Major League Soccer will celebrate its 20th anniversary this season — preferably Friday, when Chicago is scheduled to visit the LA Galaxy, but that is pending a new collective bargaining agreement.
Sporting Kansas City’s franchise was one of the 10 charter clubs in Major League Soccer in 1996. In honor of the club’s 20th year in Kansas City, we’re counting down the top 20 moments in the city’s MLS soccer history. Here are Nos. 11-20:
20. Ochocinco tries soccer
It all started on Twitter.
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Utilizing the social media avenue in March 2011, Sporting KC’s former digital strategist Kyle Rogers fired off a tweet to then-Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco: Come train with Sporting Kansas City.
As it turns out, Ochocinco isn’t one to back down from a challenge. With the NFL in a player lockout, Ochocinco joined the soccer club for a six-day trail, and he even appeared in a reserve team game.
He wasn’t half bad, either, but he ultimately decided it was best to stick with football.
Thing is, Sporting KC is still reaping the rewards from the tryout.
“(It) brought a new wave of exposure to our club around the beginning of the Twitter era,” said Rob Thomson, the team’s executive vice president of communications. “It certainly kicked off a way to communicate around all social and digital for Sporting Kansas City, and we always try to be at the forefront of engagement.”
19. Kansas City lands its first designated player
When Claudio Lopez signed his contract to join the Kansas City Wizards on March 7, 2008, he forever inked his name in the franchise’s history book.
Lopez was the first designated player in club history, meaning the Argentine forward’s move to the MLS earned him a hefty salary of more than $415,000. Lopez scored in his MLS debut, his first of 13 goals with the Wizards. He departed after two seasons, though, when Wizards technical director Peter Vermes said the team was unable to meet his contract demands.
18. Soccer in a baseball park?
After separating from the Kansas City Chiefs ownership, the Wizards left Arrowhead Stadium and moved into Community America Ballpark in 2008. They shared residency there with the T-Bones, an independent league baseball team.
The move was initially a one-year fix, but after rumors of plans for a new soccer-specific stadium fell flat, one year became three.
The tenure wasn’t kind to the Wizards. They finished in fourth place in the conference in 2008, sixth in 2009 and third in 2010.
17. Graham Zusi scores at Sporting Park ... while wearing red, white and blue
In October 2013, Sporting Park welcomed the United States men’s national team to town for a World Cup qualifier against Jamaica.
A familiar face played the starring role.
Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi scored in the 77th minute, breaking a scoreless tie and sparking a 2-0 victory in front of 18,467 fans.
In a memorable moment, Sporting KC teammate Matt Besler sprinted to greet Zusi and lifted him into the air in celebration.
“It was one of my harder sprints of the game,” Besler later said.
16. Erik Palmer-Brown debuts at 17
A month after celebrating his 17th birthday, Sporting KC homegrown defender Erik Palmer-Brown made his MLS debut on May 18, 2014.
It lasted only 64 minutes. Palmer-Brown was ejected in the second half after picking up his second yellow card of the match for a dangerous challenge.
The appearance was noteworthy for an entirely different reason — Palmer-Brown became the youngest player in MLS history to start a match at defender.
He was the club’s third homegrown signing, after Jon Kempin (2010) and Kevin Ellis (2011). Palmer-Brown finished his debut season with three appearances.
15. Wizards fire Onalfo, name Vermes interim coach
Three years after the Wizards named one of their former players, Peter Vermes, the club’s technical director, they added even more responsibility to his plate.
Vermes was named the interim coach on Aug. 4, 2009, a day after the club fired Curt Onalfo from the same position, and Vermes never looked back.
Vermes implemented an intense, pressing style of play, culminating in the 2013 MLS Cup championship and the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. He is the only player in league history to win an MLS Cup as a player and a coach with the same franchise.
Vermes owns a 76-58-44 career MLS record.
14. That’s 22 for No. 14
The story has been well-documented by now, but it’s worth repeating.
Dom Dwyer spent the bulk of the 2013 season on loan with Orlando City, a USL-Pro club that essentially served as the equivalent of Sporting KC’s Class AAA team.
How quickly things change.
A year later, he wrestled the starting striker job away from incumbent Claudio Bieler with eight goals in the first 11 matches. Vermes classified Dwyer’s hunger for the goal as “second to none.”
As was his goal total in 2014.
By season’s end, Dwyer had tallied 22 goals — a new single-season franchise record.
13. Handball United
Ever hear the term Handball United? Well, this is where it comes from...
D.C. United defeated the Wizards 3-2 to win the 2004 MLS Cup, but it came with some controversy.
After the Wizards grabbed an early lead, Alecko Eskandarian scored a pair of first-half goals — the second of which appeared to follow his own handball.
Eskandarian played coy about the potential missed call after the match, but in 2011, he came clean via a Twitter roast of former Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad, who provided the clearance attempt that Eskandarian appeared to swat.
“Ever since MLS Cup 2004, I have been waiting for Jimmy to retire to get this off my chest. IT WAS A HANDBALL, JIMMY!” his tweet read.
12. Beckham comes to Kansas City
After joining Major League Soccer in July 2007, Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham became a major draw for road venues.
Kansas City was no exception.
While the Wizards had moved to Community America Ballpark earlier in the 2008 season, it migrated back to Arrowhead Stadium to host Beckham and Co. on Sept. 13, 2008. The match drew 26,113 fans.
An energetic home crowd left happy, too. Sporting KC won the match, 2-0, on goals scored by Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud.
11. Wizards hire Gansler
In the middle of the 1999 season, the Wizards fired head coach Ron Newman and replaced him with Bob Gansler, who brought along an impressive coaching resume. Gansler had led the United States men’s national team from 1989-91, which included an appearance at the 1990 World Cup, the country’s first qualification into the tournament in 40 years.
The 1999 Wizards finished last in the Western Conference, but Gansler made his first full season count. The 2000 Wizards opened the year on a 12-match unbeaten streak, won the Supporters’ Shield and captured the franchise’s first MLS Cup.
Gansler coached the Wizards from 1999-2006, amassing 95 victories during his tenure.