KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The selection of Livestrong Sporting Park as the venue for the 2013 MLS All-Star Game is a reward not only for the construction of the $200 million showcase stadium, but for the fans who have packed it since it opened in mid-2011.
So said MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Sporting Kansas City president Robb Heineman at Thursday's press conference to announce this summer's big event.
"This market has just been so incredibly exciting for all of us at Major League Soccer — and really for soccer fans throughout the United States and North America," Garber said. "This has been one of the great, great success stories for our sport. We're very proud of what's taken place here."
The promise of a special event was one incentive the league offered if the then-Wizards would build a soccer-specific stadium, Garber said afterward.
"You build it, and we'll come," he said. "Now, we're announcing that we are. We had a commitment to them that we would work to find a special event — not any one in particular. We didn't have this date in mind. It just turned out that this was the timing that made sense for them and made sense for the league."
The All-Star Game, set for July 31 against an opponent to be determined, follows on the heels of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game last year in Kansas City, Mo.
"With all due respect to ours, I'm not sure it'll be quite the pomp and circumstance that baseball had," Heineman said after the news conference. "But I think we'll do a heck of a job. That's what this ownership group is committed to doing — putting the best foot forward for Kansas City."
And while Garber gave a good deal of credit for to Sporting's owners and to local officials, Heineman said this year's All-Star award was not a gift from owners to fans.
"It's a present from the fans to me, frankly," Heineman said. "That's the way I look at it, because they're the reason that we get games like this. It's not because of us."
Thursday's announcement marks the latest in a series of special events awarded to LSP, which has already hosted men's World Cup and Olympic qualifying matches, group-stage action in the 2011 Gold Cup and US women's national team exhibition play.
"US Soccer looks to this building as one of the great locations and great markets for US national team games, both on the men's side and the women's side," Garber said. "I think you'll see more of those games in the years to come."
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.