First came the groundbreaking on a new stadium. Then came a gaggle of offseason acquisitions. Now, Manchester United – the most popular team in the world – is coming to Kansas City just two short weeks after the World Cup final.
Talk about making major waves in a short period of time.
Presiding over the snowballing momentum in Kansas City is Wizards President Robb Heineman, the man spearheading efforts to take Major League Soccer from regional also-ran to main event.
And in a region previously deprived of world-class soccer, nothing reinforces that commitment more than convincing the Red Devils to make a preseason stop in the Midwest.
“I think this is kind of a dream come true for Kansas City,” Heineman said.
After spending more than a decade on the periphery of public consciousness, Heineman and the Wizards local ownership group have done everything in their power to drum up interest in the team. Part of that vision has always been to bring high-level foreign competition to an area of the country that normally gets overlooked.
Chivas Guadalajara and Club America played in front of almost 40,000 fans at Arrowhead last year, a record in Kansas City for a soccer game, but Manchester United figures to blow that number out of the water.
In a little less than a week, the game has already generated press from all over the Midwest. United’s worldwide popularity alone figures to attract plenty of fans from nearby cities such as Omaha, St. Louis and Oklahoma City as well as areas in between.
“We know a lot of the big clubs stay out of the Midwest during the summer, and usually hit the coasts on their American tours,” veteran Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad said. “To get someone of Manchester United’s stature and magnitude is a big deal for everybody involved, the city of Kansas City included.”
And as much as the Wizards stand to gain from the match, the city itself will surely be the biggest winner if all goes as planned and the match sells out.
In the short term, a packed house and vibrant crowd would certainly help entice more elite clubs to Kansas City and the Midwest during their preseason tours. But it’s the long-term ramifications that really excite Heineman.
Kansas City and Arrowhead Stadium are in the running to host World Cup games as part of the United States’ bid to host the tournament in 2018 or 2022, and a successful exhibition would only increase the chances of the city being picked as a host.
And while the spotlight will be squarely focused on United, the Wizards are hoping that the same fans who pack Arrowhead on July 25 will be some of the same ones who help fill the team’s new stadium and support the side in the years leading up to another World Cup on American soil.
And if the Wizards can wrestle the limelight away from the Red Devils, even temporarily, and give a solid showing on the field, they will give even more credibility to an already humming public relations campaign preparing for the debut of the team’s new stadium.
“We still have a lot of Eurosnobs out there,” Conrad said. “Fair enough, MLS is a young league, and we still have a lot of growing to do on a lot of different levels. But if we can go out there and put on a good performance against one of the best clubs in the world, that goes a long way to starting to win casual fans over.”