Thursday, March 19, 2015

#TBT Four Years Ago Today, Sporting Debuts

Time for another Throw Back Thursday, and some more Sporting KC/KC Wizards history for you. Originally today I was going to bring the last time KC had one point or less through the first two games of the season and how the third game went, 2009, against San Jose in the rain, sleet, and snow. Instead thanks to Time Hop I'm going to bring up the first game the team ever played as "Sporting Kansas City," which occurred four years ago today, in 2011.

With the opening of then Livestrong Sporting Park not happening until June, Sporting KC opened the 2011 season on the road against Chivas USA (RIP) in the first of seven straight on the road. The game against Chivas seemed like a good start to the season for KC, Chivas had finished at the bottom of the Western Conference in 2010 while KC had seen an improved 2010 season under Peter Vermes in his first season as head coach. While Sporting hadn't made the playoffs, they'd finished third in the Eastern Conference with an 11-13-6 record. The team had gone through a lot of roster turnover ahead of the 2011 season, in was the team's second designated player, Omar Bravo, eventual rookie of the year winner, CJ Sapong, future MLS Best XI defender, Aurelien Collin (who did not play against Chivas), and Julio Cesar, along with many others (Luke Sassano and Milos Stojcev for example). Chivas USA meanwhile had a very familiar face to KC fans, in the form of Jimmy Conrad who was Chivas' captain in his final season as a player.

The game was also my 10th road trip for a competitive game for Kansas City. In the previous nine I'd gone an unremarkable 0-5-4, so obviously even though the match up favored Kansas City, my expectations were low for seeing my first ever away win in person.

Things couldn't have started better for Kansas City as in only the second minute a long free kick into the box by Luke Sassano was not cleared and eventually fell to Sapong who touched the ball away from a defender and fired it past Zach Thornton to give KC the lead. To put in perspective how rare of an occurrence Kansas City having a lead on the road when I traveled was, that was just the third time in my nine trips that Kansas City ever held the lead in a game I went to. Chivas controlled the game after the goal, forcing Jimmy Nielsen to make a few good saves to keep KC in front. Then right before half time KC grabbed a second. A long cross from Kei Kamara made it over the head of Sapong and his defender right to Bravo who was unmarked at the top of the box. Bravo chipped his shot over an on rushing Thornton and into the net to double KC's lead at the half 2-0.
The second half saw Chivas cut the lead in half as Conrad scored against his former club after KC failed to clear a corner. KC reestablished their two goal lead with Bravo getting his second in the 74th minute. A long goal kick by Jimmy Nielsen was then headed from Sapong, to Bravo, to Kei Kamara back into the path of Bravo who touched it past Thornton and into the net to make it 3-1. Late on, Chivas would make it interesting as Ben Zemanski scored off a partially cleared corner to make it 3-2 before KC held on to finish the game off.

I really can't explain what a joy it was to finally see the team win on the road, funny enough, since the team re-branded, I'm 4-2-2 when I travel to games.

Outside the game itself, the time I had at the Home Depot Center (now Stub Hub Center) was great, the Chivas supporters that we tailgated with were great, just like the majority of supporters that I've met all over the US in my travels. They gave us beer, we could get food, it was all around enjoyable. They even provided entertainment with a water balloon launcher, which one of them used to take a water balloon to his face from point blank range.

Inside the stadium, as has become tradition, Robb Heineman came down and visited the 70 some odd supporters that had traveled for the game, cheering with the supporters, while making sure to replace any time we said Wizards with Sporting (the re-branding was still a sore subject to some of us, myself included). Not only was Heineman in the section, but after Sapong's second minute equalizer, he got the entire traveling Cauldron beer. Earlier in the day, Mike Illig (son of Cliff) had tweeted that with KC's first goal against Chivas he'd buy every SKC fan a beer at Johnny's Tavern in downtown KC. When Heineman was asked what about those that were traveling to LA, Heineman made the same offer. So after celebrating Sapong's goal I was brought along with Heineman to get beers for the group of traveling supporters.

Overall probably one of my favorite road trips, probably behind only my trip to Vancouver and Portland in 2012.

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