Opinion: Sporting KC drops the ball for women's soccer fans

Kansas City could have been the soccer capital of America. But the MLS club didn't know what it could have had.

Opinion: Sporting KC drops the ball for women's soccer fans
Goal celebrations like this one between Shea Groom and Sydney Leroux are now a thing of the past for Kansas City women's soccer fans. | Source: Emily Kesel - VAVEL USA

There’s an old saying I’ve always hated. It goes along the lines of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” and I’ve always disagreed with it because I think I’m the type of person who doesn’t take things for granted. When I find something good, I love it, I invest in it, and, in some cases, I even become a little obsessed with it.

The latter was the case when I found FC Kansas City. From the first time I made the three-hour drive to Swope Soccer Village last summer, I knew I’d be making many more of the same trips. And that’s exactly how I’ve spent the last two summers: as a season ticket holder and supporters' club member, visiting my soccer family in Kansas City every possible weekend. Everyone I met at FCKC games felt the same way -- once they came, they knew they’d be back. Because we knew what we had, and what we had was one of the most lovable teams in the league. A team with the right mix of veteran leadership and young talent, with personality on and off the pitch, with heart and soul that was always on display.

Members of the Blue Crew especially got to witness all of that up close and personal. The supporters' group got to see the personalities of the players as they passed through tailgate parties on the way to and from the pitch. World-class athletes always offered their appreciation for the specialized cheers and often clever chirps at the opposing side. They looked at the photo evidence of times they “weren’t” fouled. They (reluctantly) accepted the offers of leftover Domino’s pizza. They stopped for impromptu dance sessions with the tiny humans among the group.

FC Kansas City players Katie Bowen and Desiree Scott stop for a moment to dance with the niece of a Blue Crew member. Postgame moments like this one were common between the players and the supporters' club and will be greatly missed as the team relocates to Utah. | Source: Emily Kesel - VAVEL USA
FC Kansas City players Katie Bowen and Desiree Scott stop on the way to the locker room to dance with the niece of a Blue Crew member. Postgame moments like this one were common between the players and the supporters' club and will be greatly missed as the team relocates to Utah. | Source: Emily Kesel - VAVEL USA 

And with each of these moments, the appreciation Blue Crew members and FCKC fans had for the team grew exponentially. We knew what we had.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the rest of Kansas City.

While the Sporting KC boys drew sellout crowds complete with fireworks and fanfare, and the fanbase bickered with Portland over the title of “Soccer City USA,” the women’s side saw a dramatic drop in an already low attendance rate. It's hard to blame the fans for this. After all, you can’t go to a match you don’t know is happening.

Many women's soccer fans, however, find some fault in the Sporting Kansas City ownership. The club had multiple opportunities to step in and resuscitate the drowning organization before it flat-lined, but on each occasion chose not to do so. Did Sporting KC have a responsibility to buy the team? Of course not, no MLS team has a responsibility to any team it doesn’t own. But here’s where that old saying comes in.

Sporting didn’t know what it had, or, more accurately, what it could have had. The team itself was in a decent place, despite the injuries and other setbacks endured in the seasons following two straight championships, and with the continued leadership of Vlatko Andonovski, it would have continued to get better. Combine that with a dedicated and well-funded MLS front office in a soccer-crazed city, and you have a recipe for success. Just a little effort into marketing the team to the city would have made a huge difference in attendance; people in Kansas City enjoy going to soccer games, regardless of the gender of the players.

But Sporting balked, for reasons we may never know, and now the team will have that dedicated MLS front office -- just not where we thought. And without Andonovski. And without many fans who feel that parts of this transition have been handled unfairly or unprofessionally. Despite the obvious upgrade in facilities and ownership involvement as a whole, there will still be many question marks for the team in its first season in Salt Lake City.

However, if the new team follows the pattern set by Portland and Orlando, it should thrive both on the field and at the ticket office, and fans of the league and the players in it should be pleased by that. The die-hard FCKC fans (myself included) will find a way to support their beloved players from afar and will continue to follow their careers with fond remembrance of the five priceless years the team gave Kansas City.

And as for Real Salt Lake? Well, I only hope it doesn’t take losing it for them to know what they now have.