The last time a professional sports franchise in Kansas City won a championship was 13 years ago*, when the Kansas City Wizards won the MLS Cup.
The Kansas City
*The U.S. Open Cup wins for Kansas City in 2004 and 2011 are very, very important. But they aren't the season-ending championship variety of trophies.
You're going to read a lot about this, probably, over the next few days leading up to the MLS Cup on Dec. 7 between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake. Thirteen year is kind of a long time.
It was the first time Kansas City reached the MLS Cup. It was the first time a Kansas City sports franchise had reached a championship game since the Royals in 1985.
For many in the growing soccer culture in Kansas City, that MLS Cup win is an entry in Wikipedia or a memory from childhood. For those who've been around Kansas City soccer since the beginning, it might feel like an eternity.
But, on this day that we gather with friends and family to give thanks, here's something we can be thankful for: Major League Soccer committed the 2000 MLS Cup victory to video.
An often amazing, often hilarious NFL-films style tribute to the last major championship in Kansas City sports history.
Some of the details might seem a bit anachronistic -- the baggy uniforms, the less-than-HD picture quality, the curious hair styles -- but there's a quaintness to it that, to me, gives it an added air of nostalgia.
Let's set the stage: In 2000, the Kansas City Wizards were led by the great coach Bob Gansler. Under his tutelage, Kansas City had the league's best defense (anchored by 2000 Defender of the Year Peter Vermes) and the league's best goalkeeper (Tony Meola). The other familiar names: U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer Preki, Mo Johnston, Kerry Zavagnin, Nick Garcia, Chris Klein.
The opponent: The Chicago Fire (ooooh, rivalry!). The setting: RFK Stadium (which seems crazy now, but was absolutely the American soccer stadium then).
Here it is in all it's glory. I hadn't watched it in awhile and forgot just how great it was. So, I've also given it the bullet-by-bullet breakdown treatment below.
• 0:00: Tony Meola was the league MVP. Let that sink in for a moment. A goalkeeper was the league MVP. Not only was he the LAST 'keeper to win the award, he was the ONLY 'keeper to win the award.
• 0:29: How many long-time Wizards can you spot in the pre-roaddron clan?
• 0:39: Young Carlos Bocanegra and his frosted tips need their own MLS history video. Maybe we'll save it for his eventually sad testimonial in a Chivas USA jersey.
• 0:45: [Insert joke your favorite joke about Chicago Fire songs.]
• 1:08: Bob Bradley had hair?
• 1:17: [Narrator] "Kansas City was widely considered to have the best defense in MLS." That Gansler-coached Wizards defense Meola, Vermes, Garcia, Brandon Prideaux and Uche Okafor was the first MLS defense to allow fewer than 30 goals in a season (29). Meola was the Goalkeeper of the Year and Vermes was the Defender of the Year. Before that Wizards defense, MLS matches were goal-scoring fests (though, the shootouts may have helped with that).
• 1:21: In traditional Kansas City-fashion, the Wizards were big underdogs. The soccer media (not a total oxymoron then) overwhelmingly backed the high-powered Fire.
• 1:30: This would've been the best team to cover as a reporter. It had three great interviewees (Meola, Vermes, Zavagnin), one of the nicest guys in the history of soccer (Klein) and a guy with a great Scottish accent (Johnston). Oh, and also Preki. Well, maybe not Preki.
• 1:38: Besides Y2K and Britney Spears in pigtails, almost nothing says "Year 2000" like a man parachuting onto the field at a sports event with a snowboard. How extreme.
• 1:52: Honestly, Eric Kronberg wasn't in that Wizards huddle. It only seems like he's been in Kansas City that long. (He got here in 2006.)
• 2:02-2:35: Meola was simply amazing. It's worth repeating that he was the Goalkeeper of the Year, the league MVP and Comeback Player of the Year. That's next-level bonkers. Jimmy Nielsen would need to miss all of next year, come back in 2015 and obliterate his own record for shutouts in one season (he broke Meola's streak last year) AND lead Sporting KC to an undefeated season to pull it off. It's that unlikely.
• 2:53-3:08: Klein begins an amazingly direct run up the sideline into a literal acre of space (imagine if Chance Myers had that much day light on second thought, maybe not). He isn't closed down for 45-50 yards. Not a single Fire defender even impedes his cross which easily finds the "Danish Dynamite"* Molnar, who creates the most pre-modern MLS goal ever: a stuffed back-heel that leads to a falling-to-the-ground tap-in.
*The narrator calls him the "Dutch Dynamo." I'm pretty sure Wikipedia was invented in 2009.
• 3:18-3:22: Props the original Cauldron road-trippers. Next Saturday, nobody prominently displayed in this video should have to buy their own beer.
• 3:27: Gratuitous topless athlete lying on the ground in thought. Classic sports documentary style.
• 3:50: Yeah, still having a hard time with a hirsute Bob Bradley. As a bald man, I shouldn't. But I do.
• 4:08: [Annoying comment about empty seats by a modern MLS fan attendance has been redacted.]
• 4:12: Diego Gutierrez an original member of the KC Wiz and graduate of Rockhurst University misses an absolute sitter for the Fire. He returned to Kansas City in 2002 and played in KC until 2005 when he went back to the Fire a second time.
• 4:32: Josh Wolff a future Wizard straight stonewalled by Meola. If all you know of Wolff is from this video and his tenure with the 2010 Wizards, I feel sorry for you. He was quite a good finisher.
• 4:41: This seems like an appropriate time to admit that I really like Jack Edwards calling soccer. Was he excitable? Yes. Was he a bit of a New England/USA homer? Of course. But, he made soccer of that era feel important. While I don't think we need an "American voice of soccer," it would be nice to have an American voice that made soccer feel that important on a regular basis again.
• 5:00-5:30: Unadulterated joy. It's a pretty thing.
• 5:33: Molnar (just 17 appearances in his only year in KC) retired after this game. Despite what the narrator says, Johnston stuck around for one more year in KC.
• 5:49: And, lastly, my favorite moment. "Hard work and we got it done." You can see Vermes (he was 34 at time) turn into a coach right before your eyes in that sequence.
In 2000, the Wizards played at Arrowhead Stadium to average crowds of 14,631. This year, Kansas City sold out the 18,500-seat Sporting Park for every single home MLS game (and, usually, sold more than that in standing-room only.)
The league itself is vastly different, as the 2000 MLS Cup was still a few years before MLS 2.0 would come into play with television contracts, designated player rules, expansion franchises and overall improved quality of pay/play.
But, despite the somewhat anachronistic details, the 2000 MLS Cup remains special here in Kansas City. Be thankful for the memories -- if you have them -- of that night. Be thankful -- if you don't -- for the video reminders of where this city has been.
Be thankful for the chance to see it potentially happen again on Dec. 7 at Sporting Park, because these sort of chances have a way of disappearing as quickly as they appear.
When Wizards fans woke up the next morning (Oct. 16) they likely dreamt that the Cup they were cherishing was only the beginning.
With the veteran talent of that squad (three U.S. Soccer Hall of Famers: Meola, Preki and Vermes, as well as Mo Johnston), the younger players coming along (Zavagnin, Nick Garcia and Chris Klein), a stellar coach (Bob Gansler) and the qualify of that defense (amongst the best in league history), many more trips to the MLS Cup were surely to come.
Only one more would. In 2004. And Kansas City lost (sort of controversially) to D.C. United 3-2.