KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Roughly 24 hours from now, Sporting Kansas City will line up under the lights of Livestrong Sporting Park for their first playoff game in their new home.
They’ll be the overwhelming favorites, holding a 2-0 aggregate advantage over the injury-stricken Colorado Rapids and unbeaten at home in their last five games. Still, President Robb Heineman will live and die with every roll of the ball.
This time last year Heineman was busy preparing to transition the club from the Wizards moniker it had worn since 1996 to the name it bears today. The rebranding didn’t go over well at first, especially among the team’s core fanbase, but since then they’ve certainly come around to their club's new identity thanks to the marvelous confines of Livestrong Sporting Park and a drastic improvement on the field.
MLSsoccer.com spoke to Heineman last week about the state of the club, the league as a whole and where he thinks improvements can be made. The following is part two of that conversation.
MLSsoccer.com: As an organization, Kansas City have taken a huge step forward this year with the rebranding of the team, the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park and the success of the product on the field. We’ve discussed before, but are you any closer to having a jersey sponsor in place for next season?
Heineman: We’ll have a jersey sponsor for next season. I’ll put it that way. Are we any closer right now at this moment? No. I’m confident in our ability as an organization to go get the jersey deal done over the offseason. Now, am I going to eat crow if we don’t? Sure. I just think we have too many positive things going for us to not get a jersey deal done in the offseason.
MLSsoccer.com: Officiating has been a flashpoint at times this season in Kansas City. Where do you think things need to improve when it comes to Major League Soccer in general?
Heineman: Just to clarify one thing you said, there is no doubt that we believe here in Kansas City that the officiating needs to improve. I don’t think we’re more vociferous about it than anybody else, though. I think all of us in the league think that the officiating needs to improve. I think every soccer league in the world thinks the officiating needs to improve. That’s something that collectively we all know we need to work on.
MLSsoccer.com: What are some of the other places you would focus on to continue the current growth of the league?
Heineman: If you come back to a local level, I would like to see us as a league become a leader in technology. I know that there are some of my owner partners that believe that as well.
I think we should look at all sorts of technologies that could help improve the game; goal line cameras, replay in some limited situations. I think we should talk about rescinding red cards. Things of that nature. We’ve got the technology to do those things, to look at events in detail and make better, more educated decisions.
MLSsoccer.com: Thoughts about the current playoff format?
Heineman: We’ve had such rapid expansion. I know we take a lot of heat for the ever-evolving playoff format, but I think we’re getting to the point now where we are going to be able to lock in a playoff format relatively quickly.
Hopefully, we’ll have another limited round of expansion here pretty quickly and then I think we’ll settle in and probably have a league where we can start to lock in some of the practices and procedures around the playoffs, scheduling and things of that nature.
I think that would be one thing that would be great for us, if we could have a longer-term view of what our schedule looks like as opposed to what we do today. We scramble and push our schedule out relatively late, which makes it a bit difficult on fans sometimes.
MLSsoccer.com: What do you think the future of this team on the playing field looks like? Where are areas of emphasis to improve, and what kind of strategies are in place to do that?
Heineman: I think we need to continue to build some depth. We’ve got a good young core of players. We still obviously have Omar Bravo under contract for next season. We’ve got the opportunity to negotiate a contract with Jeferson for next year. We’ll have to see where that goes in the offseason.
Having lost Ryan Smith, we’re going to be dealing with him in the offseason to see if he is going to come back. If he doesn’t, I think another winger will be somewhere that we go look. We’ll probably continue to try to find depth in the back just because that’s always a good thing.
We’re going to be active like I think we always are. We’re not afraid to invest in the team.
MLSsoccer.com: How do you think the product on the field and the quality of players overall has evolved from a league-wide perspective since you purchased the team in 2006?
Heineman: Obviously, you can see that our players are getting stronger and faster. There is no doubt that expansion has had an effect. There is definitely some dilution without question. We obviously need to get better.
We know that as a league, especially as we’re trying to continue to increase our TV ratings. But I think we have a lot of good young players in our league, and we’ve got a lot of talent where it’s not just a bunch of older guys carrying the baton.
I look at it from our perspective. We have an opportunity with Livestrong Sporting Park to increase our revenue base, which allows us to go and reinvest in the product. That’s exactly what we’ll do.