The Montpellier friendly is gonna be nice. The Stoke City friendly should be all right. The regular season MLS games are always a treat.
But the real highlight of the Summer of Soccer (The Sequel!) will be the U.S. Open Cup Final on August 8 when Sporting Kansas City has a chance to end an eight-year dry spell for the team (and the city) and put a trophy in its cabinet.
It won't be an easy task. Sporting KC will host the Seattle Sounders, winners of the last THREE Lamar Hunt Open Cup trophies. Yes. They've won the tournament every year they've been in Major League Soccer. Of course, the last two years the Sounders won the trophy at their home stadium.Tickets go on sale to the general public on Tuesday . They will go fast. As of noon yesterday, more than 8,000 had been gobbled up by season ticket members.
What's at stake in that game? Oh, just a chance to achieve the front office's pre-season dream of #paintingthewall, lift a piece of silverware in front of a frenzied home crowd and earn a spot in the 2013 CONCACAF Champions League.**The importance of the Champions League is not to be overlooked. It's the only chance KC has of playing competitive matches against competition from Mexico. Those games mean more exposure and more money.
And, if those aren't big enough deals for you, try this one on: It's a chance to earn a trophy for a city that hasn't won anything (except the T-Bones unaffiliated Northern League title) since 2004 -- when the Kansas City Wizards hoisted the Open Cup trophy at Arrowhead Stadium.
The changes to the league, this team and this city have been drastic since then.
Consider, in 2004...
• A Seattle franchise wasn't even a gleam in Don Garber's eye yet.
• The league had just 10 teams.
• The "Dallas Burn" still existed while the Houston Dynamo did not.
• And Kansas City, despite being the 2000 MLS Cup champs and one of the league's best team, was a still a problematic franchise for a league still finding its footing on the national sports landscape.
The Wizards were struggling to attract fans to cavernous Arrowhead Stadium in 2004. The announced attendance for the ‘04 Open Cup final at the stadium was a paltry 8,819.**For comparison, the announced attendance for the Dayton Dutch Lions match at Livestrong in the Open Cup quarterfinals this year was 15,167!
They were struggling to attract attention too.
I moved to this city that same summer. I was a soccer fan then (admittedly, more Euro than domestic). But yet, I have barely any memory of that match. I know it happened (coverage did sometimes appear in The Star), but I don't remember any of the run-up to it.
Was it promoted? Was it on TV? I don't know the answer to either of those questions. I had to look up who scored that goal. It was Igor Simutenkov. I know next to nothing about Igor Simutenkov! I'm pretty sure I've never even seen video of his golden goal. (It's not on YouTube that I can find.)
The Wizards were, by all accounts, the best team in MLS that year. They lost out on the Supporter's Shield to Columbus on a technicality (both ended up with 49 points, Columbus scored more goals and/or lost less games) and progressed to the MLS Cup (where they lost in completely controversial fashion to D.C. United).
It was, unfortunately, the last time (before last year) that Kansas City was truly relevant in the league (before Livestrong opened, of course).
The years that followed were the sports-equivalent of “The Grapes of Wrath." Hard, lean times that only the lucky, the serious and the weather-beaten could survive.
Heartbreak. Sadness. Irrelevance. Losing streaks. Relocation rumors. All of that made worse by the simultaneous continued general awfulness of the Royals and Chiefs.
But the changes were coming. The changes were absolutely necessary. The new owners came in 2006. The new organizational structure in 2007. The new name in 2010. The new stadium in 2011.
Then, the last 13 months happened:
Livestrong opened on June 9 last year, Sporting KC rolled off 13 unbeaten games, finished in first place in the East, hosted the Eastern Conference finals, lost to the Houston Dynamo, blasted out of the gates winning 7-straight to start the ‘12 campaign and are currently tied for first in the East.
The fans are coming out (KC's average attendance through 9 MLS games this year is 19,348). The team's profile is rising (the players are getting national attention and the stadium draws prime-time coverage on TV). The media outlets are expanding coverage also (last weeks' match with Houston was broadcast on local network KCTV).
That's progress that goes beyond the field. Which is what makes it so drastically different than 2004 -- when the only progress was on the field. But the turnaround isn't complete until it yields some silverware.
It seems only appropriate that KC has a chance to book-end eight rough, dry years with the same trophy.