Four years ago this summer, a delegation of soccer fans marched into Sporting Kansas City’s home park, a venue its fans have self-labeled America’s soccer capital. Wearing green and navy to support their hometown Saint Louis FC, they filed into their respective seats tucked in the southeast corner of the stadium before unrolling a banner. They draped it over the railing.
“America’s first soccer capital,” it read.
For the ensuing 90 minutes of a U.S. Open Cup meeting that evening in 2015, a small contingent of St. Louis fans traded barbs with those of Kansas City, ignoring the MLS versus USL nature of it all.
“Those are the types of atmospheres that you want as a player,” Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler said after Sporting won 1-0. “We were definitely aware of the rivalry going on with the crowd.
“It’s hard to call it a rivalry because it’s the first time we’ve ever played them, but at the same time, that was a lot of fun.”
It appears to be on the verge of becoming a regularity.
On Tuesday morning, the higher-ups from Major League Soccer will award St. Louis an expansion franchise, according to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As the ownership group celebrates with a public happy-hour there, a more hushed — and metaphorical — toasting will take place among a group 250 miles away in Kansas City.
Sporting Club owners, team president Jake Reid and coach Peter Vermes have long voiced support for St. Louis’ inclusion as the league expands. According to the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis is targeting a 2022 arrival.
“If that’s the case, it would be great. It would be great for the league, great for St. Louis but also great for us,” Vermes said of the possibility, underlying nothing has been officially announced. “I think having another team close by would be good for us. We need more teams in the middle of the country.”
Upon inception, the yet-to-be-named St. Louis franchise could offer some similarities to Sporting KC. The potential expansion club’s ownership group toured both Children’s Mercy Park and the Pinnacle training facility last November. In a visit to Kansas City last summer, MLS commissioner Don Garber said he hopes future expansion teams use Kansas City as a model franchise. Branding. Stadium. Training grounds.
But the interest to Sporting KC spreads elsewhere.
The nearest MLS trip from Children’s Mercy Park is nearly 600 miles. Downtown St. Louis is just 250 miles away. A drivable trip.
Although Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber memorably said, “I’ve never liked Salt Lake,” in 2014, Sporting has never truly settled on long-lasting rival in which its fans can adopt. When MLS markets its “rivalry week,” the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC play each year. Seattle and Portland. LAFC and LA Galaxy. More recently, Atlanta and Orlando. Sporting has played Salt Lake. It’s faced Minnesota. It’s matched up with Chicago.
St. Louis offers a natural solution, fueled by geography, conceived in the youth ranks. While Sporting resides on the Kansas side of the state line, several of its academy players hail from Missouri. They grow familiar with St. Louis teams.
“Yeah, I would say there’s a rivalry there,” said Sporting midfielder Wan Kuzain, who was born in Illinois and played youth soccer in St. Louis. “Whether it’s an actual rivalry or not, there’s a feeling that you want to be the best in the state.”