KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One year after getting the best of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, Sporting Kansas City will get another crack at English Premier League competition.
Wednesday night’s friendly against Newcastle United at Livestrong Sporting Park (8:30 pm ET) isn’t just another opportunity for Kansas City to test themselves against one of the most infamous clubs in the world and chalk up a second-straight victory against Premier League competition; it’s an opportunity to earn some well-deserved respect for their league and themselves.
All it will take against the Magpies is a repeat of what they accomplished against the Red Devils.
“MLS — and it’s not very fair — unfortunately doesn’t have the respect in Europe yet,” goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen said. “I especially heard it when I moved over here myself. People saying it was a retirement league and blah, blah, blah.
“It’s a fantastic league, and we showed last year against Manchester United that we can compete against the best teams in the world. I know it was a friendly, but we still beat them. They were very angry after they lost that game. We will try to show that again tomorrow when we step on the field. Hopefully, we can get a great result and show Europe that Major League Soccer is a great league.”
Of course, any respect and validation Sporting earn is heavily predicated on a victory or at the very least a positive showing in front of their home fans.
Rookie striker C.J. Sapong was building up to his senior season at James Madison University last July when Kansas City took advantage of goals from Davy Arnaud and Kei Kamara to overcome Jimmy Conrad’s dismissal and defeat the Red Devils 2-1 at Arrowhead Stadium.
But, as a self-described Man. United supporter, Sapong watched the match on television and had friends in the 52,424-person crowd at Arrowhead. He said it was exciting at the time to see the then-Wizards show the world that MLS could compete, and even succeed, against teams of Manchester United’s caliber.
And now that it’s Sapong’s turn to compare himself to top-level competition, he said he’s well aware of what is on the line for the players, organization and league in general.
“Pride,” Sapong said. “A lot of these teams are starting to realize what MLS teams are capable of, but, at the same time, it’s their preseason so they might approach it in a little more lackadaisical fashion. It’s our job to show them that we can compete with them and give them the most competitive game possible.”
Although the heat will certainly to affect the game — the teams are expected to use eight to 10 substitutes each — both sides remain squarely focused on the result as well.
Newcastle defender Steven Taylor said molding a winning mentality from preseason preparations forward would be critical in their own campaign to improve on last season’s 12th-place finish. And the last thing Kansas City want to do is lose at home for the second-straight match after dropping a US Open Cup quarterfinal to the Richmond Kickers in disappointing fashion last week.
“It’s a good test for us to see how we compare to some of the best teams in the world,” Nielsen said. "The teams in the Premier League are used to playing on an extremely high level so it’s a great chance for us to experience that. But, of course, we want to beat them.”
But Sporting also recognize the perks of their situation as well. A loss certainly isn’t in Kansas City’s plans, but it’s not the end of the world either. This is a friendly after all, a game to forge relationships with another club, give the fans something to look forward to and perhaps exchange jerseys with a player plying his trade at the highest level.
“I really like Demba Ba from Senegal,” Sapong said. “I’ll be looking out for him as a first choice so hopefully I get there before anybody else. We want to win, for sure. But I’m sure we’ll find a way to have fun with it, too.”