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From Mexico to Sporting Park: Sporting Kansas City supporters among most dedicated in MLS

Photo: Brent Flanders

By Ryan Wright

Soccer is constantly gaining popularity in the United States but Major League Soccer still has so much room to continue its growth. Although you would never know that by visiting Sporting Park.

“Soccer Capital of America” is plastered everywhere inside and around the Sporting Kansas City stadium. Each match, Sporting KC fans fill Sporting Park and are loud for the entire 90 minutes.

Sporting KC’s loyal fan base support their team through thick and thin and one of the most notable examples of this was seen last year during the final of the MLS Cup. More than 20,000 fans attended the match against Real Salt Lake despite the bitterly cold 12 degree weather.

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The Kansas City Cauldron is the largest Sporting Kansas City supporters group. Under the Kansas City Cauldron, there’s an umbrella of several other supporters groups – most are based in the Midwest. Two of these supporters groups are 417 Loyal and the Wichita Wanderers. 417 Loyal is based in Springfield, MO and the Wichita Wanderers are based in Wichita, KS.

Sam Ringenberg of Springfield, MO and 417 Loyal became a soccer fan in the spring of 2006 while studying abroad in London. He has supported Sporting Kansas City since they were called the Kansas City Wizards.

“Kansas City has become the Soccer Capital of America for several reasons. First must be the success of Sporting KC, and all of their affiliates. They are growing soccer throughout the Midwest, and will make the next generation of US Soccer even more successful,” he said.

“The majority of soccer fans living in the US follow other leagues, or international soccer more than they do MLS. But Kansas City has that perfect mix of supporting their local club, while being knowledgeable and passionate about the world’s game too,” Ringenberg continued.

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Over the past few years, it’s become obvious that Kansas City supports Sporting KC as strongly as it does the Kansas City Chiefs (NFL) and the Kansas City Royals (MLB).

Matthew Isaacson, also of Springfield, MO and 417 Loyal says: “It is actually a pretty recent phenomenon. I remember going to games at Arrowhead where there were only a couple thousand in attendance.

“I think the city and the surrounding region support Sporting because of the world class stadium they play in, and the attitude of the players and ownership towards the fans. It’s affordable entertainment and the players are still approachable. It also helps that they are winning and have international level players on the roster,” Isaacson continued.

Chris Baldwin of Wichita, Kansas, and the Wichita Wanderers became interested in soccer during the 2010 World Cup and has been a fan of Sporting KC for four years.

He says: “I think part of why Kansas City has supported the club so strongly is that Sporting KC gave them a winning team when the Royals and the Chiefs weren’t doing so hot.”

Some fans have even travelled as far as Mexico to support Sporting KC. This past March, Sam Ringenberg’s brother, Thomas, traveled to Mexico to see Kansas City take on Cruz Azul of Liga MX. It was a CONCACAF Champions League match and Sporting KC fell to Cruz Azul, 5-1.

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Ringenberg, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, planned his spring break around attending the match.

He said: “The Sporting game at Estadio Azul was really amazing. Sure, we ended up getting eliminated, but we were playing arguably the best soccer club on the continent at an altitude much different than KC, so a loss I think is forgivable.”

Ringenberg and his girlfriend were the only Sporting KC fans in the stadium. But according to Ringenberg, the Cruz Azul fans were cordial, despite a few whistles and boos.

“We were celebrities at the stadium, we had a line of 30-40 kids waiting to take pictures with us and our Sporting KC scarf,” Ringenberg said.

On September 26, the same night that the Royals clinched their first playoff berth in 29 years, Sporting Kansas City had a match against the New England Revolution. Despite the important game the Royals had, Sporting Park was filled to the brim and was as loud as ever.

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During the post-game press conference, Peter Vermes, manager of Sporting KC said: “We’re part of the Kansas City community. In the past we were fighting for a place in the sports landscape in Kansas City. We have our own niche.

“Success brings people in and they’re proud to be a part of it. When fans understand that our team goes after it for 90 minutes, they come back,” Vermes continued.

Unfortunately, Sporting KC lost in the MLS Playoffs this season, falling at the first hurdle to the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference knockout round. However, supporters are anxiously awaiting next season and according to football.com the club currently has a 6,000 person waiting list for season tickets.

Does Sporting Kansas City have one of the support bases in MLS?

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