Sporting Kansas City’s friendly against Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday was supposed to be a home game. The location — Livestrong Sporting Park — made that obvious.
But the crowd of 17,142, the vast majority of which was supporting the visiting club, made the reality just the opposite. The intensity, volume and passion of the Chivas fans – who were clearly thrilled to watch Mexico’s most popular team in person – was both startling and unwavering during a 2-2 draw.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Seriously. When Sporting mounted a scoring opportunity, the red-and-blue clad fans rose to their feet and cheered for defense. When Chivas did the same, they cheered even louder. And when Chivas scored twice, as it did in the 19th and 87th minutes, the red-and-blue clad fans literally roared.
“It was a different kind of environment,” said Sporting defender Kevin Ellis, who scored one of his team’s two goals. “Their fans were unbelievable, from the opening kick to the final whistle. I think it was good for us to play in an environment like that.”
So yes, on this night, Sporting — a team that has feasted on opponents at home all season long — got a bit of its own medicine.
This, however, was all by design. Sporting’s ownership group made it a point to showcase their new $200 million jewel-of-a-stadium in as many ways as possible, and a friendly — as ill-timed as it might be, with their team smack dab in the middle of a Major League Soccer playoff chase — fits right in with that philosophy.
“All it does is help build our brand,” Sporting CEO Robb Heineman said before the game. “I’m sure there will be a lot of fans here tonight that prefer Chivas over us.”
Boy, were there. But Heineman reiterated that was OK. The goal is to grow the game of soccer in Kansas City, and his hope was that those same red-and-blue clad fans would have such a good time rooting against his team on Wednesday that they would one day feel compelled to come back, only to watch Sporting next time.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether that will happen. But they had plenty of reasons to enjoy the game. Whether it was the first goal of the game, which Chivas’ Marco Fabian scored on a penalty kick, or even the playing of the Mexican national anthem — which drew a similar or slightly better round of applause at its conclusion than the Star-Spangled Banner — this was a night about Mexican national pride.
And no one understood that more than 31-year old Sporting forward Omar Bravo, who scored 106 goals during two stints with Chivas from 2000 to 2010. For him, this was a homecoming of sorts, a celebration of his long and successful career with his home country’s most storied team.
And Chivas fans weren’t shy about showering Bravo with love. That much was apparent early in the second half, when Bravo scored a goal that appeared to tie the game at 1-1. This prompted the crowd to cheer as loud as it had all game, even though it was quickly waived off by an offsides call. And when Bravo was subbed off in the 53rd minute, he left to a loud ovation.
“I’m very grateful for the fans of Sporting Kansas City and all the Mexican fans from around the country that follow me,” Bravo said.
On that note, it’s worth mentioning that the Sporting fans did their best to match Chivas’ energy. The roars they let out after Soony Saad (75th minute) and Ellis (87th minute) scored goals to put Sporting ahead 2-1 were particularly impressive.
However, the Chivas fans were quick to remind them whose night it was, as the stadium basically exploded after Chivas’ Erick Torres scored an 87th minute equalizer to salvage the draw.
Blowing a late lead was certainly disappointing for Sporting, but as Heineman was quick to point out before the friendly, the result — though he always wants to win — wasn’t all that important.
Bravo even went so far as to say the draw was good thing.
“It’s good that way — they don’t hate me now,” Bravo joked, referring to his former teammates.
Besides, in Heineman’s mind, this game was about soccer fans coming together, at Sporting’s new stadium, to root on their favorite teams with all their might, and that much definitely happened. Between the ridiculously loud Chivas cheers and the almost-as-loud Sporting cheers, anyone within a 12-block radius could tell you that.
“This isn’t about the competition on the field tonight — it’s about bringing all different sorts of entertainment-type stuff here,” Heineman said. “Based on the ticket sales, it’s a success.”