Sporting Kansas City

The Wiz eased on down, eased on down the road. No longer the club BigSoccer posters want to move to Rochester, the rebranded Sporting Kansas City has a nice stadium and a pretty good team.

Trophies: 2000 MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield, 2004 U.S. Open Cup, 2012 U.S. Open Cup

Fan personality: Honeymooning. Never exactly an attendance smash, the Wizards spent a couple of years in a limited-capacity temporary home. When Livestrong Sporting Park opened last season, the fans turned out, averaging nearly 18,000 fans in 2011.


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Stadium situation: Always second fiddle to the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium and then awkwardly hemmed into a minor league baseball stadium, Sporting is practically reborn with Livestrong Sporting Park. Perhaps sports writers get confused because the stadium is in Kansas City, Kansas, rather than Missouri, but they’ll get over it. The “Livestrong” name has been dropped in the wake of Lance Armstrong’s issues.

History

In 1996, they were the Kansas City Wiz. So when they played Dallas, it was a matchup of the Wiz and Burn. Not ideal.

Yet Kansas City provided one of the memorable moments in MLS’s free-wheeling first year, winning a 6-4 decision over Columbus. Mo Johnston, a Scottish legend happy to be out of the Glasgow microscope, had signed just before the game and seemed equal parts thrilled and befuddled by what he had just joined. Preki and Mark Chung kept the rainbow-clad team rolling.

The magic year was 2000, when hard-working forward Miklos Molnar scored the clutch goals, Johnston, Preki and Chris Henderson teamed up in offensive support, future coach Peter Vermes anchored the defense and goalkeeper Tony Meola had the game of his life in the MLS Cup final against Chicago. The Wizards added the Cup to the Shield.

That team didn’t stay together long, but the retooled Wizards made another run at the title in 2004 with Josh Wolff up front, classy midfielder Diego Gutierrez in support and colorful defender Jimmy Conrad at the back. A loss to D.C. United in the final denied them the double, as the Wizards claimed their first Open Cup that year.

The rest of the decade was not as kind. Lamar Hunt was ready to drop from three teams to two, and the Wizards were the odd team out. Fortunately, an enthusiastic group of local businessmen bought the team in 2006. Robb Heinemann became the public face of the front office, and the group invested plenty of money in the team. First came a training facility, then a full-fledged push for a stadium that resulted in Livestrong Sporting Park. By the time the building was done, the team was in great shape to capitalize under Vermes’ leadership.

With Jimmy Nielsen winning all sorts of MLS goalkeeping awards, Graham Zusi emerging as the next great American midfielder and Aurelien Collin marshaling a strong defense, Sporting finished atop the East in 2011 and 2012. The playoffs proved trickier, but Sporting did manage to wrest the U.S. Open Cup from Seattle in 2012.

Just … please … don’t let C.J. Sapong serenade Hope Solo any more.

2013 previews: MLSSoccer.com, ESPN, Soccer America, SB Nation

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