KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The opening of any new MLS stadium always brings with it a unique opportunity for those with a pioneering spirit.
After all, the players who suit up in a big-time debut like the one slated for LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Thursday night (10 pm ET, ESPN2) are history makers in a very special way. They’re the first ones to step out of the tunnel, get the lay of the land on a fresh field and always be remembered for playing in the first game at the league's newest soccer-specific stadium.
In honor of the opening of the new digs in Kansas City and those with the chance to carve their own special niche of MLS history, this edition of Three for Thursday looks at some memorable players who have christened more than one stadium in their careers.
1. Logan Pause, Chicago Fire
The MLS schedule-makers gave Fire players a unique opportunity this season: They’re opening two stadiums in one year. That means the Pause, the Fire captain who has been a regular in Chicago since 2003, will play in a stadium-opener for the fourth time in his career when the Fire take on Sporting on Thursday night.
The Fire flamed out during the opener for JELD-WEN Field in Portland earlier this season, swamped by soggy conditions, a determined Timbers team and a pulsating Portland crowd that proved too much to overcome. Pause and the Fire also faced long odds in the 2010 season opener in Harrison, N.J., when the Red Bulls played their first MLS game in Red Bull Arena and pulled out a 1-0 win.
Pause’s only win came back on June 25, 2006, when his hero and teammate Chris Armas got a rare goal to fuel a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls to christen Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. Yes, the Fire actually opened the stadium with a draw against New England in front of a special crowd of only season ticket holders and Bridgeview residents on June 11, but guess what: Pause played in that one too.
2. Carlos Ruiz, LA Galaxy and FC Dallas
Has there ever been a player more suited for fireworks in a home opener? "El Pescadito" has been in MLS long enough to christen both the Home Depot Center and Pizza Hut Park, and like he always seems to do, he welcomed both venues into the league with style.
Ruiz netted both goals of the Galaxy’s 2-0 win over Colorado back on June 7, 2003, the first MLS game at a sold-out Home Depot Center. Always scrappy and opportunistic, Ruiz pounced on a loose ball in the box for a header in the 50th minute and then converted a late penalty kick in stoppage time to seal the win for LA in front of 27,000 fans.
The Little Fish was at it again on a steamy day in Frisco, Texas, two years later, this time netting both goals of FC Dallas’ 2-2 tie against New York in the Pizza Hut Park opener. His first was a pin-point header to the far post off a cross from Ronnie O’Brien, but his second — a nifty backheel flick past Tony Meola — is perhaps the classiest finish in a stadium opener yet.
3. Kyle Beckerman, Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake
No one embodies both the talent and the tenacity of the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry better than Beckerman. After all, he’s suited up on sides of the border war and — get this — captained both teams’ opening matches at their respective stadium openers.
Beckerman was a fixture with the Rapids from 2002-07, and led the team onto the field for the chilly opener at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in the spring of his final season in Commerce City. He notched an assist on the game-winner for Roberto Brown, helping the Rapids to a 2-1 win over D.C. United and giving Colorado fans a reason to wave good-bye to the days of Invesco Field and the cavernous old Mile High Stadium.
But Beckerman was on the other side of the Rocky Mountains by Oct. 9, 2008, when Real Salt Lake opened Rio Tinto Stadium against the New York Red Bulls. Beckerman logged a full 90 minutes as RSL’s captain en route to a 1-1 draw, the first time fans got a glimpse at what has since become a wonderfully familiar scene in MLS: a packed house at Rio Tinto, and Beckerman at the center of the action.