The Full 90

Soccer finds its mecca in KC

During the summer and fall months, Kansas City certainly felt like the epicenter of soccer in the United States.

With feverish anticipation, Livestrong Sporting Park opened and quickly established itself as soccer’s new national cathedral and arguably the top soccer-specific facility coast to coast.

Both the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams dropped in for games. International darlings Newcastle and Chivas Guadalajara also made appearances. And throughout it all Sporting Kansas City took fans on a wild ride from dead last after a season-opening 10-game road trip to the top of the Eastern Conference table by late September.

But as 2012 opens, Kansas City truly has become the beating heart of soccer nationwide — at least for the next five days — as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America begins its annual convention today downtown, which is expected to draw more than 4,000 coaches and 5,000 more attendees.

The centerpiece, at least in terms of glitz and attention, is Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft, which begins at 11 a.m. in the Kansas City Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom and is open to the public.

But that is only one small part of the goings-on.

The 65th annual convention, which is billed as “the world’s largest annual gathering of soccer coaches” as well as “the largest soccer trade show in the U.S,” features an exhibition of soccer-related technology and equipment, as well as dozens of seminars and discussions on topics ranging from tactics to skill-building practice routines, from marketing to tips for youth coaches.

“I like to refer to this week as Christmas for soccer coaches,” said Craig Bohnert, NSCAA assistant executive director for communications. “There will be an opportunity to learn about really anything and everything with regard to soccer.”

And to learn it from the best.

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes will be among the featured clinic leaders along with former U.S. women’s national team coach April Heinrichs and former MLS MVP Taylor Twellman.

Tom Byer, who is credited as one of the pioneers of Japan’s grassroots soccer movement, which netted the Women’s World Cup last summer, will lead several sessions along with numerous other well-respected soccer minds, including Australia women’s national-team coach Tom Sermanni and Germany men’s under-20 national-team coach Frank Wormuth.

So, in some ways, Kansas City becomes an international soccer hub for the weekend.

Sessions and clinics are closed to the public, but one-day passes to the trade show Friday and Saturday are available for $25.

The weekend also includes presentation of the yearly NSCAA awards as well as Hall of Fame inductions, but the central focus — as echoed by this year’s convention theme, “Learn. Participate. Belong.” — will be about uniting the U.S. soccer community and empowering the sport’s continued growth.