Sporting KC: Season in review

Jordan McEntee, Sports Editor

The last time Kansas City made it to the playoffs for Major League Soccer.
But that was the Wizards.
A brand new team with a brand new, state-of-the-art soccer stadium.
Sporting Kansas City.
The team played its first 10 games on the road, only winning one game.
LIVESTRONG Sporting Park officially opened its doors on June 9 for the team’s first home game.
Months later, Sporting finished regular season play with a record of 13-9-12, placing first in the Eastern Conference.
Sporting entered the playoffs and defeated the Colorado Rapids with an aggregate score of 4-0. The team then moved on to face this Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference final, but fell short of victory with a 2-0 loss.
Despite the season-ending playoff loss, BV soccer coach K. Dean Snell said the team had a successful season. He said he believes the stadium has contributed to Sporting’s success this season.
“You have the mental aspect of ‘This is our yard. This is our house,’” he said. “It brings intangible ideas like ‘We don’t have to share this with the T-Bones or the Chiefs.’ It adds an element of pride.”
Before the construction of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, KC’s MLS team played at Community America Ballpark and Arrowhead stadium. Snell said the new stadium provides a great experience for all in attendance.
“It is a great soccer venue,” he said. “And the size isn’t overwhelming. I haven’t sat in every seat, but there doesn’t appear to be a bad seat in the house. It’s not like the upper deck at a Chiefs or Royals game.”
The entire northeast side of the stadium is known as the Cauldron. Senior Chris Roche is one of the loud, passionate supporters in this section.
“It’s 90 minutes of nonstop cheering, standing up and jumping around,” he said. “You don’t get that kind of support at a football game. It’s soccer specific. It is a really intense fan experience.”
Roche said the fans are so close to the action, and they play a key role in the the team’s success on the field. Fans in the first row are only 16 feet from sideline.
“After attending a game in the Cauldron, you realize there’s no other fan experience like it,” he said. “If you go back to normal seating areas it’s almost like you get bored. When you’re in the Cauldron, you’re directly impacting the game and the players.”
Roche said the new stadium draws a much larger crowd into the Cauldron than Community America or Arrowhead.
“When the team played at the other fields, the Cauldron might have, like, 500 people,” he said. “Now we have at least 2,000 at every game.”
Fans have created many traditions in the Cauldron, such as wearing crazy outfits and cheering constantly.
“There’s one guy who dresses up as the ‘Sporting Jesus,’” he said. “He always stands in the crowd, and we praise him and bow down like he’s the soccer Jesus.”
Roche said he believes fans underestimated how well Sporting would compete this season.
“In the beginning, they were in last place,” he said. “No one thought they’d make it to the playoffs, much less actually be winning the season in the Eastern Conference.”
Snell said he believes Sporting’s success this season has made soccer more popular in the KC area.
“It might be a little more convenient to get to the new stadium,” he said. “But I think it’s the whole atmosphere that draws people to it. It is a soccer venue — not baseball or football.”
Roche said many people attend the games just for the experience, even if they aren’t soccer fans.
“Playing at the other places, attendance wasn’t very high,” he said. “But now, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is selling out every game. Some people go just to see the stadium. There’s no place like it in the United States, and it’s right here in Kansas City.”
Roche said he is proud that a sports team from Kansas City is performing well.
“I’m excited there’s finally a playoff team in KC that will actually do well — we all know how the Royals and the Chiefs are,” he said. “Soccer isn’t that mainstream, but for those people that go, they can see how KC now has a top-geared team, and we appreciate it.”