The Wizards have the beginnings of a rivalry on their hands. And that’s just fine by them. Kansas City will meet recently-formed AC St. Louis at 5 p.m. CT at its Swope Park Training Center Friday night for the inaugural chapter of the battle for regional supremacy that has been dubbed the “Supporters’ Showdown.” Kansas City will travel to St. Louis on April 3 for the return leg of the series.
For soccer fans in both cities, it’s a chance to reignite the I-70 rivalry. For the Wizards, it’s a chance to get squeeze in one final tune-up against quality opposition before Major League Soccer’s First Kick.
“Who knows, maybe someday that team transitions into an MLS team,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com. “We just look at it as a great game for us to start the season. I’m sure for everyone around this area there is that Kansas City and St. Louis rivalry that can be translated to it as well.”
Part of that rivalry for the first time as well will be MLS original and the league’s all-time assists leader, Steve Ralston. A St. Louis native who is currently recovering from ACL surgery, Ralston was the NASL expansion team’s first player signing and will also serve as an assistant coach and team captain. St. Louis will compete in the NASL Division of the USSF Division 2 Pro League this season.
The exhibition will also be AC St. Louis’ first match since being founded in November 2009. The club has gathered talent from different parts of the globe but has also made a point to sign a number local players from the St. Louis metro area. Officials from both team’s hope the presence of a local rivalry can help grow professional soccer’s profile in both Kansas and Missouri.
"Playing our first ever game against Kansas City is really special,” AC St. Louis chairman Jeff Cooper told the NASL league website, “and I want to thank the entire Wizards organization for coming together with us and creating this home and away series. I think fans in both cities will be quite happy to see these games, and both clubs are excited that St. Louis and Kansas City can finally meet."
Inclement weather forecasts forced the teams to move the game from its original time on Saturday and also postponed a planned game between the supporters of each team that would have helped determine the “Supporters’ Showdown” victor. But that hasn't stopped Kansas City fans from looking forward to their final preseason glimpse of the squad.
Although their opponent represents a relative unknown, Kansas City is treating the exhibition as the final run through before its regular season opener next Saturday against D.C. United at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. With seven international players joining the team in the offseason, the team is still finalizing relationships on the field and assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said fans should expect to see something resembling the team that will take the field against United on March 27.
“At this point, it’s just a matter of harnessing these guys and getting a final dress rehearsal for the opening game,” Zavagnin told reporters. “We feel like we’re getting close to our starting 11. We’ve tinkered with a few different ways of playing, a few different formations. This is going to be a final glimpse of what we are capable of going into the first game.”