It was a slow start to the 2010s for Kansas City. They started the decade playing in a baseball stadium as... the Wizards (yes, the Kansas City Wizards still existed at the start of the decade; how 'bout that as a reference point for how much has changed over the last 10 years). The first quarter of 2011 wasn't much better, either, as they began the season 1-6-3.
Then, in June, Children's Mercy Park opened. And everything changed.
Sporting marched toward the top of the conference and kept it going for eight years. They made the playoffs every season from 2011-2018 and won four major trophies along the way, including the 2013 MLS Cup. They didn't win a Supporters' Shield, but they finished atop their conference in the regular season three times. In all, SKC won a trophy or finished first in their conference in six different years in the decade.
8 playoff appearances
1 MLS Cup appearance
1 MLS Cup (2013)
3 US Open Cups (2012, 2015, 2017)
Through the process, coach Peter Vermes both started a new trend and also pivoted away from it. It's been a 4-3-3 the entire time, but one used in different ways. SKC spent the first half of the 2010s as a high pressing team — the first truly "pressing" team in MLS history, as Matt Doyle will tell you. It wasn't just a singular tactic, it was an identity. Every time you played SKC, you knew you were in for a storm. Vermes made pressing cool (or at least palatable) in MLS.
Then, in 2017, the team started to evolve. For the last few years of the decade, they weren't a pressing powerhouse; they were a possession juggernaut. They have consistently ranked near the top of the league in passes completed per game and possession percentage. Their win over Toluca in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League, in which they flew down to Mexico and passed so gracefully that the home fans Ole'd the home team, was one of the best scenes of the decade.
SKC have also gone about roster-building in their own way. Every other team on this list — every other team in the league, really — has made a signing that was meant to define the team. Sebastian Giovinco, Diego Valeri, David Ferreira, Nico Lodeiro, etc. SKC haven't had that guy.
Yet they have still had seven different players make an MLS Best XI team, the third-most of any club in the decade. Of those, only Benny Feilhaber joined SKC as a national team player. Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Tim Melia, and Ike Opara all arrived to SKC as kids or reclamation projects. Whereas other clubs used star players to push into the next tier, it seems safer to say that SKC worked the other way — the team elevated the players.
But it's impossible to write this story about SKC without a question about what comes next. They just completed the 2019 season 11th in the West. They finished 2019 with fewer points than they finished with in 2010. Besler, Zusi, Roger Espinoza and Seth Sinovic — the core of SKC's success — are all past 30.
Vermes has to decide whether he can eke more out of a group of players who have helped the team to such success over much of the decade, or if it's time to turn the page. Given Vermes' record over the last 10 years, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. But it's a huge offseason in Kansas City.
Clubs of the Decade
4. Sporting Kansas City
Check back on Wednesday, when No. 3 on the list of best clubs of the decade will be revealed.