Winning KC: Once an outsider, soccer has become immensely popular

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07/27/2013 6:27 PM

05/16/2014 9:49 AM

Anasten Schaefer of Kansas City is only 2 years old and already owns a pink soccer ball.

“She’ll be playing soon enough,” her mother, Monica Schaefer, 39, said this past week at a soccer camp in Brookside as she slathered her 7-year-old son, Ethan, with sun protection and watched him run onto a field.

Asked what he liked better, football or soccer, his answer was unequivocal.

“Soccer,” Ethan said.

Baseball or soccer?

“Soccer.”

His mother thought it would be a short-term interest.

“I never expected him to keep going,” she said.

But he has. That’s because as blogs, bars, blue stickers on cars and big crowds at Sporting Kansas City’s shimmering $200 million stadium attest, soccer in Kansas City is no longer a subculture.

In Overland Park, some 2,000 athletes from as far off as Hawaii thronged this past week for the 2013 U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships at what might best be called Socceropolis, the 12 synthetic fields of the Overland Park Soccer Complex. It’s a facility that, since it opened four years ago, has consistently helped rank the town as one of the best youth soccer cities nationwide.

Four miles away, Chad Conder, 31, stayed busy serving up beers and food at Futbol Club Eatery Tap, a soccer-centric restaurant that opened only three months ago to cater to what its owners see as the area’s burgeoning futbol faithful.

“It’s here. They’ve found their voice,” the assistant manager said of Kansas City’s soccer culture. “I don’t want to say ‘fad.’ I don’t want to say ‘trend.’ It’s mainstream.”

On Wednesday night, Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., will host the 2013 All-Star Game for Major League Soccer, a 19-club league in which Sporting Kansas City currently ranks first in the Eastern Conference.

No one doubts the success of Sporting Park (opened as Livestrong Sporting Park in 2011) and the team (rebranded in 2010 after 15 years as initially the Wiz and then the Wizards) has served as the most powerful catalyst in solidifying soccer as part of Kansas City’s culture.