Diego Gutierrez

Efforts to keep Wizards in K.C. roll on

When Lamar Hunt announced that he was putting the Kansas City Wizards up for sale on Dec. 9, reactions from the players and the local soccer circles ranged from shock to dismay -- and after a brief flirtation with doubt, hope.

The centerpiece of the first organized effort to keep the team in its original home has come from that most broadly efficient tool of modern communication, the internet. The Heart of America Soccer Foundation took shape and largely due to its efforts, optimism has prospered.

Potential buyers have come forth, and Hunt has recently declared that there has been a lot of interest. Wizards midfielder Diego Gutierrez, who resides in the Kansas City metropolitan area, has noticed.

"I think it's been shown the last few weeks that this community wants this team here," Gutierrez said. "There's been overwhelming support for the team, people getting together, people trying to organize rallies, organize groups that pursue potential buyers, people making noise about a stadium, the counties themselves getting together to find a solution to a problem.

"It's because people see the upside of keeping this team in the city. It's not only a very good thing to have financially, but this team has invested nine years in this community and people don't forget that."

Having recently signed a four-year contract with the Wizards and MLS and planning to finish his career in Kansas City, Gutierrez is keeping his fingers crossed.

"I think I speak for all the players when I say, 'If there was something we could do, we would do whatever we could to try and keep this team here,'" he said.

Exceeding the substantial level of success on the field established in 2004 would go a long way in securing the team's future beyond 2005 as it would help keep fan attendance at an attractive level and likely increase media coverage.

"We'll have a schedule announcement in the next few weeks," said Wizards general manager Curt Johnson. "The draft (is) big news and things like that. We need the support of our fans more than ever.

"I think that Lamar's words spoke volumes that there has been a significant amount of interest. I'm as optimistic as ever that it's going to happen. Lamar is heading it up and he knows better than anyone how the process is going and the fact that he seems very pleased is very encouraging for all of us."

Johnson said the entire organization has embraced the mission through their attitude.

"We need the organization to have this be our best year. We've always taken that approach and taken it one year at a time. If we can have a very good year both on and off the field, I think that can only help the process," he said.

Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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