Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sporting KC, US Soccer to Build National Training Center in KCK.

Prior to tonight's friendly with Manchester City, Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman was joined by Governor Sam Brownback, Mayor Mark Holland of the Unified Government (Kansas City, KS, and Wyandotte County), EPR Properties David Brain and Schlitterbahn CEO Mark Henry for a major announcement, one that could affect the growth of the game, not just in Kansas City, but in the United States as a whole.

Heineman formally announced the construction of a U.S. Soccer National Training Center complex in Kansas City, KS. The $75 million facility will include 100,000 square feet for a state of the art indoor facility with a practice field, eight lighted professional smart fields, and eight youth fields.

That's pretty cool, right? It's much better than that. The complex will also house a climate-controlled indoor pavilion and specialized areas for strength and nutrition, sports science, health and wellness, hydration as well as video and analytics. For the players, coaches and referees coming to the facility for training, there will also be a 125-room hotel.

In a statement, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said, "Playing and coaching development is a main focus for U.S. Soccer, and we are pleased that Sporting Club is pursuing a world-class training facility to help the sport continue to grow and advance." He added the federation is looking forward to working with the club on the creation of the center. Gulati anticipates it will host the national teams and coaching education programming in the future.

Heineman said that this project is part of the club's overall vision and strategy for helping the United States win the World Cup. The club's pursuit of the complex is not completely altruistic, though. While one of the goals is helping the country find success on the world stage, this center will also help the club as it tries to build a dynasty and separate itself from the rest of the pack in MLS.

Heineman also said that one of the reasons to build the facility here is to give kids something to aspire to. They'll be able to see the national team train and play here and it will give them a goal to chase. It certainly doesn't hurt there are two Sporting KC players on the national team at the moment.

Heineman anticipates the STAR bonds approval process to take approximately 90 days and doesn't foresee any problems. The state government has been aware of the project for the last 14-16 months and Governor Brownback said no legislative action would be necessary. Mayor Holland said the development agreement would be vetted by the county commission and voted on.

The main reason no one anticipates any problems? The center is projected to have an economic impact on the area to the tune of $1 billion. That's right, billion with a "b." Tournaments can be held on the fields at the complex, which will help hotels and restaurants and the complex will also provide lots of jobs.

This was a pretty epic day in a pretty epic month for soccer in Kansas City. People like Alexi Lalas and MLS's Dan Courtemanche were tweeting things like the city is strengthening their hold on their soccer-capital status. It's a fun time to be a soccer fan in Kansas City.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sporting KC Defeat LA, Retain Besler and Zusi

With a special 5pm kickoff, Sporting Kansas City looked to continue their winning ways against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Sporting Park.

Early on, it looked like it would be a rout. In the 10th minute, Sporting KC was given a free kick just outside of the penalty area, in what we in the press box are starting to call "The Benny Zone." Feilhaber took the ball up and over the wall and in the upper 90 on the near post. Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo didn't have much of a chance.

The pressure continued and the Galaxy didn't pick up their first good opportunity until the 25th minute and finished the opening 45 minutes with only 2 shots, neither of which was on target.

In the postgame press conference, manager Bruce Arena said the team had played poorly in the first half, but the Galaxy had a majority of the possession in the opening stanza and completed 82.5 percent of their passes. They also won 57.1 percent of the duels in the first half.

The second half was better for the Galaxy, but Sporting KC still managed to double their lead. In the 61st minute, Graham Zusi was taking a corner kick to the right of Penedo's goal. Zusi's in-swinger looked like it was intended for Aurelien Collin on the back post.

Penedo managed to get to it first and punched it out. Collin chased it down and crossed it back across the goal. Jacob Peterson went up to head it and Penedo got his hands to it. The ball then fell to Lawrence Olum, who headed it into the net.

Sporting KC then seemed to struggle to hold on to the lead. They gave up a goal to Robbie Keane in the 79th minute that appeared to have been a little offside, but the club managed to close the game out and collect all three points from a hungry Galaxy side.


The big news of the day, though, broke about an hour before the game. Defender Matt Besler and midfielder/forward Graham Zusi signed long-term contracts and are the club's newest Designated Players.

In a statement, Besler said, "This is a dream come true to know that I'll be playing my whole career in Kansas City. A lot of factors went into this decision, but the ownership and the great fans played a huge part. Now, there is a responsibility to go forward to keep pushing this team farther and farther."

After the announcement was made, there were several people on social media who said Besler and Zusi staying in Kansas City was bad for the USMNT. Club president and CEO Robb Heineman addressed those comments after the postgame press conference.

"I've seen a lot of stuff on social media around – 'Oh, you know, this is not a good decision for the guys from a national team perspective' – and to me, that's complete BS," Heineman said. "This is one of the best clubs in the world from a development perspective, the opportunity and the tools that are available here, including Peter and the way he trains these guys, is world-class. So any reference or thought that it's not a first-class opportunity for these guys to be here, to me, is just complete crap."

Maybe it's just me, but you have to like a team executive wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops and drinking a beer during the interview. One reason so many fans love Robb: He's very much like them.


Before the game, Sporting KC had a military family out at midfield and played them a message from their son who was sorry that he couldn't be there right then. When they announced the video, I started looking around for someone wearing fatigues and found him before they did.

After that, I started looking for the bastard who was chopping onions. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Up next for the club is a midweek friendly with reigning BPL champions Manchester City. The kickoff is scheduled for 8:00.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Life In The Minors

With Sporting KC on the road in Montreal, and needing to get the heck out of Dodge for 24 hours, I decided to make a quick trip down to Oklahoma City and take in an Energy FC game.

I also wanted to see Jimmy Nielsen again. I hadn't seen him since the day he retired back in December.

If there's one thing that hasn't changed about The White Puma, it's definitely his passion for the game. There were a few questionable "no calls" in the first half and I could see Jimmy's face flushing red when he was screaming at the officials.

One thing I saw him do, though, that you'd never see Peter Vermes do, was put his arm around the fourth official with a smile on his face. If Peter ever put his hands on an official, you could be sure the words coming out of his mouth would be in Hungarian.


In his first game for the club, midfielder Jimmy Medranda made the start and played about 55 minutes. He was very good on the ball and seemed to be very creative. He also showed the high work rate that I'd seen from him while he was with Sporting KC. From what I've been told, he's come down here with a good attitude and wants to show Jimmy Nielsen and, by extension, Peter Vermes what he can do.


Adda Djeziri, formerly of League Two's Scunthorpe United, had a very good game as well. He assisted on both of OKC's goals.

Djeziri's inch perfect corner kick found the head of former Sporting KC midfielder Michael Thomas on the back post in the fifth minute.

Djeziri's second assist came on a good pass in the penalty area to Dan Delgado, who faked out the keeper and put it in the empty net.


Despite the slow start, OKC's seven match unbeaten streak (4-0-3) has now elevated the club to a tie for sixth place in USL Pro with Orange County Blues FC.

 3,619 fans showed up to watch the match and I heard some familiar chants from the supporters section, including "Wings of a Sparrow" and "Who's Your Daddy?" I suppose it's appropriate, considering the club's affiliation with Sporting KC.

The only truly "minor league" thing about the game was the "trash can pong" game that was played at halftime. It went on way too long and had my two compatriots in the press box asking for the return of "bubble soccer."

Other than that, it was a truly enjoyable evening watching the game that I love.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Thoughts On Sporting KC v. Chicago 7/6/14

Sporting Kansas City extended their unbeaten streak to three matches with a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire at Sporting Park on Sunday afternoon.

The match saw the return of USMNT midfielder Graham Zusi to the 18, while defender Matt Besler was held out.

One thing I hope doesn't come back to bite the team in the butt was a silly yellow card shown to forward Dom Dwyer after his goal in the 33rd minute. After slotting the ball past goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Dwyer ran over to a photographer, grabbed his phone and took a selfie with teammate Soony Saad. The halftime stat sheet said the card was for excessive celebration. The weird thing about that was the full-time sheet said, "not visible."


How dominant was Sporting KC in the 2nd half? They controlled almost 80 percent of the possession in the 2nd 45 minute period (78.6, to be exact).

It didn't hurt that Chicago's passing accuracy fell through the floor after halftime. Before halftime, the Fire completed a respectable 75.8 percent of their passes. After the intermission, that rate dropped to an abysmal 45.8. Chicago manager Frank Yallop can't have been pleased with that, even though he did say the team had played well after the game.


The Chicago Fire were credited with four shots on target, but Eric Kronberg was not credited with a single save. You might be thinking, if you didn't watch the game, "But Alan, the Fire only scored once."

True, the Fire only scored once, but Dwyer cleared one ball of the line and Aurelien Collin cleared two more. Never hurts to have a Johnny-On-The-Spot right when you need it.


The next home game brings Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy to Sporting Park. Considering some of the chants the Cauldron has done in the past, it would not shock me to hear the Cauldron call Donovan a "Klinsmann Reject."


Next up on the schedule, though, is a trip to Montreal on Saturday to face the Impact. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 CDT and will be shown on KMCI-TV and SKC-TV.