The relationships forged between Major League Soccer players and their communities have long been cozier than the ones in other sports due to an emphasis on personal contact and generous access to its stars from the league's inception. And, over time, the players have seemingly realized the symbiotic nature of the relationships.
The Kansas City Wizards' recent trio of triumphs at home, cheered on by some of the most passionate fans they have had in years, have perhaps reminded them of the importance of nurturing a positive communal relationship and perhaps reminded them of how lucky they are to be given the opportunity to play soccer for a living.
Defender Taylor Graham and midfielders Jack Jewsbury and Diego Gutierrez, just to name a few, are each active in the Kansas City metropolitan area where they give and receive equally.
"It's a great way to get back into the community and thank and hang out with the kids who are the ones coming out and supporting us on the weekends," said Graham.
Graham and Jewsbury are two of the Wizards who enjoy coaching soccer youths of a variety of ages in the area.
"We have a little time after practice, or on a day off, and then in the evenings every few times a week to do a few trainings with some kids," Jewsbury said. "It's good to get out in the community and meet some people."
Instructing children in the techniques and tactics of soccer enables the players to apply the things they learn daily in training on a different level.
"To be able to teach a concept you have to show some understanding of it yourself. When I'm teaching defending, or while I'm coaching attacking, I'm definitely taking stuff from [head] coach [Bob Gansler], and [assistant] coach [Brian] Bliss, and [goalkeeping] coach [Tim] Mulqueen and trying to put a little spin on it to cater to under-12, under-13 boys or girls, whichever team I'm coaching," said Graham. Gutierrez, who has called Kansas City home for the last 14 years or so of his life, took part in a charity golf tournament benefiting Children's Mercy Hospitals this week and revealed how personal his connection is with the community.
"It's important for me personally. When I had a chance to come back to Kansas City [after playing for the Chicago Fire for four seasons], being familiar with the city and the people, I felt it was important for me to at least work in a few charities. I'm the spokesperson for the American Lung Association here in Missouri, and I do some work with them and some schools," Gutierrez said. "I take it very seriously -- it's an opportunity to use a platform that is given to us for good causes."
No matter the nature of the connection, the players involved in the community receive more than just support come match day.
"If you have a stressful day at practice, going out and coaching and seeing these kids play who are carefree and just are out there for the love of the game is a constant reminder of why you're playing in the first place," said Graham.
"It's something I definitely enjoy doing and will continue to do as long as I play, that's for sure."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.