Monday, March 16, 2009

Kansas City

First of all, it's true what they say about Kansas City barbecue. It is gooood!

The place was Oklahoma Joe's. The food was burnt ends (of pork) with a ton of barbecue sauce and fries. And beans. And bread. It was excellent, and made the typical stereotype of American portion sizes seem small...

I met Kansas City Wizards' self confessed 'dork in chief' Sam Pierron there, to chew the fat (literally) over soccer in the KC area. The guy knows his stuff...but then, as the only person I have ever heard of who has an MBA in Football Industries, I suppose he should.

In between mouthfuls, Sam gave me the lowdown on the Wizards, as well as telling me how he had been instrumental in founding the Supporters' Shield, a trophy set up for the MLS team with the best regular season record (ie. not including the play-offs), back in 1998.

Aside from the barbecue, the city has many other charms including its college basketball team, the Jayhawks.. They have won 52 national championships since they formed, an NCAA record, and are something of an institution in college sport.

The one thing the city so far lacks, though, is a soccer specific stadium. The plans are in place, though, and look pretty impressive. The site is a giant, derelict shopping mall, formerly one of the biggest in the US. At this stage, the mall is half way through being torn down, and is strangely eery – think zombies and Dawn of the Dead.

Anyway, the team currently trains on one side of the city, and play their home games at the Community America ballpark on the other. Watching them train is a joy, not least because of former Argentina star Claudio Lopez, at one time the world's most expensive player.

At 34, he is admittedly no longer able to unleash the pace he was once known for, but his tricks and first touch still set him aside from the rest of the Wizards team

I was personally more intrigued to speak to Kevin Souter, a former Aberdeen youngster who failed to make the grade in the SPL and decided to pursue his soccer dream in the States.

It is something of a Roy of the Rovers story for Kevin, who attended an open try-out at the Wizards in 2008 after going through the US college system with Graceland University.

He then travelled with the Wizards to Argentina for a pre-season tour, and beat over 200 other trialists from 15 different countries in securing a professional contract.

He made his debut as a substitute against LA Galaxy and boyhood hero David Beckham. Within minutes, he had robbed Beckham of the ball, simultaneously winning over the Wizards fans.

He already seems settled in the States, and doesn't plan on leaving any time soon.

“I want to make a pretty good impact here first of all” he told me in the Wizards' players lounge after training. “I love Scotland, I love the country and I like playing there. But for some reason, the coaching style and the way the game is, I think I'm more suited to playing out here”.

There is some real quality amongst Kevin's Wizards team-mates, and it doesn't end with Claudio Lopez. There is also Josh Wolff, the former 1860 Munchen forward, and Jimmy Conrad, the US national team defender and Wizards captain.

Yet while the team looks good on the field, the club itself faces a constant off-the-field challenge in attracting new fans. Last season, they had an average of just over 10,000 for each game. Not too bad, but given the new stadium will be able to fit almost twice that, there is still a fair way to go.

And they may face a challenge from another sport, who are also on the prowl for new recruits. Having a quiet drink in a bar one evening, I was discussing the Wizards with a fellow drinker, Dan. His English heritage had introduced him to Manchester United, and his affection for the sport had grown.

But Dan's real love was shooting guns. Not real ones, but Air-soft; the ones that fire plastic ball bearings. And his Air-soft team, he excitedly told me, had even beaten the US Army in a training game.

I was strangely fascinated, and when he told me that his guns were exact replicas of the real thing, the same size and weight, I made the mistake of telling him I'd like to see one....two minutes later, I'm standing in the car park holding what looks EXACTLY like an AK-47.

But I don't see Air-soft rivalling soccer in the Kansas City area. And neither are ever likely to overtake barbecue as the signature of the city.

4 comments:

  1. I'm really enjoying your blog Mike.

    As for attendance in KC, it's hard to say how far they have to go when they get their new stadium because the capacity of CommunityAmerica Ballpark is just over 10,000. In other words, that low attendance figure is actually at or near a sellout.

    Looking forward to your next post.
    Steve

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  2. I really like your blog. It's interesting to get an outsiders perspective. If I were you I'd stay out west a little longer since it's so chilly still in the North East. I'm interested in what you have to say when you finally make it to C-Bus (Columbus, Ohio). Especially since the Crew is the current Cup Champions.

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  3. I was a cheerleader for the Tampa bay Rowdies during the glory years between the Cosmos and the Rowdies. I tried to send you an email through your link and it would not go through. Is there a better way to contact you?

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