Kerry Zavagnin boarded a Kansas City Wizards team bus on Oct. 3, 2000, in Los Angeles, moments after a loss to the LA Galaxy put the Wizards on the brink of postseason elimination. Nearly 15 years later, he recalls a “feeling of dejection” as he slid into his seat.
Then a soccer teammate tapped him on the shoulder.
“I turn around, and Chris Klein whispers in my ear, ‘You know what? We’re still going to win this thing,’” said Zavagnin, now an assistant coach with Sporting Kansas City.
“That’s how he was as a player. In a moment you feel like you’re losing grasp on a series, he still just oozed confidence.”
Klein was right, too.
Three days later, the Wizards defeated the Galaxy in the semifinal series before beating the Chicago Fire to win their first MLS Cup.
Klein, whom Zavagnin credits as the driving force behind some of the Wizards’ success for nearly a decade, will be honored as the newest Sporting Legend during halftime of Saturday’s match between Sporting KC and Vancouver at Sporting Park.
He will be the seventh member of the hall of honor, which the club launched in 2013.
“Humbled and honored,” Klein said. “I’ve always felt a deep connection to this club. I not only know the people who work for this club, but the ownership has always made a point to connect back to its roots. I’m honored I was chosen.”
The recognition will bring Klein to Sporting Park for the first time in two seasons. He currently serves as the president for the LA Galaxy, the club with which he finished his playing career in 2010.
His former teammates say the Sporting Legends honor is well deserved. And so do the numbers.
Klein played for the Wizards from 1998-2005, scored 43 goals and added 54 assists. He won the MLS comeback player of the year award twice after he successfully returned from knee injuries, and he was named an MLS All-Star four times in Kansas City.
But — a decade later — it isn’t his numerical contributions that stand out to his teammates.
“He was a fantastic teammate. I thought he was an incredible winner,” said Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes, who became teammates with Klein prior to the 2000 season.
“I used to call him the Stallion. This guy could run from (box to box) all game long. He was an animal.”
Vermes added another description — intelligent — that could have foreshadowed Klein’s move to the front office in Los Angeles.
Teammates regularly ridiculed Klein about his obsession with finances during his playing days.
“When we were players, he spent an awful lot of time in financial investing,” Zavagnin said. “We joked with him that if he saved all the money he was spending on those investment books, he would probably be rich.”
In 2013, Klein completed his rise to the top of the business side of soccer when he took over the president role with the Galaxy.
He was thought to be instrumental in helping the defending-champion Galaxy bring former Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard to Los Angeles this year.
“I knew I didn’t want to coach, but I wanted to stay involved in the game somehow, and I’m lucky to be where I am,” Klein said. “I’ve always been a big proponent of this league, because where our league is unique is we have 20 clubs working together for the same goal, which is the betterment of soccer in this country.
“But at the same time, we all want to win, of course.”
On Saturday, for at least a couple of hours, Klein will shed his Galaxy ties in favor of a return to Kansas City — and a lot of memories.
“Being drafted here and playing here for eight years, it will always hold a special place in my heart,” Klein said. “This is where it all started for me.”