I had an interesting conversation with my dad a few weeks ago about whether I was a bigger Sporting KC soccer fan or a bigger KU basketball fan. It's a fascinating question. I've grown up on KU basketball much in the way that plants grow up on photosynthesis.
Despite the KU love I am unfortunately a short person, which quickly made my dream of playing for KU die. I loved playing soccer. No matter my height, I could dream about playing in Europe somewhere when I grew up. I would watch replays of some random Italian or French league game in the middle of the night because...well...it was a soccer game. There were other short-ish players on the field. I could see myself there.
Zinedine Zidane was one of my favorites. He was skilled but not fancy. He was quick but only until other players got to their full speed. He seemed to have everyone's respect but he never said anything. Seriously! There's a whole documentary where they put like 17 cameras just on Zidane, mic'd him up and watched the game focused on him. He says about 3 words all game! And this was in a game where he had an assist and the game-winning goal. Soccer is artistic in a way that basketball, with its speed and height and power rarely can be.
KU basketball was different than soccer in one key way. It was here. It could be seen live or regularly on TV. I could go to a game if I got really lucky. I could see the highlights on ESPN. Unlike soccer, KU basketball had always felt like something that I could be a part of, which is what being a fan is all about. Watching soccer felt more like the zoo or the aquarium. Look but don't touch. I wanted to swim.*
*Metaphorically speaking. I actually really hate swimming. And I don't float.
This past weekend, my beloved KU basketball lost to Stanford in what can only be described (by KU fans) as a dismal display of shooting, passing, dribbling and especially NOT TURNING THE BALL OVER! After one particularly awful sequence about 8 minutes from the end of the game, I looked at my wife and told her that if we lost, it would be well deserved.* Lo and behold, despite a few miracle threes from one of our non-one-and-done freshman, KU was eliminated from the 2014 NCAA tournament.
*Angela does a great job of at least seeming to care about KU, especially during March. I think it's actually pretty legitimate caring. She cheers when they do something awesome and curses with me when Andrew Wiggins plays like a [gasp] freshman. I think much of this is real - she had no previous college basketball fanhood and is currently a KU student - but I'm sure some of it is to help me emotionally cope with March. Either way, it's awesome.
In the midst of this season-ending defeat, Sporting KC is in the middle of a very exciting period of time that is difficult for American sports fans to understand. In soccer, when you win the league (MLS, in the case of America), you are entered into a regional tournament with other league winners. Our region's tournament is the CONCACAF Champions League. You may have heard of the UEFA Champions League - this is the European version, but the same idea. In fact, the winner of the CONCACAF and UEFA (and Asian, African, South American, etc...) Champions Leagues play in the FIFA Club World Cup. Sporting KC just played relatively closely one of the better teams from Mexico, Cruz Azul in this competition. While eliminated from this year's tournament, it feels as if Sporting KC is close to becoming a powerhouse not only in America, but in the whole region.
This is all to say that Sporting KC are in the middle of a boom. What used to be a team that played in front of 3,000 fans in Arrowhead Stadium just played in the 38th consecutive sell-out at Sporting Park, a stadium widely considered to be one of the best soccer stadiums in the Western Hemisphere. And South Americans know a thing or two about soccer. Click here to read about one of the many international awards that Sporting Park has won. Sporting won last year's MLS Cup and is a favorite to repeat this year. Sporting will likely send 3 Americans to play in the World Cup this summer. And damnit, Sporting Club, the ownership group for Sporting KC, treat the fans the way fans should be treated!
When Sporting Park first opened and the crowds were great and the team was good, my dad an I openly wondered what would happen when Sporting KC inevitably had a down year. Would fans stay? Would we renew our season tickets? Would the atmosphere still by wild? Nearly four years later, it hasn't happened yet. Sporting KC is considered a model franchise for a "small" market team. We have signed our best players, with a few exceptions, to long-term contracts. We have attracted some of the USA's premier national team games. Manchester City is coming to KC in a few months to play a friendly.
I talk a lot about Sporting KC to my students in part because I'm a ridiculous fan. But the underlying reason is that I have always been a little different as an American who loves soccer. I do not in any way feel that my fanhood defines me as a person, but my journey as a fan represents the journey that I hope my students take in their lives with their passions. Lots of my students are different in a whole bunch of ways. There is definitely some part of me that spreads my love for Sporting KC in hopes that some student will see me being different and be OK doing the same themselves.
Either way, I love both teams although I think I lean more towards Sporting at the moment. I wanted to share a recent tour of my fanhood with Sporting over the past few years. I'll get back to education next week!
Thanks for reading!
November 17th, 2010: The Kansas City Wizards become Sporting KC and announce a new stadium construction plan.
Sometime early 2011: My dad and I got to tour Sporting Park during construction. This was starting to become real. It looked something like this:
June 9th, 2011: Home opener against the Chicago Fire. Highlights include Angela's $5 water getting chucked on the field and this guy streaking the field in a cow costume. We passed him after the game sitting behind the stadium, looking like the alcohol was starting to wear off, as fans rained down 'moooooo' on him.
August 8th, 2012: Sporting wins the US Open Cup, a tournament open to any soccer team in America, professional or amateur, that can qualify, in penalty kicks against the hated Seattle Sounders. It was Kansas City's first pro championship of any kind since 2004. Top 3 live sporting events I've ever attended.
December 7th, 2013: Sporting KC wins the MLS Cup at Sporting Park in what might be for a long time to most exciting live event I have ever seen.
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