Sporting KC president Robb Heineman doesn’t profess to be a patient man.
He is, however, an ambitious one. With Sporting Kansas City’s new stadium steadily rising in Kansas City, Kan., and the club enthusiastically preparing for what promises to be a crucial season, Heineman has his hands full.
MLSsoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe caught up with Heineman to discuss the team’s efforts in the player market, the current squad, progress on the business side of things and the feverish construction being undertaken on the club’s new stadium.
This is Part I; check back tomorrow for Part II.
MLSsoccer.com: How would you judge the progress that the organization has made since the end of the year as far as preparing for next season and getting everything that goes into it up and running?
Heineman: I think we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress. We’re obviously building the stadium in about 60 percent of the time it normally takes to build one of these things. It’s been a huge coordination effort by Turner Construction, our internal team and obviously our sales team out trying to sell the building and the sponsorship that goes along with it.
As it relates to the technical side, for me it’s been kind of a test of patience, to be honest. I think there are a number of different things that we have in the pipeline. These international transactions, whether you are trying to bring an American back over from Europe or a European or South American player here, is just tough.
It’s hard, and it’s a laborious process. Somebody like me, who has a bit of ADD to begin with, it always tries your patience.
[inline_node:317564]MLSsoccer.com: Last year you had to build a foundation with the draft and some signings. This offseason it would make sense that you would want to set yourself up for making the playoffs by taking the next step with your roster.
Heineman: We need to have a much more consistent season than we did last year. We know it’s a quite a challenge ahead with having probably somewhere between eight and 11 games on the road to start the season.
We know we need to have a battle-tested group and continuity is probably going to be important, so I think a lot of the key players that we had on the field last year are going to need to continue to step up and play well together.
Obviously with the departure of Jimmy Conrad, we’ve got a hole in the back that we’ve got to fill. That’s been a real focus for us this offseason, solidifying the back. We’re relatively close to having (Michael Harrington’s) contract done … It’s really focusing on getting a couple central defender back there to make things go.
And then we’ve been focusing a lot of our DP efforts on a young attacking player, whether it’s someone in the middle of the field or someone up top. Candidly, we’ve had several deals kind of just fall apart on us now. We’ve still got some targets out there and we’re working on that hard, but it’s been a little trying.
[inline_node:323815]MLSsoccer.com: What’s standing in the way of some of these deals getting done at this point?
Heineman: It’s a little different formula than say the Omar Bravo formula. We’re looking at guys between the ages of 20 and 25, who are highly talented players. They may not necessarily be at the top of the Premiership or anything like that, but these are guys that are playing in different countries and competing in Champions League games.
Obviously, we wind up bidding against bigger teams over in Europe, frankly. One of the players that we have been pursuing very aggressively we think is now going to sign in the Premiership. That’s an issue. Another player that we were after quite heavily down in Brazil is going to sign at a big club in Argentina. It’s instances like that where you try to have this formula around a Designated Player where it’s a young person that you believe is going to enhance your competitive nature becomes even more competitive.
MLSsoccer.com: Seems like guys like Freddy Montero and players of that ilk are the type of Designated Player that most teams would love to have. What kind of pitch do you make to the players you are after?
Heineman: Obviously, I think the stadium gives us a nice platform to do this on a go-forward basis. It’s fundamentally that they can come in and be a figurehead or the shining star around an emerging team … That’s really the pitch. We’ve got high-quality facilities, we’ve got high-quality coaches and we’re going to do everything we can to promote them as a brand and give them the change to excel.
[inline_node:325420]MLSsoccer.com: You kind of have a guy in a similar mold apart from the DP status in Teal (Bunbury). Does it excite you that you have a talent in the organization as well as the fact that you drafted him?
Heineman: I have kind of joked internally with a couple of my partners that he could wind up being our biggest offseason acquisition. That just meaning the growth that he’s had from being over in Europe and with the national team makes him a guy that we feel like we can hang our hat on for a number of years … We’re going to do everything we can to keep him in Kansas City for as long as we can.
MLSsoccer.com: It feels like all of a sudden training camp is upon us. From your point of view, I’m sure that it's exciting to see things start back up prior to such an important season for the team.
Heineman: The preseason is brutal. It’s long, but it’s good to get things underway. The quote, unquote preseason for us is even going to be a little bit longer for us since we aren’t going to be home for so long to start the season. It’s going to be a trying time for the guys and a lot of them are going to be away from their families, girlfriends or whatever it may be.
I think we are going to have to work with the guys to make sure that the environment is very sound this year and everybody knows on the player side how appreciative we are of them as an organization. That’s a real key for us, making sure their preseason environment is a quality one and making sure that when the stadium opens up that it’s one that they can be proud of.
MLSsoccer.com: There have been some rumors out there surrounding a preseason tournament in Arizona between Sporting, Montreal, Los Angeles and Portland. Is there any truth to that or have any concrete plans been set as far as the lead up to the regular season?
Heineman: Nothing is solidified, but obviously we are going to be down in Arizona. There are a number of different games that we are working on both in Arizona and opportunities down in Mexico. We want to have the best competition possible, and we had some good games last year with LA out in Arizona. Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to do that again this year. There are going to be a lot of good teams out there, and it should be fun.