KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What a difference a year makes.
In 2011, Sporting Kansas City didn’t play their first home game until June, when Livestrong Sporting Park finally opened.
This year, Sporting hit the home pitch in the second week of the season with New England coming to town (8:30 pm ET, MLS Live). With the tremendous surge of fan support from last season continuing to grow, SKC are hoping for even more success in 2012.
“I can’t wait,” said defender Matt Besler, who grew up in the Kansas City area. “The atmosphere’s just going to be crazy. It’s a great feeling. It’s an exciting feeling. No one could have predicted that it would kind of blow up like this. Last summer, we created a lot of buzz around this team, and we just want to make sure we grow it.”
Saturday’s match against the Revolution was a near-sellout by Friday, with a brisk walk-up business expected. The team has been front and center in local media in the weeks leading up to the home opener — and with Saturday also being St. Patrick’s Day, Sporting players expect a thunderously rowdy atmosphere.
“I don’t think we could ask for anything more,” forward C.J. Sapong told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “We’re going to be ready, the fans are going to be ready, and we just want to put on a good show for them.”
That energy can’t trump Sporting’s need to play their possess-and-attack game, manager Peter Vermes said on Friday.
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“No doubt the atmosphere will be fantastic,” Vermes said. “I don’t doubt that at all. The biggest thing is, when you’re a coach going into any game, the opener, or whatever it is, you want to make sure that the mentality is correct. That you understand your roles and responsibilities within the game, that the work ethic is there, and finally that the concentration is there. It’s easy to get caught up in all the other stuff and forget some of those things.”
Still, Vermes, who was a starter for the club’s only MLS Cup-winning team in 2000, is glad to see how far the sport has come in Kansas City since his playing days.
“What happened last year in terms of a support perspective was absolutely amazing,” Vermes said. “When the season ends and you don’t have that for a while, you miss it. I’m just looking forward to seeing the fans back in the stadium and us getting back into that groove.”
Assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin, who played on the 2000 team and the '04 side that won the US Open Cup, echoed Vermes’ sentiments.
“Back in 2000, even though we had a small, passionate group of fans that welcomed us home after the championship, it never really kicked in,” Zavagnin said. “There were games and years at Arrowhead that were pretty sparse. The attention that the team has gotten from the fans has been fantastic.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org