Thursday, March 31, 2011

News And Stadium Tour

It's been so long since I'd been actively trying to be a journalist of any type (used to work in radio and also wrote for college paper) that I'd forgotten what it was like to have a scoop on a story. For those who may not know, having the scoop means you have it before anybody else. Well, it happened to me today. I was the only media person not employed by the team out at the Sporting KC training facility and the story just falls into my lap. Not literally, but figuratively.

As I tweeted just before noon yesterday (yeah, it's late), Chance Myers went down with an injury. Under the word snakebit in the dictionary, I'm sure it has Chance's picture. Myers missed most of his rookie season with a combination of an injury and (as he's getting ready to come back from that) a case of mono. His development as a young player has been hampered by the fact that he can't seem to stay healthy for long stretches.

Anyway, Myers pulled up with what looked like a groin pull. He looked like he was in a great deal of pain and the training staff was there rather quickly. Myers had to be helped from the field and did not return. As a courtesy, I asked Dave Borchardt, PR rep for the team, if he'd mind if I Tweeted about the injury. Maybe it was as a courtesy, maybe it was just me being in shock that I was the only one with the story. He said it was cool and thanked me for asking.

Since the team is leaving for Vancouver a day earlier than normal, the weekly press conference was held yesterday (almost said today, but didn't want to confuse people). It's not often I have a question, so I asked Coach Vermes if Myers' injury would rule him out for Vancouver. He said that he hadn't gotten a report from the medical staff yet, Myers would probably go to the doctor, but he also said it "didn't look good." It's a good thing that Luke Sassano and Michael Harrington are close to 100% so that one of them may take Myers' spot in the lineup.

On a side note, I asked forward Kei Kamara if, considering he only got 20 minutes in Sierra Leone's match in Niger, he would have rather stayed here and gone to Chicago. He quickly said, "No. It's still a cap." I think he probably would have been more useful to us, but I can respect Kamara's desire to play for his national team, even for short periods.

After today's press conference, it was off to LIVESTRONG Sporting Park for the media tour. I had not, for a variety of reasons, been in the area since ground was broken in January of last year. As hard as I want to try to be a journalist first and a fan second, this stunning facility makes that hard, if not impossible. While I was on I-435, I turned my head and saw it for the first time and it literally took my breath away. Does the phrase "love at first sight" mean anything to you?

This is a section of the roof that overhangs all of the seating sections. This particular section is over the stage and you may be able to see some of the bumps on the crossbeams (easier in the sections without the polycarbonate installed). Those are places to hang the lights for concerts. The stage, on the south end of the stadium, will be covered with retractable seating so you can't tell the stage is even there during games.

This is the west stand. Directly in the middle is the tunnel where players will enter the field from the locker rooms (which will be incredibly sick as far as tech goes). The Sporting bench is to the left and the visitors is to the right. On either side of the benches, four sections in each direction, are the Field Club seats, the new stadium's equivalent of the Field Side Seating from CAB and Arrowhead. There are 35 suites in the new facility on two levels. The press box is in the upper left corner of the picture, just to the right of the stadium operations suite that will control the video screens, electronic signboards and public address system.

That is the "Members Stand" where groups like The Cauldron will be standing. This area (and one on the other side of the members club) are the only parts of the stadium that will have bleachers. Everything else will have seatbacks.

Speaking of seats, this is what they look like. The less expensive seats are 19" across, midlevel are 21" and the high-end seats are 23". I took the opportunity to sit in one and they are quite comfy, a lot moreso than you would usually get in a stadium setting.

This is the view from the members club with the garage door windows up. When the weather's nice, they can leave them open to let the air and sound in, or put them down to keep the wind and rain out. As with everything else in the stadium, the club has a use on non-game days as Kansas City's first true soccer bar. If you've lived around here long enough, you've had to beg to get games on, beg again to get the sound, and that's if they like you. Here, you won't have to ask if a certain game's on, it will be a safe assumption that it will be. The space is approxiamately 8,000 sq. ft. and features a stairway to get to the concourse that serves only the members stand. Sporting KC knows that groups like The Cauldron and others are what drive the energy and atmosphere in the stadium, so they want to take good care of those people. And to give you an idea of how much the groups have grown since OnGoal bought the team in 2006, just think about this. When they bought the team, there were less than 100 season tickets in the Cauldron. They already have 1,000 for the first season of the new stadium (out of about 10,000 for the whole facility).

This stadium will be the envy of the rest of the league. It will be the first stadium lit for HDTV. The distance from the front row on the east stand to the touchline is 19'. It will be intimate and it will be loud. And as much as I want to stay calm, I have to say that when it comes to this stadium, I'm in love.

That's all for now. See you soon.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sporting KC News for 3/29/11

Tuesday's not normally a big news day for MLS teams, but today's not necessarily normal.

First, the team announced that Chad Ochocinco has been named an honorary member of the team. What does that mean, exactly? It means that he can train with the team as long as he wants. As Ochocinco tweeted, "This is so awesome I'm an honorary member of and can train with the reserve team as long as I want. Totally awesome ." The media circus has left town, but according to head coach Peter Vermes, it wasn't a distraction to the team. In fact, the only part he didn't particularly care for was having to be ready for ESPN to come in. Other than that, he was fine with it.

As was reported yesterday in some other media outlets, Sporting KC will play Newcastle United of the English Premier League in a friendly on July 20th at @LIVESTRONGPark. Newcastle will train at the Sporting Club Training Center in Swope Park for three days, starting July 17th and will also conduct a coaches clinic. The money quote from the press release was from Newcastle manager Alan Pardew who said, "I know Manchester United were in Kansas City last year and went home beaten, so we know full well what a tough game it will be for us, but that is exactly the sort of challenge we will be looking for." It makes Sporting KC look good while taking a shot at Manchester United, something I'm always up for, being a Liverpool FC supporter. ;)

It's not necessarily news, but Sporting KC will be hosting a media tour of @LIVESTRONGPark tomorrow afternoon. I'm looking forward to getting an inside look at the state-of-the-art facility that opens June 9th with a match against the Chicago Fire. They started rolling out the sod this morning and will hopefully be finished by the end of the day tomorrow, so they will be almost done by the time the tour starts. One way you can tell they're not quite finished is the fact that we're going to have to sign waivers before we start and probably have to wear hard hats. Probably look goofy in it, but when do I not? Don't answer that. ;)

And finally, just a little tidbit of information about the match in Chicago on Saturday. If you haven't seen it on my Twitter feed this afternoon (@fntncitysoccer), I mentioned that defender Matt Besler was wearing a short sleeve jersey, even though the actual air temperature was only 36 with a strong wind. He wasn't necessarily trying to be a badass. The team, specifically the equipment manager, forgot to pack his long sleeve jersey. Besler responded to my tweet saying, "even if the team would have packed my long sleeve I still would have gone short. Short sleeves no care #badass". True enough. The fact that he didn't freeze to death makes Matt a badass. :)

I'm still hoping to get photos up today, but I don't know if I will or not. In any event, we'll have more soon.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A journey of 1000 miles...

...begins with a single step.

I'm not sure why it took me this long to start a soccer blog, especially considering how much I love the game and how much I love writing.

But here it is. I hope it's the beginning of something big. Or at least medium. :)

I was out at the Sporting KC practice facility today for the reserves game with the Kansas City Brass. Normally, this would be something that not many people would know about. Then again, the past week has been anything but normal for Sporting KC. Chad Ochocinco being among the SKC reserves will do that for you.

Having been at practice Thursday and Friday, you could see that there's been a lot of improvement in Ochocinco's play since he started. Considering that he gave up soccer for football in 10th grade, it's understandable that there's quite a bit of rust on his soccer skills. The 6-time Pro Bowl wide receiver has been working really hard at practice and has been, in the words of SKC coach Peter Vermes, incredibly coachable. They tell him what he needs to do to get better and he does it.

I know there are people who, for one reason or another, don't think very much of Ochocinco's trial with SKC. If you know anything about Chad, he doesn't care what anybody else thinks of him. Some people think that this is just a publicity stunt. His reputation would certainly lend itself to that particular criticism. However, having seen the work he's been putting in during this trial, I take him at his word that this is not an attempt at getting people's attention during the NFL lockout. I've heard him say more than once that he could die tomorrow and his dream of playing soccer at an elite level would be fulfilled. Vermes has said that he's been a class act and a true professional. The other players seem to genuinely enjoy having him around.

I'm sure there are others, soccer purists, that don't particularly care for the circus that star athletes from one sport always seem to bring with them when they try another sport (can we say Michael Jordan and baseball?). For anybody that seriously wants Ochocinco to leave simply because he's not a soccer player, just think about this. ESPN has been out at the SKC training facility all week. Several media outlets, local and national, have been spending time and energy covering the team that wouldn't normally be out there daily for practice. Ochocinco has been telling them that soccer's a lot harder than he thought it was, especially at this level.

Yes, Ochocinco does bring the spotlight with him wherever he goes, but it's shining on a team that has, quite frankly, had trouble sometimes with connecting with the media in this town, through no fault of their own. If this increased attention gets more people to watch this team in particular, and the sport in general, then it's been worth every second of it.

I'm hoping to have pictures of the game up later tonight or in the morning. I'll also be touring LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Wednesday and will bring you my thoughts on the new home the team's building out by the Kansas Speedway. See you soon.