Go ahead and count Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber among the growing throng of people that have come away impressed by Livestrong Sporting Park.
Garber, who is in town tonight for Sporting KC’s first game in its new digs, is obviously excited about the $200 million stadium, not that it should come as a surprise. He’s been leading the charge to get MLS clubs new stadiums for years.
But when asked about his thoughts about the stadium today, Garber — while careful not to say it directly — seemed to admit that Kansas City has the best in a league filled with mostly new stadiums.
“I get asked that question a lot, and there’s no way I could answer that without making (anyone) unhappy,” Garber said. “But (this stadium) certainly has raised the bar. It has set a new height for what soccer stadiums can be in the future. And the fact it’s in Kansas City, not another market that may be larger, is a great testament to the commitment of the ownership.”
Garber, who said he took a two-hour tour of the park on Wednesday, was blown away by the foresight that was put into the facility. He was specifically impressed with the club’s innovative membership program, its home locker room — “it’s one like Manchester would have,” he said — and also its cutting-edge technological partnerships with Cisco and Google.
These are the things, he said, that will allow Livestrong Sporting Park to become a hub for soccer in the Midwest. That means Kansas City should get a chance to host more international and U.S. national team matches in the near futureand that’s not all.
“I know we’ll have an all-star game here,” Garber said. “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
Garber said fans have Sporting KC’s ownership group, led by Robb Heineman, Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, for that. He admits he’s even come around on their decision to re-brand the team — which also included a desire to expand the scope of club to other sports, much like you might see in Europe — earlier this year.
“I have to say when Robb came in and pitched this Sporting Club concept, we kind of had some trepidation,” Garber said. “It took a lot of discussion to manage the concept that our brand would also live on the brand of a rugby team or a lacrosse team or perhaps even a baseball team.”
And the name?
“Though we supported the name, it’s certainly different,” he continued. “But I think it will work for much for them. They’ve done a great job re-branding the team.”
Other highlights of the discussion:
Garber said he continues to work on expansion, particularly on bringing a second team to New York. Montreal will join the 18-team league next season, but Garber said the odds of placing a team in St. Louis — which would give Sporting KC a natural rival — have dropped significantly.
“If we had a Robb, Neal and Cliff and if we had the unified government-type support, we’d be able to get something done in St. Louis,” Garber said. “But we don’t have (any of) that.”
He did, however, leave the door open for possible expansion to Gateway City.
“But I think when people in this (region) see what’s happening in Kansas City, it might provide us with an opportunity to speak with St. Louis again and perhaps reopen the discussion.”