KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Only minutes after last weekend's season-ending victory against the San Jose Earthquakes went into the books, Kansas City Wizards staff began stripping CommunityAmerica Ballpark of everything soccer.
Down came the banners, signage and anything else with a Wizards logo. Piece by piece the swag was piled up in the ballpark's infield area for a snaking line of fans to collect as souvenirs, the last remnants of a three-year stay at CAB that bought the club enough time to finalize plans on the impressive new stadium rising in its former home’s shadow.
"This has been a good place for us," manager Peter Vermes said after the 4-1 victory, "but I think everyone is extremely excited about that stadium. Every time we ride by it, we see more and more go up. It's almost like a dream come true, and you are just waiting to wake up and see it finally and be in there."
If construction stays on schedule – and team officials say there have been no delays thus far – that dream will officially begin when the building's doors open next June, welcoming the Wizards and their fans into a state-of-the-art venue that has been years in the making.
For the better part of the last four years, Hillcrest Syndicate president Robert Houghton has watched as OnGoal LLC, the Wizard's ownership group, doggedly searched for a permanent stadium solution for their hometown team. First came an ill-fated proposal at the former Bannister Mall before the club settled on the Legends in Kansas City, Kan., and broke ground early this year on what officials are calling the "first authentic American soccer stadium."
“We’re going to have the No. 1 stadium in the country," Houghton said. "It’s going to be the best soccer stadium, bar none. I know everyone thinks New York’s got the best stadium, but ours is going to be an original. New York’s is just a copy of another building dropped in the US. I think it’s going to have everything for any fan that wants to come here. It’s going to be fantastic.”
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And apart from the obvious financial and sporting advantages of operating their own building, both the team and Houghton hope the stadium can help expand Kansas City's fan base and cement the club's growing presence in the metro area as well as the entire Midwest. Wizards president Robb Heineman has repeatedly mentioned the Wizards desire to become a recognized brand with a further reach than just Kansas City.
Houghton, who has helped oversee the growth of the Cauldron, said he believes the presence of the stadium and a true soccer environment can only help draw in casual fans or those that had a hard time connecting with a professional soccer team playing in a venue meant for baseball.
“There are people that this is going to be something different for them, something new." Houghton said. "It’s a big deal now that we have this new stadium. It’s something that we can actually hang our hat on, and people know what it is.”
In the meantime, the club is still exploring options of where to play home games before the stadium opens. A possibility includes Arrowhead stadium. But one thing is certain: June can't come soon enough.
“I think the feeling overall – players, fans and everybody – is that we are ready to move on now," captain Davy Arnaud said. "We see the building going up. We see how far the stadium has come, and I think everybody is just excited to get in there.”