Archive for Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wristen: Local stars give reason for KC kids to dream big

November 15, 2011

— Chances are if you have a son or daughter age 14 or younger, they either play soccer at the Overland Park Soccer Complex or have quite a few friends and classmates who do.

Chances also are at least a few of those kids have aspirations to play soccer at the highest level and make their sport a professional career.

Such dreams seemed less attainable for youths growing up in Kansas City in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Kansas City Comets and stars such as Gino Schiraldi, Jan Goossens and the one-name wonder Kia were local indoor soccer idols, but the franchise struggled to maintain its footing and has been reincarnated multiple times. Even when Major League Soccer arrived in town in 1996, professional soccer dreams didn’t seem realistic. The sport struggled for TV ratings and didn’t draw well. Kansas City’s team — first known as the Wiz before changing its name to Wizards in 1997 — played at massive Arrowhead Stadium, and every game felt like an empty house even when the club drew well by its standards.

Nowadays, professional soccer dreams look much more realistic thanks to the success of Sporting Kansas City — the latest, and hopefully permanent, name of the local MLS club — and two of its starters who are hometown products.

Defender Matt Besler is an MLS All-Star, and defender Seth Sinovic is a rising star in the league. Both grew up within 10 minutes of where the Overland Park Soccer Complex now stands. Besler was a standout at Blue Valley West High School and Sinovic played at Rockhurst (Mo.) High. Neither had homegrown professional stars they could aspire to be, but now young kids in Kansas City have proof that you don’t have to grow up in California or Florida or somewhere internationally to learn the sport at a high level.

Both grew up watching MLS when it was a small-time sport in town, and now they play on one of the sport’s grandest stages in the United States at Livestrong Sporting Park.

“You always kind of hoped that soccer would grow around the country, especially in the hometown,” Sinovic said. “But to see what it has become today in Kansas City … the crowd has been unbelievable for the entire ride and the entire season. To see it come to this is really something. It’s amazing.”

Both Sinovic and Besler played key roles in helping Sporting Kansas City become the best story in professional soccer in 2011 as it went from worst to first in the Eastern Conference and come within one victory of playing for the MLS Cup. Both wanted to bring a championship to their hometown. That made their 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in front of almost 21,000 fans on Sunday, Nov. 6, sting even more.

“I wanted it a lot,” Besler said. “Being from Kansas City, it was a little more special. It’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in. I haven’t been here for the other 15 years (of professional soccer in KC), but it’s got to be the best soccer game in Kansas City ever.”

While the crowd of 20,839 at the Eastern Conference Championship was the largest in stadium history, it wasn’t the first time Sporting KC played for a capacity home crowd this season. Nine regular-season MLS matches were sell-outs (18,467) or standing-room-only. Those crowds featured fans of all ages, but there were lots and lots of children. And quite a few of them — it’s fair to assume — play soccer. Some of them surely have dreams of playing the game as professionals.

All kids have a reason to dream. Some dreams seem far beyond reach, totally unattainable. That’s no longer the case for soccer-loving kids in Kansas City, however. Others have had that same dream, and two of them are living it on the biggest stage in town.

Sinovic said he knows there are Kansas City kids who may aspire to be the next Seth Sinovic or Matt Besler, representing their hometown on the pitch at Livestrong Sporting Park. It’s a position they’ve earned through years of hard work and commitments, years of chasing his dream.

Besides, all kids should be dreamers. These days, it’s especially good to be a soccer-playing dreamer.

“I hope that’s the way it goes, to be honest with you,” Sinovic said. “I was a kid like that when I was younger and dreaming of being a soccer player — especially in the hometown. And the more kids that dream about it, the more kids we’re going to have (coming to the game), so it’s great.”

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