A fan’s guide – the club from formation to today
As the crowd raised their hands and waved flags in celebration one bright day in June 2022, Kansas City was announced as one of only 11 cities across the U.S. to cohost the World Cup 2026. The rest of the world, meanwhile, failing to see Washington D.C., Chicago, or the City of Los Angeles make the cut, remained puzzled. Kansas City? Isn’t that a song?
It’s also a soccer hub, very much so. Kansas City Wiz, now Sporting Kansas City, was a founder member of MLS in 1996, founded by none other than Lamar Hunt. The Texan entrepreneur may have been behind the Super Bowl, the American Football League and the currently high-flying Kansas City Chiefs, but his sports focus did not stop at the gridiron game.
Inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, lending his name to the U.S. Open Cup, and granted a rare Medal of Honor for ‘changing the course of soccer in America’, oil magnate Hunt helped create the NASL back in the Sixties, and was also behind Columbus Crew, the first soccer-specific stadium in modern times, and FC Dallas. But Kansas City, where he had taken the Dallas Texans in 1963 to become later NFL powerhouse the Chiefs, was always front and center in his strategy.
This is, after all, the heart of America. The western frontier town and departure point for trailblazers to California, home of jazz and Charlie Parker, the city straddles the border between Kansas and Missouri. Indeed, Children’s Mercy Park, contemporary home of Sporting KC, is in Kansas City, Kansas, the streetcar suburb of main Kansas City, Missouri, where you find Arrowhead Stadium, long-term home of NFL’s Chiefs and the 76,640-capacity arena where those World Cup fixtures will take place.
Back in the 1950s, local soccer-starved Latino and Central Europeans congregated for pick-up games at Swope Park, Gillham Park, and Gage Park in nearby Topeka. A decade later, when Chicago Spurs of the National Professional Soccer League relocated to Kansas City, fixtures would attract average gates of 8,500 in the initial NASL season of 1968. Coached by Hungarian János Bédl, Kansas City Spurs first played at Municipal Stadium, today marked with a series of plaques at 2123 Brooklyn Avenue, close to Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Here, urban history and sporting heritage intersect. Built for Kansas City Blues baseball team, owned by key brewer George E. Muehlebach – Kansas City famously flaunted alcohol restrictions during prohibition, helping the jazz scene to flourish – the stadium also hosted Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues. A year after the stadium opened, the first Negro World Series game was staged here in 1924. Two decades later, groundbreaking baseball hero Jackie Robinson played here before his game-changing move to Brooklyn.
In 1955, the stadium was rebuilt for major league baseball, then converted for NFL when the Chiefs moved over from Texas in ’63. A year later, it welcomed the Beatles for a show that began with Fabs’ rendition of Kansas City. Though Lamar Hunt had caught on to soccer around the same time, bewitched by the 1966 World Cup in England, his hopes for the game in America proved short-lived, at least for the time being.
Despite winning the NASL title in 1969, with striker Willy Roy, involved in three consecutive World Cup qualifying tournaments for USMNT, and even after the arrival of intrepid Liverpudlian coach Alan Rogers, Kansas City Spurs abandoned Municipal Stadium to play before 2,000 crowds at a high school sports field. They folded soon afterward.
Though typical of the pre-Pelé NASL era, Spurs was not the whole story. At grassroots level, there was enough interest for the Johnson County Soccer League to be set up in 1977, attracting hundreds of young players. It then merged with the Kansas Premier Soccer League, more competitive in nature, to form the Heartland Soccer Association, the largest soccer league and tournament host in the U.S.. Today, more than 1.300 teams compete at all-turf soccer facilities such as the Swope Soccer Village – the site of those casual pick-up games 60 years ago – and Compass Minerals National Performance Center, opened out by Children’s Mercy Park in 2018.
An elite training base for Sporting Kansas City and U.S. Soccer as a whole, players, coaches, and referees, it provides ample evidence of how far the game has come since Lamar Hunt laid the groundwork in the 1960s, and then again in the 1990s. Intent that Kansas should be in at the start when MLS was launched following America’s hosting of the 1994 World Cup, he arranged for his new franchise to move in to share the home of NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, that he had brought here in 1963.
Hunt started building Arrowhead Stadium five years later to replace the venerable Municipal Stadium, of limited size and capacity. By the time Kansas City Wiz arrived in 1996, it had already welcomed a crowd of 82,094 for a Chiefs game but had been overlooked as a host venue for the recent World Cup. While a whole end was blocked off for Wiz games – average home gates stayed below 13,000 – Arrowhead Stadium proved the perfect stage for the greatest player to wear the Kansas City shirt.
Preki, aka Predrag Radosaviljević, had barely played for Red Star Belgrade when he was lured to the indoor game in the States in 1985, his midfield skills entertaining the crowd in Tacoma rather than lighting up Europe’s most prestigious stadiums alongside the future winners of the European Cup. Years later, the veteran Preki would face members of this great Red Star team when playing for USMNT against Yugoslavia at the 1998 World Cup.
His outstanding performances that first MLS season pushed Kansas to the Conference Finals, where a blistering run and goal by Preki weren’t enough to prevent eventual victory by L.A. Galaxy on a penalty shootout from the 35-yard line. Renamed Wizards and welcoming Scots international Richard Gough to team up with his compatriot Mo Johnston, Kansas City again made the Playoffs in 1997 but failed to progress.
It wasn’t until former USMNT coach Bob Gansler arrived that Wizards broke new ground, his team’s defensive strength earning him the nickname ‘Bunker Bob’. With Preki, now a yoga-practicing 37 year old, pulling the strings, and two players of Hungarian extraction, the Dane Miklos Molnar and USMNT regular Peter Vermes mainstays at the front and back, Wizards won the Supporters’ Shield by topping the league in the regular season.
In goal, 100-cap international Tony Meola earned the League MVP award with his record 16 shutouts. Revenge over Galaxy in the Conference Finals, a convoluted series of three games and golden goals, brought Wizards to the MLS Cup Final against 1998 winners, Chicago Fire. Another exceptional performance by Man of the Match Meola kept Bob Bradley’s team at bay after an early Molnar goal led to one-way traffic in Washington. Kansas City became the first Western Conference team to lift the MLS Cup and do the MLS Double.
Preki’s one-season move to Miami Fusion saw him join a more offensive team, one ironically pitted against his former one in the MLS Cup Quarterfinals of 2001. Played in the shadow of 9/11, the third of three decisive games ended in defeat for Kansas City, Preki netting an early equaliser against his old teammates. Returning in 2002, Preki scored in each of the three Conference Semifinals against L.A. Galaxy but it wasn’t enough to push Kansas City into the Final. The team also made the Semifinals CONCACAF Champions League but was brushed aside by Morelia of Mexico.
Closing in on the MLS Cup Final of 2003, Kansas took San Jose Earthquakes to sudden death, only to succumb to a moment of genius by Landon Donovan to snatch the golden goal for the Californians in the Conference Final. Wizards twice gained revenge over San Jose in 2004, first in the U.S. Open Cup Semifinals and then in the MLS Conference Semifinals.
Arrowhead Stadium would host the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, settled by a golden goal from Russian international Igor Simutenkov, but Kansas failed to claim more silverware when three quick goals halfway through the first half allowed D.C. United to win the MLS Cup Final. Wizards had played the season without Preki, his broken leg forcing his retirement the following year.
The 42 year old could still influence play, however, equalising in the very last minute of his final game against FC Dallas, Wizards having switched to the Eastern Conference. He remains the only man to win the MLS MVP award twice. It was then all change in 2006, Preki retiring, Bob Gansler moving on and, that December, the passing of Lamar Hunt. Flags in Kansas City flew at half-mast.
The family had already sold on Kansas City Wizards to a local investment group with interests in sporting organizations, On Goal, LLC. It was they who opened the Swope Soccer Village facility, and they who received approval to finance the construction of a soccer-specific stadium in Kansas City. Hunt would have died knowing his legacy would live on.
Wizards’ last MLS game at Arrowhead Stadium was the 1-0 win over Chivas USA that took them to the 2007 Conference Finals, and defeat to Houston Dynamo. Three years later, the club staged a showcase friendly with Manchester United there to accommodate the 52,424 crowd, around five times the average gate when Preki ruled supreme. They were rewarded with a 2-1 win over the side crowned English champions ten months later.
While seeking a site and secure funding for their new stadium during the financial crisis, Kansas hit a lull, treading water for three seasons at the CommunityAmerica Ballpark. On the plus side, their star defender Peter Vermes, his father Mihály a squad member of the great Honvéd side of the early 1950s in Hungary, was now coach.
Having played the first ten games of the 2011 campaign on the road while a new stadium at Village West was being finished, the now renamed Sporting Kansas City strung together 14 games unbeaten, including the 0-0 draw that June at the newly unveiled Livestrong Sporting Park. Despite the low scores, fans filled the soccer-specific stadium in record numbers, even surpassing its official capacity of 18,467 for the inaugural game.
On the pitch, wide midfielder Graham Zusi raided the flanks while much-traveled holding man Júlio César revived a flagging career that had showed so much promise at Real Madrid a decade earlier. Vermes also spotted a great talent in former Danish U-21 international goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, despite his red card in the stadium opener against Chicago Fire. Topping the Eastern Conference, Sporting Kansas City made it through to the Conference Finals but was halted yet again by Houston Dynamo, this time before 20,839 at home.
Making Nielsen captain, Vermes steered Kansas to the top of the Eastern Conference but again his team failed to get past Houston in the Playoffs. There had better luck in the U.S. Open Cup when Nielsen, among the MLS All-Stars team that year, used his goalkeeping ability and mind games to earn Kansas victory in the penalty shootout over Seattle. Former Wizards man Eddie Johnson missed the last kick, prompting wild scenes at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Now named Sporting Park, the stadium hosted the 2013 MLS All-Star Game, a 3-1 win for Roma over a host team coached by Vermes, before a record attendance of 21,650 enjoyed Kansas exact revenge over Houston Dynamo in the Conference Finals.
The stage was set for an MLS Cup win over bitter rivals Salt Lake – the two teams had brawled at a preseason game in 2011 – but few at a freezing Sporting Park could have predicted the drama that would unfold. A bruising game of near misses and goalline clearances culminated in a shootout of 20 penalties, Zusi skying a golden chance to gift Kansas the trophy and Nielsen pulling off an incredible save. A decisive strike by French MVP Aurélien Collin, whose header had tied the score in normal time, brought the trophy to Kansas for the second time to date.
Signing Hungarian international Krisztián Németh, Vermes took Kansas to the Playoff stage in 2015, only to fall to the longest penalty shootout in history, Portland keeper Adam Kwarasey converting his shot then saving one from his counterpart, Jon Kempin. The game will also be remembered for a spectacular Németh goal that had taken the visitors close to victory in extra time.
Another Németh goal sealed a 3-1 win over Salt Lake in the U.S. Open Cup, then his gorgeous curled shot took the final with Philadelphia to penalties. The Magyar then saw his spotkick saved but Kansas prevailed to take a third trophy. They would claim a fourth in 2017, new arrival Dániel Sallói, his father a former teammate of Vermes’ back in Hungary, scoring the vital goals and penalty kicks in the final three rounds at the now renamed Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas.
Still galvanized by stalwarts Zusi and team captain Matt Besler, and spearheaded by Sallói, Kansas reveled in a 4-2 win over Salt Lake to reach the Conference Finals, though was barred from progress to the MLS Cup by a 99th-minute winner from Portland at Children’s Mercy Park. Vermes remained in charge as Kansas failed to qualify for the MLS Playoffs for the first time in a decade in 2019, though stayed with him through the pandemic-hit 2020 season.
Making Johnny Russell captain as the veteran Besler bowed out – the Scot’s performances had earned him a recall to the national squad – Vermes led his side to the Western Conference Semifinals in 2021. An emphatic Russell penalty over rivals Salt Lake at Children’s Mercy Park put the hosts in front before the visitors shocked the capacity crowd with a breakaway winner in additional time.
The next major soccer celebration came in June 2022, in the heart of Kansas City, the Power & Light District. Backdropped by the home from home of SKC fans in town, No Other Pub, celebrations rang around the square as Kansas City was confirmed co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup. After nearly 30 consecutive seasons in MLS, two MLS Cups and four U.S. Open Cups, no-one can say that the city didn’t deserve it.
The field of dreams – and the story behind it
Sponsored by an acclaimed Kansas institution formed by two sisters in 1897, Children’s Mercy Park was opened as a soccer-specific stadium in June 2011. Until then, MLS stalwarts Kansas had played at Arrowhead Stadium, home of NFL legends Kansas City Chiefs, and CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of Kansas City T-Bones, now Monarchs.
Kansas being founder members of MLS, set up by one of soccer’s greatest patrons, Lamar Hunt, a move out to their own, single-sport arena was inevitable at some point. The timing, however, slap in the middle of the financial crisis, meant that the club’s new ownership group following Hunt’s death had a job on their hands finding the right site with the right tax breaks.
The location they chose was out at the retail and leisure hub of Village West, 11 miles from downtown, where Kansas Speedway NASCAR track had been in operation since 2001. Construction began in 2010 and, a year and $200 million later, Kansas had their award-winning stadium.
One of the many designed by Populous of Wembley fame, the new ground was intimate, fans in the first rows of the North and East Stands 16 feet from the pitch, yet flexible, its conversion to a concert venue allowing for the 18,467 capacity to be stretched to 20,000-plus thanks to retractable seating at the south end. A few days after the opening match on June 9, 2011, in front of an over-capacity crowd of 19,925 for Kansas vs. Chicago, 20,109 watched a double-header here involving USMNT, Canada, Panama, and Guadeloupe in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Average attendances for MLS hover above 96% capacity, meaning gates around twice those at Arrowhead Stadium. Established back in those days, supporters’ group The Cauldron in the north end has been able to expand its activities and bounce its noise beneath the roof of polycarbonate panels that covers each seat – although here, it’s standing only, of course.
Designers Populous not only worked out the optimum fan experience for the stadium, but also the sports bar integral to it, Cauldron members able to use the express lane through the Brewhouse to reach their spot in the Supporters’ Stand (sections S1-S9) around the ‘Welcome to the Blue Hell’ banner. Sections S1-S3 are actually in the lower tier of the East Stand nearest the north end.
The South Stand (sections 115-121) behind the opposite goal is almost as cheap, hence the name Price Chopper. The main West Stand houses press, hospitality and the players’ tunnel, while the East Stand is where you find the visiting supporters’ section, 124, in a little corner overlooking the South Stand. If it’s an afternoon kickoff, you may be basking in sunshine.
Going to the stadium – tips and timings
Kansas City International Airport is 18 miles northwest of Downtown Kansas City, connected every hour by bus 229 to East Village Transit Center, near the central Power and Light District, journey time 1hr. The service is currently free.
A taxi (call 816-243-2345) should take around 25mins to the city center and cost $2.50 plus $2.10 per mile, so around $60 altogether. The stadium is also on the west side, so a taxi straight there from the airport is around the same journey time and price.
From downtown East Village Transit Center then along State Avenue, bus 101 takes 1hr to reach Village West. Services run every 30mins weekdays, every 1hr on weekends when they finish early evening. Again, fares are currently free. For a taxi, call zTrip (913-469-8747).
Parking lots at the stadium (1 Sporting Way, Kansas City, KS 66111) open 3hrs before kickoff and close 2hrs post-game, after which they will be towed to the Red Lot. Parking passes for Blue Lots 1 & 2, and NFM Lot 2 can be purchased in advance through SeatGeek. The Orange Lot is for those without passes, not accessible via Village West Parkway but from State Ave., then right after Phoenix Dr.. Signs then lead you to parking personnel.
You may also use Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway (777 Hollywood Casino Blvd, Kansas City, KS 66111) to park for free. Matchday shuttles operate between the front of the casino and the Budweiser Brew House at the stadium from 2hrs before kickoff and up to 1hr post-game. From I-70 West, exit at 110th St.. Turn right, then another right at the light on Village West Parkway. Turn left at Hollywood Casino Blvd and follow the signs for garage parking.
When, where, how, and how much
Most games are close to capacity of 18,467. Purchase your ticket online through SeatGeek or by phone at 1-888-4KC-GOAL. Will call windows are at the West Box Office at the West Gate, open 2hrs before kickoff and closed at halftime. The other matchday box office is behind the East Stand, also open 2hrs before kickoff.
Prices start at $20-$25 in either the Supporters’ Stand or Price Chopper South Stand, rise to $30-$35 for the upper rows in the East Stand, then climb to $40-$45 the closer you get to Midfield. A decent seat in sections 109-111 and 103-105 in the main West Stand will be around $50-$70.
Jerseys, souvenirs, and all kinds of gear
Sporting Kansas City team merchandise is available at the Sporting Style team stores located on the North end of the Plaza and the main concourse near sections 114 and 131. There’s also a container store at the South end of the Plaza. If you’re shopping on a non-match day, you’ll find SKC merchandise at the adidas store in Legends Outlets close to the stadium.
Primary jerseys are sky blue with thin dark blue hoops, secondary dark blue. Note the two stars over the badge, indicating those two MLS Cup wins. Scarves (‘Two states. One city. One club.’) show the Kansas City skyline.
Enjoy the full matchday experience
Tailgating is essential to the Kansas City experience. Cauldron members gather at the East End of the White Lot from 3hrs before kickoff. Non-members should bring a modest donation to enjoy the best pregame atmosphere.
There’s plenty of tailgating action elsewhere, so mingle, mingle, mingle, or set up your own grill. Visiting supporters are usually allocated tailgating space in the Orange Lot.
Where to Drink
Matchday beers at the stadium and downtown
Integral to Children’s Mercy Park is the Budweiser Brew House located on the northeast corner of the stadium. This is more than just a pregame hangout. Ticket holders in the Supporters’ Stand, granted access to the bar, can snap away as SKC players walk through on their way to the locker room. Postgame, all ticket holders can join in the fun, take in the action played out on the split screens of the 220-inch Daktronics LED wall over the bar, and lay into cut-price Sporting Argyle Ales if Kansas win. Live music also features.
For those unable to enter the Budweiser Brew House pregame, Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que close to the stadium serves award-winning ribs and popular combos. If you’re staying at the Best Western next door, it has its own bar and restaurant.
Right in the city center, the other major destination for Kansas fans is No Other Pub by Sporting KC, anchoring a corner of the Power & Light District and showing its true colours, blue and white, across a whole side of building. Inside, it’s pretty smart and contemporary, ‘Kansas City’s World Cup Headquarters’ proclaimed over the bar until 2026. Superior bar food includes Southwest chicken flatbread, cheesesteak sandwiches, and signature fries, while draft beers include spiced Shock Top, German-style Dunkel by the Kansas City Bier Company, and Elysian Space Dust IPA from Seattle.
Most of all, though, apart from the multiple screens, NOP excels in bar pastimes, stretching to golf, bowling and arcade games.
Alongside, McFadden’s Sports Saloon has a similar approach, with serious discounts on SKC game days and screens aplenty, while Johnny’s Tavern has been serving hamburgers since 1953, its 13 local branches long tuned to sport, too. The KC Hooley House (closed Mondays) is a huge Irish pub ideally suited to sports watching at the TV-lined bar or in the courtyard with its pull-down screen.
Just over Truman Road from the Power & Light District, the Streetcar Grille & Tavern aims to be a sports bar of higher quality, with its 24 beers on tap, Wine Wednesdays and weekend brunches. In the Old Town Lofts also close to the Power & Light District, John’s Big Deck is named for its huge rooftop patio with winning views over Kansas City. Level 1 comprises a sports bar and grill, level 2 a weekend dance club. The first floor offers live music, too.
Following the local soccer scene
1950s Expat Latinos and Central Europeans play pick-up games at Swope Park, Gillham Park, and Gage Park in nearby Topeka.
1968 Chicago Spurs of the NPSL relocates to Kansas City for the initial NASL season, based at Municipal Stadium.
1970 Kansas City Spurs plays before small crowds at a high school sports field, then folds.
1972 Arrowhead Stadium opens to host NFL favorites, Kansas City Chiefs.
1977 Johnson County Soccer League formed at grassroots level.
1995 JSCL merges with Kansas Premier Soccer League to form Heartland Soccer Association, largest and most competitive youth soccer league in the States.
1996 Lamar Hunt sets up Kansas City Wiz, founder members of MLS, based at Arrowhead Stadium. Predrag Radosaviljević, aka Preki, joins from Portsmouth to become team figurehead.
1997 Team changes name to Kansas City Wizards.
2000 Wizards wins first MLS Cup thanks to stellar goalkeeping from Tony Meola.
2004 Wizards wins first U.S. Open Cup but loses MLS Cup Final to D.C. United.
2006 Lamar Hunt dies, after selling club to local investment group, On Goal, LLC. Plans are put in place to build a soccer-specific stadium in Kansas.
2008 Wizards moves to CommunityAmerica Ballpark for three seasons.
2009 Ex-Wizards defender Peter Vermes given role as senior coach.
2010 Arrowhead Stadium hosts Manchester United for a friendly with Kansas City Wizards, 2-1 winners before a crowd of 52,424.
2011 Wizards rebranded as Sporting Kansas City in line with owners’ multisports ambitions, and moves into new soccer-specific stadium at Village West.
2013 Sporting Kansas City wins MLS Cup in heartstopping penalty shootout over bitter rivals, Real Salt Lake. Sporting Park hosts MLS All-Stars Game with AS Roma.
2016 Stadium rebranded as Children’s Mercy Park.
2017 Sporting Kansas City wins fourth U.S. Open Cup over New York Red Bulls at Children’s Mercy Park.
2018 Compass Minerals National Performance Center opens as an elite training complex beside Children’s Mercy Park.
2022 Kansas City named as co-host of World Cup 2026, games to be played at Arrowhead Stadium.