As the Best of 2011 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 11 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 21 until Dec. 31, when we unveil what our editors voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2011.
New media editor Andrew Wiebe starts the countdown with his look at the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, and what the new stadium meant to the soccer community in one of the league's original markets.
by Houston's Geoff Cameron
The Eastern Conf. Championship
At one point this year I actually thought to myself, ‘I can’t wait until the offseason.’ I wasn’t hoping for the offseason, but it couldn’t come soon enough. It was already a long season and we were losing games we shouldn’t have lost, and the luck wasn’t going our way. We were playing some decent soccer but nothing changed.
And then all of a sudden we got in that groove and boom, things are working again. Going into that game, we heard all the media that didn’t even give us a chance. Kansas City was almost undefeated at home, they hadn’t lost in I don’t know how many games, and their offense at home was ridiculous. Everything was against us. And we walked in there and played an amazing game. That was the highlight of the season for me.
For soccer fans in Kansas City, June 9 was about as close to a religious experience as you can experience without stepping into a place of worship.
In many ways, the beyond-capacity crowd of 19,925 that took in the first-ever game at Livestrong Sporting found themselves in a cathedral of sorts. After spending their entire existence bouncing between borrowed venues like Arrowhead Stadium and CommunityAmerica Ballpark, Sporting Kansas City finally had a home to call their own.
Not only that, but the $200 million facility established a new benchmark for soccer-specific stadiums in North America – possibly even the world – and staked its claim as the crown jewel of Major League Soccer’s growing roster soccer-only venues.
For all those reasons, the grand opening of Livestrong Sporting comes in at No. 11 on MLSsoccer.com’s list for Story of the Year in 2011.
And although the night was by no means perfect – Kansas City and Chicago played to scoreless draw that was highlighted by a red card to Jimmy Nielsen and a late SKC penalty appeal that was waved off – the actions on the field weren’t particularly relevant.
This wasn’t just a stadium opening. It was the rebirth of a club in Kansas City’s sporting consciousness.
That sweltering summer night represented the genesis of a burgeoning fan culture that mushroomed as the summer dragged on and Sporting dragged themselves up the Eastern Conference table.
All of the sudden, the Cauldron was the place to be and Sporting blue began popping up everywhere in a city that had long been ambivalent to the presence of Major League Soccer. The dour draw that took place over 90 minutes that first night may well fade in our memory, but the occasion will be remembered for years to come.
"Rebuilt to Last" by Grant Wahl
And the stadium isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Livestrong Sporting Park is the foundation upon which SKC will build their brand, and it’s an advantage that’s sure to pay handsome dividends as the years go on.
Technologically, there is almost certainly no equal. The sight lines are uniformly clean and intimate. The club spaces are numerous and cater to every audience imaginable. Apart from some issues brought on by the Kansas City’s oppressive summers, the playing surface is immaculate. And the home locker room? Fit for a king.
Perhaps Davy Arnaud, a club legend who spent nearly a decade with the club but moved on to a new opportunity with the Montreal Impact following the season, said it best.
“The atmosphere and the fans and the stadium and everything we’ve been waiting for was bigger and better than I thought it would be or could be,” he said following the match that introduced LSP to MLS. “I think tonight we really showed what soccer has become in Kansas City. We packed the place out and the fans created an unbelievable atmosphere. One I haven’t seen in this city before.”
Soccer heaven? Maybe. But they just call it Kansas City.
WATCH: MatchDay 360 looks at the opener for Livestrong Sporting Park