The bubbly was flowing four hours before Thursday’s kickoff.
Sporting Kansas City fans Aaron Jacobs, Kevin Shook and friends were sipping champagne in the parking lot before the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park.
“We’re christening the stadium with a bottle of champagne,” Jacobs said.
The party was in full swing all around. Where two games of soccer had been taking place just an hour earlier, there were a dozen in full swing in the parking lot. Grills were fired up, and the party was on.
For soccer fans, this was nirvana. Their team, which had basically been a nomad for 15 years, was about to play its first true home game.
“This is ridiculous,” said Shook as he looked across the street at the stadium. “We’ve been looking forward to this basically since the team was up for sale (in 2004). For a while, we didn’t know if the team would be around or not.”
If nothing else, Livestrong Sporting Park shows the team is here to stay.
And it’s drawing fans from far and wide.
Brandon Arendt made one of the longer trips for Thursday’s game. He lives in Milwaukee, where he is the president of a Sporting fan club. Arendt was drinking a beer before the game with the Cauldron, the fervent group of fans who began the tailgating at 3 p.m.
This was just the second Sporting game he had attended, but it was the one he wasn’t about to miss.
“I circled the calendar,” Arendt said. “Me and the girlfriend made it our summer vacation trip, because the Gold Cup (is next week), too.”
In fact, Arendt intended to propose to “the girlfriend,” whose name is Sara Guse, at Thursday’s game. But she found out a few weeks ago that he bought the ring, and those plans were scuttled.
Ah, but romance was still in the air. Once the gates opened at 6 p.m., fans slowly filtered into the park. Dennis Ormston of Wichita and his date Stephanie found a place to talk quietly – in their seats in the letter G of the word “Sporting,” which is painted in the south stands.
“It’s great, it’s a really nice stadium,” Ormston said at he looked around.
It wasn’t anywhere near quiet in Members Club, where the music thumped, the beer flowed and fans shook their heads in wonder as they talked about the new soccer palace.
Holding court there was Ron Newman, the franchise’s first coach from 1996-99.
Newman, who is originally from England, has played and coached in stadiums on both sides of the pond. Even he was impressed.
“This is absolutely gorgeous,” Newman said. “I heard it was the best in the country and it is. It really is.”
Maybe that’s why dozens of people who were on the concourse were snapping pictures of the field an hour before game time.
David Wiley, however, was down on one knee and pointing out something to his 4-year-old son, Asa.
“We were just scouting out where we’re going to sit next time,” Wiley said. “Looks like there’s not a bad seat in the house.”