I was born and raised in Kansas City. For most of that time, I've been an avid follower of the Kansas City sports scene. The Chiefs. The Royals, and for the past few years, the Kansas City Wizards, or as they are now known, Sporting Kansas City.
If you are a fan of all three teams, then you have probably come to appreciate the last one I mentioned. More on that in a bit, but as a life-long fan of the Chiefs, Royals, and more recently Sporting Kansas City, let me give you a little recap of my experience as a fan of all three organizations.
Almost my entire life I have lived and died with the success of the Chiefs and the Royals. So basically, I've done a lot of dying over the past 20 years. In regards to the Chiefs, there have been some bright spots along the way. I remember being a youngster back in the early to mid 90's and watching the Chiefs on TV every week, with their devastating defense, grinding out 10-7 victories, and winning a number of games in the regular season, only to watch them continually falter come playoff time, mostly due to the fact that apparently head coach Marty Schottenheimer didn't believe in running a real NFL offense. The Chiefs had their fair share of winning during that time period, but never managed to win a Super Bowl. The closest the Chiefs ever got was 1993, when Kansas City made it all the way to the AFC Championship game against the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs were subsequently smashed in that game 30-13.
It's the closest the Chiefs have gotten to the Vince Lombardi trophy since 1970. A mere 13 years before I was even born.
Enter Dick Vermeil in the early 2000's and it's as if someone completely flipped the script. The Chiefs were putting up 50 points a game, and still losing more than half of them. Apparently Vermeil didn't believe in defense just as much as Marty didn't believe in having a competent quarterback.* Sure, the Chiefs offense was amazing to watch, and there was that 2003 season, where the Chiefs went 13-3 in the regular season, only to fall to the Colts in the AFC playoffs because...well... our defense couldn't stop Indy's offense. I mean, they literally didn't stop the Colts in that game.. not one time.
*This is where Chiefs fans always bring up Joe Montana. Yes, Joe was better than anyone else we had, but let's be honest; Joe was nowhere near the quarterback he was in San Francisco by the the time he came to Kansas City for those two seasons.
Fast forward to 2011 and we find the Chiefs coming across as an organization that still doesn't quite know what it's doing. They just fired thier head coach, Todd Haley, one year removed from winning the AFC West Championship. There are a myriad of stories out there of "general manager Scott Pioli said this, head coach Todd Haley did that." Stories of possible sabotage that will make your head spin. Basically, it sounds like the Kansas City Chiefs are just as dysfunctional as they were back when King Carl Peterson was running the show. The only difference now being that instead of dealing out mega contracts to players like Kendrell Bell, and an over-the-hill Ty Law and completely obliterating the team's salary cap, Pioli seems more worried about keeping everything a secret than actual results.
How does an organization get to the point of pure dysfunction between it's GM and head coach like what happened between Pioli and Haley? There are reports of Pioli undermining a number of Haley's coaching decisions. Reports of Haley going out of his way to look like a hobo on the sidelines just to undermine Pioli. As professionals that are supposed to be some of the best at what they do, how was it let to get to that point?
And how much longer are we going to have to see the Chiefs trot out the Brodie Croyles, Tyler Thigpens, and Tyler Palkos of the world before we start finally catching on? News flash: Chiefs ownership isn't exactly keen on spending the big bucks on a real franchise quarterback, so forget about Robert Griffin III, even if he is somehow improbably sitting there when the Chiefs draft in the first round. The Chiefs aren't drafting a first round quarterback. After all, Pioli made it clear in his press conference after Haley's departure that the organization is fully behind Matt Cassel.
I'm sure going to enjoy watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 2012. Don't get me wrong; I really like some of Matt Cassel's intangibles. He appears to be a heck of a guy, and he works hard. By all accounts he's a great teammate. Unfortunately, he's an average quarterback in the NFL. And people are still saying things like,"When he develops an accurate long ball...." The guy is almost 30! He's not going to develop an accurate long ball!
I could talk about the Matt Cassel situation for a year, but let's turn our attention towards Kansas City's baseball team.
I'm too young to even remember a time when the Royals haven't been bad to just plain awful on a season to season basis, and that's saying something because I'm almost 30. Let me just say this; I consider it a successful season for the Royals if we don't lose 100 games. That should pretty much tell you just how dire it has been for us Royals fans.
The big problem for the boys in blue? Ownership that is unwilling to actually spend to compete for the playoffs. Which is why it's a little hard for me to get too excited about extremely talented, young players like Eric Hosmer. I suppose I just see another Carlos Beltran situation in the making. Hosmer has star potential written all over him, and if he does indeed end up being the player most of us think he is, does anyone honestly feel good about the prospects of Royals owner Dan Glass shelling out the dough to keep him in Kansas City?
This is just one man's opinion, but I'd say we'd have a better chance at finding a three legged ballerina than Glass forking out the cash to make sure Hosmer is a career Royal.
Although surprisingly, and in all fairness, things do seem to be looking up as of late for one of Major League Baseball's perennial laughing stocks over the past 20 or so years, thanks to general manager Dayton Moore's commitment to building one of the best farm systems in the league. I guess you could say I'm in "wait and see" mode. I have my doubts that Dan Glass won't screw this up at some point in time.
Which brings me to the third team I mentioned in the beginning of this article; Sporting Kansas City. By far the lesser known of the three teams, but with a rapidly growing fan base.
I understand a lot of Kansas Citians don't quite understand what all of the fuss about the city's professional soccer team, so maybe I can shed a little insight as to why out of these three franchises, Sporting Kansas City are the nearest and dearest to my heart. Ultimately, it really all comes down to one principal reason; ownership.
As they always say when talking about a professional franchise, "It starts from the very top," and I'm almost quite certain that Sporting has some of the best ownership around. Not just in regards to Major League Soccer, but in American professional sports in general.
Sporting CEO Robb Heineman & company have went above and beyond in an attempt to connect with the team's fans. They've made tickets extremely affordable. They started a membership club that allows fans that join to be allowed free tickets to three matches through the course of the MLS season. It costs you zero dollars to join.
Can you imagine the Chiefs brass allowing fans the opportunity to attend three games for free? Or even one game? I understand that the Chiefs are in a lot different place than Sporting (Chiefs are the #1 team in this town by far, Sporting is an up-and-coming team that plays a sport that's second-tier in America) in regards to where the franchise is at the moment, but imagine if Clark Hunt allowed fans to attend just one Chiefs game throughout the course of the season for free. Can you imagine what that would do for the team's perception amongst it's fans?
Sporting Kansas City ownership and management have also shown the desire to not only build the best team possible, but also by building that team the right way. When I mention the right way I mean building a team that will be able to compete over the course of a multiple year window. You won't find the "quick fix" approach with this organization.
The club has instead opted to build a young, core group of players (Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong, Chance Myers, Kei Kamara.. okay I could basically list the majority of their roster) that will mark the foundation of what potentially could see Sporting as MLS Cup contenders for the foreseeable future.
Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes has shown during the course of this off season that he is willing to make some tough decisions for the sake of continuing the organization's vision. Few thought Vermes would be willing to part with captain Davy Arnaud, a player who had all but become the face of soccer in Kansas City, and yet ultimately, Vermes was willing to pull the trigger on a deal that sent the 31 year old Arnaud to the Montreal Impact so that Sporting could reacquire a promising 24 year old left back you may have heard of before; Seth Sinovic. On top of that, not only did Vermes lower the team's overall salary with the Arnaud/Sinovic swap, but he also somehow convinced Montreal to give Sporting allocation money in the process.
Just earlier this week Sporting Kansas City parted ways with designated player, Omar Bravo, sending him to Cruz Azul in Mexico. The departure of the 31 year old Bravo allows Sporting to free up even more cap space to continue building around it's young nucleus.
Losing Bravo will sting a bit. He played a key role in the team's success this past season, and he was very well received from Sporting Kansas City fans. Which is why I give Vermes that much more credit for making a move that was the best for the franchise's long term prospects, despite knowing that he would take heat from some of the fan base.
These are the kinds of shrewd business moves I longed for the Chiefs to make for years, but instead continually saw management hand out high dollar, long term deals to players on the wrong side of 30. In regards to the Royals, I've just been wishing that they'd actually give out a high dollar contract to one of the many future All-Stars (Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, etc) they've had over the course of my lifetime.
In all fairness, I do have to admit that Pioli appears to be hell bent on not making the same mistakes as Peterson in that regard. So Pioli rectified the problem of giving long contracts to over-the-hill players, but at the same time, he shut down the organization to the media, and to an extent, to it's fans.
Which brings me to one of the my personal reasons why I appreciate Sporting Kansas City so much; they are as forthcoming as one can expect when it comes to how the club deals with fans, media, etc.
Speaking as a blogger for SB Nation, I can say that Sporting Kansas City have been beyond accommodating and helpful when I've ever inquired about something. Which is kind of nice, seeing as how things are ran at 1 Arrowhead Drive at the moment, with every press conference being a battle between reporters asking simple, every day questions and the Chiefs essentially saying, "no comment," to every single one of them.
With all of that being said, I realize Sporting Kansas City have had their own problems in the past. It's not like the Wizards were a flag bearer for winning in the years leading up to the change of ownership and re-branding of the franchise. But they do already have the same number of championships as either the Chiefs and Royals, and it is clear that this new local ownership group, Vermes, and the rest of the Sporting front office are on the same page and dedicated to bringing an MLS Cup to Kansas City.
We've heard the same talk from the Royals, and the Chiefs time and time again. The only difference is that I actually believe Sporting Kansas City when they say it.