Donning blue T-shirts, supporters’ scarves and wristbands, Kat Lowe and a handful of FC Kansas City superfans that made up the Blue Crew descended on Seattle to watch their team battle for a National Women’s Soccer League title late last August.
Although it seemed like a dream for Lowe that her hometown would even have a team when the league was formed in 2012, there she was holding the trophy hours later when the Blues beat Seattle Reign FC 2-1 and took the crown.
“When they announced it, I screamed and did a happy dance,” Lowe said. “I knew right then that I had to do everything I could to support them and make them stay in Kansas City. “We had to let them know there were fans here that would appreciate the game and want to keep it here.”
Sure enough, Lowe was there for the first game with her wife, Lucy McIntyre, and another young fan, who have watched the crowds grow not only for FC Kansas City, but also into the kind of U.S. Women’s National Team fan base that can support national-team watch parties at Sporting Park.
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The women’s soccer support scene will take another big step Tuesday night when FC Kansas City, WIN for KC and Sporting KC play host to a 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup watch party in the KC Live! Block of the Power & Light District. The United States will face Germany at 6 p.m. at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, with a championship-game berth on the line. The winner will face either Japan or England, which play at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“We had a strong base of fans early on that were just women’s soccer fans and now we are beginning — we are certainly not there yet — but we are beginning to get into the Kansas City sports community,” FC Kansas City technical director Huw Williams said. “We are knocking on the door there, and things like the World Cup are certainly helping.”
For fans such as Lowe, the FC Kansas City connection has made the tournament even more special, being able to watch Blues favorites Becky Sauerbrunn, Lauren Holiday, Amy Rodriguez and Heather O’Reilly take the field. Sauerbrunn has played every minute through five games, Holiday is making her return from a yellow-card accumulation suspension and the other two have also appeared in games.
Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation, says she has seen the excitement about FC Kansas City and the national team flow down to the youth level when she visits events like WIN for KC’s Camp WIN. FC Kansas City’s Nicole Barnhart, Yael Averbuch and Amy LePeilbet took turns at Monday’s camp working out with the girls and sharing stories about their journey to professional soccer.
“It’s almost this goose-bump feeling when you can hear them talking and they are just real,” Nelson said. “They were in these girls’ shoes a couple of years ago, and these young women with FC Kansas City and on the World Cup team are so good about giving back and participating in the community, which helps us be that much more excited and want to support them even more.”
Perhaps no one in the Kansas City area has had a better platform to watch the growth than Williams, who has spent several years working with youth soccer in the area. In fact, he got to select two of his own homegrown players in Liberty natives Shea Groom and Kaysie Clark in the 2015 NWSL College Draft.
“Before FC Kansas City, the deal for some of these players was that they would start playing when they are 5 years old, travel all over the country with club soccer, play high school, some go on to college and then all of a sudden their career is over,” Williams said.
“What FC Kansas City has done is offer those elite players an opportunity to play at the next level if they are able and want to do that.”
He pointed out that the quality of the soccer shows on the high school level as well, where four teams — St. Teresa’s Academy, St. Thomas Aquinas, Blue Valley Northwest and Notre Dame de Sion — finished the year in the TopDrawerSoccer.com Spring FAB 50 poll. The area also produced a pair of players in Blue Valley North’s Parker Roberts and St. Theresa’s Dorian Bailey who have spent significant time with the U-20 national team. The two are headed to Kansas and North Carolina, respectively, to continue their careers.
The club recently announced a partnership with Futura FC, Blue Moose Soccer Club and Freebird Soccer Club to present a string of premier youth clubs, which will be directed by FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski. Williams said there are around 150 teams.
In turn, the success of FC Kansas City and the Blues’ involvement in the community is helping organizations such as WIN for KC by sharing their stories.
“We are very lucky that they come to our events and show our girls that there are role models to have here in Kansas City,” WIN for KC director Lisa Diven said. “There are professional female athletes that they can look up to and aspire to be.”
To reach Kathleen Gier, call 816-234-4875 or send email to email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kgier.