Davy Arnaud never wanted to leave Kansas City.
He started his professional soccer career here and happily would have ended it here as well. And there are no lingering hard feelings from Sporting KC’s decision to deal him north of the border during the offseason.
Seeking leadership and a physical presence in the midfield, the Montreal Impact, who had selected Sporting’s Seth Sinovic in the expansion draft, traded Sinovic, a defender, back to his hometown team in exchange for Arnaud.
Of course just because Arnaud — who ranks among Sporting KC’s all-time leaders in virtually every meaningful statistical category — is a beloved figure, doesn’t mean he will be shown any quarter by Sporting when a battle with the Impact kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“Look, I love Davy — great guy, great for the organization,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “But at the end of the day, we need to get a result, and there’s no sympathy in any of this. It’s a game we need to play well and try to win. I wish him all the best, but not Saturday night.”
For his part, Arnaud, who was known for his feisty play during his time with Sporting KC, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Arnaud said. “I’m not sure what kind of reception I will get, but hopefully it’s a good one. I am really looking forward to coming back and getting to play in front of the fans again. I would think they would be fairly receptive, but maybe not during the game.”
He was a fifth-round selection in the 2002 SuperDraft, went on to appear in more games than any player in club history and is tied for the second-most goals (43) behind only Preki.
But the most telling stat from Arnaud’s 10 seasons in Kansas City is that he committed more fouls (328) than any other player and also suffered more fouls (528) by a wide margin. Preki ranks second on the fouls suffered list, 166 bruises behind Arnaud.
“It’s going to be a different experience for sure,” Arnaud said. “I spent so long there, and everything about it, just to stay in a hotel in Kansas City and go to the stadium in a bus and dress in the visitors’ locker room, is going to be strange.”
It will be strange as well for many of Sporting KC’s players who not only count Arnaud as a friend but looked up to him as a mentor before supplanting him in the starting lineup.
“I actually learned a lot of stuff I know now from him,” midfielder Roger Espinoza said. “When I came in as a rookie, I probably wasn’t as strong or as mentally there. But you could see it in Davy every day.”
Now, of course, he’s imparting those lessons to a new set of young teammates, which includes the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, Andrew Wenger.
“When I was leaving, as a player it was tough, because you envision yourself being in one place for your entire career,” said Arnaud, who was the leading scorer for the 2004 squad that won the U.S. Open Cup and reached the MLS Cup final. “But I have nothing but great memories. Fortunately, Montreal has been great. The experience has been really good. It’s a great new adventure for me and my family. The club has been great. We’ve got a really young team, and we’re starting to come together.”
Still, he wouldn’t mind sticking it to his old team.
“Every single game and every week is a chance to prove ourselves, but playing in Kansas City against arguably the best team in the league right now obviously is a great test for our team,” Arnaud said.
Coming off its first, and so far only, loss of the season, Sporting KC is eager to get back after it and scratch the win column as well, even if it means wrecking a homecoming for the revered Arnaud.
“I have the utmost respect for Davy,” Vermes said. “He’s a great guy and his first year was my last year playing, so I have a connection to him that goes much deeper. But this is what we do for a living. We need, at the end of the day, to beat their team.”