Why is Sporting KC playing for a championship tonight?

You: Why is Sporting KC playing for a championship tonight?

Let me explain...

You: ...but wait, isn't this a blog about education?

Well, yes. But it's my blog, and it says at the top that I write about soccer sometimes. It just so happens that I haven't written about soccer for about 2 years.

You: OK...

So do you want to know the answer?

You: Not really, but I clicked here already, so I might as well read on...


Sporting KC plays for a championship tonight, but you probably didn't hear anything about it on sports radio this morning or read about in the newspaper unless you dug a few pages deep. It's OK. Soccer is still growing here in America.

My dad and I were talking a while back about trying to explain the format of soccer to our friends. If you're an American sports fan, the world of soccer can be very confusing. Take tonight for an example. Sporting KC, sitting in 5th place (the top 6 make the playoffs) in the Western Conference of MLS, are playing in a cup final tonight. Even though the regular season ends in about 4 weeks, they can win a trophy tonight. Here's why:

Soccer is unique from other sports. The Royals play in MLB in America and have no affiliation with the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan. Same with the Chiefs in the NFL or the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA. In soccer, SKC plays in MLS, which is a member of the CONCACAF (North America, Central America and Carribean) region, which is a member of FIFA*.

*Yes, the FIFA that keeps having top officials arrested. But Fair Play ya'll.

So think of soccer like a ladder. Winning at one level gets you entry to compete at the next level. When the Royals win the World Series this year, that's it. They get a trophy and a ring and a year of celebration.

When SKC wins tonight, they get entry into the next edition of the CONCACAF Champions League. (You've probably heard of the UEFA Champions League - same concept, except for all the teams in Europe) If they win the CONCACAF Champions League, they get entry into the FIFA Club World Cup, where they'll play the winning team from every region all over the world. If you win the FIFA Club World Cup, you get the title of best team in the world for a year.

You: Get on with it...

OK, sorry. So tonight SKC plays for the US Open Cup Championship. It is the oldest tournament in America and is open to any team, professional or amateur, in the US. When you think about it, that's pretty cool. A local KC amateur team made it to the 2nd round before losing out. SKC entered in the 4th round against 3rd division team, St. Louis FC.

You: So they play a separate tournament during the regular season? That's weird.

Well, that's weird unless you think it's awesome. Soccer people tend to think it's awesome. Haven't you ever wondered about those questions of whether Kentucky's basketball team would beat the worst NBA team? This tournament lets soccer fans in the US get to see those kinds of games. In theory, a rec team that plays down the road could go on a magical run, win the US Open Cup and represent the US at the CONCACAF Champions League. That's pretty cool.  

You: So let's say SKC wins tonight, the-

SKC is going to win.

You: Right, right. When SKC wins tonight, then they win the US Open Cup? 


You: And they still get to finish the regular season and try to win MLS Cup in December?


You: How do you know who the best team in the league is? Isn't that the point of the playoffs?

SKC lifting the US Open Cup trophy at Sporting Park in 2012
See, that's where soccer folks around the world disagree. Most soccer leagues give their championship to the team with the best record during the regular season. MLS does this too - it's called the Supporters Shield.* American soccer is not totally unique in having a playoff at the end of the season, but a lot of soccer leagues around the world do not have an end-of-season playoff. They would argue that the championship should go to the best team over the course of the entire season, not the team that gets hot during the playoffs.

It's got a pretty cool story too. Read it here

The important piece to remember is that teams in MLS are always trying to make it into the CONCACAF Champions League. It's more prestigious because you're playing better teams. The payout to the winner gets bigger each and every year. It's becoming increasingly important to MLS teams, but no MLS team has won CONCACAF Champions League in its current form. SKC would like to be that first team. That journey takes one more step in the US Open Cup Championship tonight.

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

About Me:
My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have a newborn daughter and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet. Seriously. It's a proven fact.

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