In the past few weeks or so, the buzz around Sporting KC has grown. The team has really been able to grab a share of the local media and fan interest while at the same time getting national attention for their play on the field that has seen them finish on top of the Eastern Conference in the regular season each of the last two seasons. With the playoffs set to begin and this new found interest, comes new found expectations.
If you've been reading many soccer articles lately, or listening to soccer broadcasts, Sporting Kansas City has become the trendy pick for winning MLS Cup this year. From Alexi Lalas to Grant Wahl to 4 writers at MLSsoccer.com (with another 4 predicting they make the final but fall short), Kansas City appears to be one of, if not the favorite to win the whole thing. The attention from the national soccer media has placed plenty of pressure on KC, and much of that faith isn't overly misplaced. KC has been one of the top two teams in the entire league for most of the season; save for a few weeks, Sporting has sat on top of the Eastern Conference for almost the entire season since their 7-0 start to the 2012 season.
Not only is the national bandwagon starting to fill up, but the local bandwagon is as well. During another poor performance by the KC Chiefs last night, I once again saw the #SportingKC hash tag and @SportingKC mentions skyrocket, with comments like "At least we have #SportingKC" and "I guess I need to become a soccer fan @SportingKC". This isn't a new thing either in the past few weeks. As the Chiefs have shown to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this year, KC fans, most of whom are desperate for a winner (and many of the younger adults having never seen either side win a playoff game, let alone a title) are starting to jump onto the Sporting KC bandwagon. Expectations for the club have been raised locally. Not only by the ownership expecting more, but by a public that is desperate for more. One of the main things I think is the fact that KC sports fans look at the Chiefs and Royals and see disinterested owners who are more interested in lining their own pockets than in putting a winner on the field. While with Sporting, they see an ownership that appears willing to spend money to help bring a winner to KC. While Sporting won't admit it, they're having a good season at the perfect time to squeeze themselves into the sporting landscape of KC even more. With the continued struggles of the two other top level professional teams in the city fans have grown tired of it and want something more. Sporting seems to be providing that.
With those new fans though comes the need to maintain that momentum and build off of it. That puts pressure on winning MLS Cup this year. If not, some of these new fans will just come out and say "well that's Kansas City for you always letting you down" or "typical KC sports team getting our hopes up and letting us down." Yes Sporting has already won the US Open Cup, but in the grand scheme of things most KC sports fans care little about that as it's not "league play," it's the same thing that's haunted the tournament throughout it's history. The pressure is on taking care of business in the playoffs and bringing an MLS title to KC.
The national media's interest in KC has put the pressure squarely on KC heading into not only the semifinal series against the Dynamo by all the way through the final. I've read quite a few comments from Dynamo fans already relishing being in the underdog role for the series. And with how good the Dynamo are as a team and how good of a coach Dominic Kinnear is in the playoffs, especially against KC all the extra pressure is a bit disconcerting and worrisome for me as a fan. The fan interest in the team has done it as well through the want and need of this city to cheer on a winner. You know the players see and hear these things; you know they've got the expectations on themselves as well to take care of business. It's a matter of keeping themselves focused on the task at hand, getting by the Dynamo first. But the pressure of the situation they're in is certainly there.