the other franchises who spent decades as near to the top as Sporting, but rarely walked away victorious.
Life is fickle like that. Those of you without soccer fandom may find yourself rooting for Sporting KC, if only to break the curse that has hung upon KC sports since I was a child. Then again, the majority of you have prepared for failure as any good Kansas City fan must do, and found that winning is just a cherry on top of the unexpected sundae that you've found.
Until the Chiefs go on their inevitable Super Bowl run, right after Sporting's MLS Cup victory (and the Royals... I can't finish this sentence, see you in 2014), we might as well be Boston fans in 2004 for luck's sake. Then, the entire country can hate us for being smug and we can say look at these rings/ignore Jeff Francouer skulking in the corner. As Herman's Hermits said, "Somethin' tells me I'm into something good." or not, I'm gonna be there in person which should give you a case of the terror.
Either way, it whould be a hell of a ride at Livestrong or anywhere Sporting KC fans partake in the action.
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