For Pete's Sake

Major League Soccer actually folded for a few days in 2001

Former Wizards owner Lamar Hunt.
Former Wizards owner Lamar Hunt. dpulliam@kcstar.com

On Nov. 21, 2001, the Kansas City Wizards played their final game of the year at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Wizards lost 1-0 to Santos Laguna in their final game of the Copa Merconorte tournament. That almost was the final game in franchise history.

FC Dallas president Dan Hunt spoke on a Soccer Today podcast this week and recounted a story that he apparently tells frequently.

In November 2001, Hunt had just started working for the Hunt Sports Group, and he was in the Chiefs offices with his dad, Lamar (the former Chiefs owner), brother Clark (now the Chiefs owner) and John Wagner, who is now the president of HSG.

They were on a conference call with the league owners, who had agreed it was time to fold Major League Soccer.

“They were preparing the documents and that was it,” Dan Hunt said. “My brother looks over at me and, in typical big brother fashion, goes ‘congratulations you’ve been hired and fired on the same day,’ with a big smile. Although it wasn’t quite big enough because the situation was pretty grave.

The Wizards had just seen a 20 percent jump in attendance in the 2001 season, but it was all for nothing. The league was gone just six years into its existence.

But Lamar Hunt came to the rescue.

“My dad was able to call everybody,” Dan Hunt said on the podcast, “get them back, and within 48 hours, everybody was back, all in.”

Who knew? Well, we all realized the league was in trouble at that time, because in January 2002, the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny were contracted. MLS dropped from 12 teams to 10.

That summer, the U.S. men’s national team stunned Portugal at the World Cup and advanced to quarterfinals. Did that success save the league? Perhaps.

Ahead of the 2005 season, MLS added Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA. There are now 20 teams in MLS, and the league is thriving.

On Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its first game. It should be a lot of fun, and much more enjoyable that Dan Hunt’s first day on the job, sitting in that room at Arrowhead Stadium listening as MLS died.

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff

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