As the clock approached the 90th minute, the 20,689 fans at Livestrong Park in Kansas City knew what was coming. There was nothing Sporting could have done better. From the first minute, they controlled the game, possessing the ball inside the 18 yard box patiently, waiting and waiting for their chance to come. Finally, in the 64th minute it came from a header by Seth Sinovic. Livestrong went off the wall. Blue confetti fell onto the field and the fans began to shout their iconic ‘I believe’ chant. Sporting was on top, but the score still read 1-0. Because they lost the first game of the two leg conference semi-final 2-0, they needed two goals to tie it up in the second leg and take it into overtime. With one goal in the back of the net and with their huge fan base behind them, Sporting only needed one. Just one.
[media-credit id=180 align="alignleft" width="185"][/media-credit]But no matter how loud the drums rolled and the ‘blue hell’ fans chanted, Sporting’s 20 shots on goal and 70 percent of possession wasn’t enough. For the second year in a row, Sporting had been knocked out of the playoffs by the Houston Dynamo. As the players laid sprawled across the field, exhausted, there was something in the air. Sporting had lost, but something was achieved this season. The team not only won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, but won the Eastern Conference for the second year in a row. They hadn’t reached their final goal, but as the team exited Livestrong Park, they left on the field not only their hearts, but hope for sports in Kansas City.
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Kansas City has been the heartland of professional sporting embarrassment for my 18 years on this world. Ever since I can remember, both teams have been horrible. As a lifelong Chiefs fan, I’ve learned to expect the worst. As a Royals fan, well, I learned to just not be a Royals fan. There’s something that has been haunting this city since George Brett and the Royals won it all in the 1985 world series, and the Chiefs’ Marty Schottenheimer era. With neither teams looking on the rise, here’s why Sporting will be the savior of sports in Kansas City:
First my ridicule goes to the Chiefs. In the past five years, the Chiefs have managed to win only 28 games, and have lost 61. In what used to be known as one of the toughest environments in the league for visiting teams, the Chiefs’ record in Arrowhead is only 13-26 since 2007.
In 2009, the Chiefs introduced head coach Todd Haley who had a rocky start placing last in the AFC West at 4-12. The next year however, Haley lead the Chiefs to a 10-6 record and clinched the AFC West for the first time since 2003.
Finally, things were looking up for Kansas City sports. Right?
Wrong. The Chiefs decided to fire Haley after a subpar 5-8 start in the 2011 season. Former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel took over as interim coach, finishing the season 7-9, and was named the permanent head coach for the 2012 season.
And that was the big mistake. Instead of giving Haley a chance to fix the Chiefs, now he’s in Pittsburgh where he’s laughing at the Chiefs catastrophic 1-8 season. For good reason too — his Steelers defense picked off Chiefs’ quarterback, Matt Cassel, in overtime to set up a game winning field goal on Monday Night Football.
The Royals have been even worse, having only one winning season since 1993. If you were to tell me the Royals had a chance at making the playoffs, I’d laugh in your face. After finishing 72-90 this season, manager Ned Yost began making his way to the .500 mark, but still needs a signature season to put this club back where they belong.
Even with this improvement, there’s really nothing to be excited about in Royals baseball. I would do anything to have been alive during the glory days of the 1985 Royals, but as of now the team will continue to disappoint their diminishing fan base.
And so the city’s title hopes lay on the crest of Sporting.
Yes, Sporting has two consecutive losses to the Dynamo in the postseason, but there’s some good in it. Sporting is a new, young team with huge potential. They have a growing fan base behind them that believes, and will be even more fired up for the 2013 season.
On top of that, Sporting only has two players whose contracts are up for renewal — one being the hometown hero Matt Besler from Blue Valley West, an unlikely transfer. Espinoza, the international hero from Honduras is also a possible free agent, and is as of now completely up for grabs.
The entire defensive unit of Sporting will be returning, including one of the elite goalkeepers in the MLS, Jimmy Nielsen. Nielsen finished with 15 shutouts, which is second all-time in MLS history. Nielsen also didn’t miss a minute this year, and should be leading the team in full strength again in 2013.
Kei Kamara will provide strength again up top for Sporting, and while in his eighth year in the MLS, will be hungry to bring home the cup this year.
Sporting could have a big year in 2013. Either way, there’s a group of guys that could carry this team for the next few years. The team is well coached under experienced former player Peter Vermes, and can find wins under any conditions. Even as contracts expire, Sporting has more than enough to attract high quality transfers into Livestrong Park for long term success.
With the Chiefs frustrating losing streak and the Royals without promise, Sporting is the final hope for the once decorated town of Kansas City.
*View a gallery from the second leg of the conference semi final between Sporting and Houston Dynamo below. All photos by Emma Robson.