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Sporting KC tops Rockhurst in exhibition tuneup

Hawks elated to play against “hometown heroes” in exhibition match at Livestrong.

By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star

Sporting Kansas City season ticket holder Sean Verbanic will return Saturday to Livestrong Sporting Park for the club’s home opener against the New England Revolution, but he won’t look at the nine-month-old stadium’s field the same anymore.

That’s because Verbanic, a junior midfielder at Rockhurst University who graduated from Piper High School, and his Hawks teammates scrimmaged Tuesday against the Sporting KC in the $200 million facility.

“When I found out we were doing it a week-and-a-half ago, I was so excited,” Verbanic said. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”

It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Rockhurst, which features four players from metropolitan Kansas City high schools — Verbanic and sophomore defender George Skevington, who played at St. Thomas Aquinas, along with freshmen Eric Moore, a defender from Blue Valley West, and Andrew Martin, a midfielder from Winnetonka — as well as 16 additional players from Missouri.

“I came to several games during the summer, but I never thought I would get to play out here on the field,” Skevington said. “It’s a whole new perspective when you get out here, and it was an honor to get to play with these guys.”

Skevington drew a tough early assignment, trying to check the reigning MLS rookie of the year, C.J. Sapong, who scored the game-winner for Sporting KC in its MLS season opener Saturday at D.C. United.

“I was just watching him Saturday night score the game-winning goal on TV, and then I’m out here Tuesday playing against him,” Skevington said. “It’s a whole new world, but it was pretty sweet.”

The night might have been sweetest for Sporting KC midfielder Luke Sassano, who had a brilliant 20-yard chip for a goal and added an assist on first-round draft pick Dom Dwyer’s header during a 2-0 win.

But the value of the experience for the Rockhurst kids wasn’t lost on Sassano, who played in college at California.

“When I was at Berkley, we played against the Earthquakes, but we never got to play in the stadium,” Sassano said. “This is always a cool atmosphere, and I’m sure the Rockhurst guys had a great time.”

Of course, it wasn’t just the Rockhurst guys who enjoyed the moment.

Drafted out of Rockhurst in January’s supplemental draft, Kyle Miller, who remains a guest trialist with Sporting KC, saw his first action at Livestrong as well.

“Spending four years there and just graduating in December, it was weird to play against them, but it was also great fun,” Miller said. “It’s the first time I got to play out here and my first time in the locker room, which was absolutely incredible. It’s a world-class facility. I’m getting closer and closer to my dream. I just have to keep working hard and maybe one day it won’t be an exhibition.”

There were some awestruck moments for the Hawks, who were playing the first game of the spring season after reaching the NCAA Division II quarterfinals last fall.

“It was great to be out on the field playing against people I know, like Michael Harrington,” Moore said. “It’s something of a dream come true to play against guys who have been with the first team for years and are your hometown heroes.”

Who knows? Perhaps one day Miller or some other Hawk will become the hometown hero.

“It was an amazing experience,” Skevington said. “I have dreamed about playing here as a professional, but I never thought I would get a chance like this. It was great.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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