Sporting Kansas City today opened fan voting for this year's Sporting Legend inductee, the team gave fans a list of four players to vote for beginning today and running through Monday the 27th. This year's inductee will be unveiled on August 20th at Sporting KC's game against the Vancouver Whitecaps. This year's nominees are Mo Johnston, Ron Newman, Josh Wolff and Kerry Zavagnin. Certainly a group of players that every Sporting KC fan should know, but for me there were really only two choices when it came time for me to vote. First let's look at what each player has brought to the club.
The former Scottish international came to Kansas City early in the 1996 season and proceeded to play six seasons with Kansas City before retiring after the 2001 season. When he retired he was the club's second all-time leading scorer in goals (32) and assists (31) for the club behind Preki. Now he is seventh for league goals and sixth for assists for Kansas City during his career. During his time in KC, Johnston played in 170 games (149 league games) and played over 14,000 minutes for the club. He also is well remembered for the blood he spilt helping lead Kansas City to their first MLS Cup final back in 2000. After winning game three of their series against the LA Galaxy, tying their series on four points apiece, KC and the Galaxy went into a mini-game. Just five minutes into the golden goal mini-game, Johnston challenged for a ball in the air, taking a boot to the face but knocking the ball to Miklos Molnar who scored to win and send KC through to MLS Cup.
Sporting Kansas City's first coach, the indoor coaching legend had plenty of experience when he was named head coach of the KC Wiz and was already a National Soccer Hall of Famer. Newman with offensive options like Preki, Digital Takawira, and Mark Chung scored the third most goals in the league in 1996 and the second most in 1997. He twice led the Wiz(ards) to the playoffs in 1996 and 1997 advancing to the Western Conference finals in 1996 and eliminated in the semifinals in 1997. KC's offensive power dried up in his final full season with the club in 1998 as the Wizards finished bottom of the Western Conference, winning just two of their final 10 games as they missed the playoffs for the first time. Newman only lasted four games into the 1999 season before he was fired with the Wizards 0-4 on the season. Newman finished his career with a 50-50 record for KC (ties were not introduced in MLS until the 2000 season), which is now good for the third most wins in club history of KC's four full time coaches behind Bob Gansler and Peter Vermes.
Currently Sporting KC's second leading scorer in league play, tied with 43 with Davy Arnaud, Wolff spent two spells with Kansas City from 2003 to 2006 and 2008 to 2010. Wolff's time in KC among fans really seems to be judged on his final season with Kansas City in 2010 when Wolff scored just two goals in 26 appearances and played over 1500 minutes for the club. Wolff though was a successful striker for the club during what was a very lean time in terms of goal scoring; three times he led the clubs in goals scored, in 2004, 2005, and 2009. Up until recently he was also the player to win the most caps (38) for his country while a member of Kansas City. He's still the leading goal scorer in that category at this time with six goals scored for the US.
Leads sporting Kansas City in most longevity categories, he's appeared in the most games in all competitions (281), started the most games in all competitions (291), started the most league games (228), second in league games played (237), first in minutes played in both league (20,515) and in all competitions (25,278). The defensive midfielder was never flashy on the field, he wasn't a destroyer type in the defensive midfield position, and he just stood players up and won the ball. It wasn't glamorous, but he did get some recognition with 21 caps for the US while a member of Kansas City. Zavagnin has stayed in KC since his retirement, immediately stepping into an assistant coaching role under Curt Onalfo and Peter Vermes.
For me the voting on this came down to two players, Johnston and Zavagnin. With Newman, while he did great things for soccer over his career his performance as head coach for Kansas City would best be described as mediocre with a .500 record, I don't think a .500 record for a coach is enough to get into a "hall of fame" no matter what he did in his career outside of Kansas City unfortunately. As for Wolff I think he could eventually make it, he has the goal scoring numbers to at least be considered for a spot, but his time in Kansas City was really hampered at times by injuries that will stick out in fans' minds.
Johnston and Zavagnin are both deserving players, Johnston for his heart on the field and his goal scoring in the early years of the club while Zavagnin's longevity combines with his strong ability in the middle of the field to be one of the better defensive midfielders in the league. Both players should definitely be Sporting Legends at some point, but my vote this time is going to go to Kansas City's current assistant coach, Kerry Zavagnin. Zavagnin's longevity with the club as a player showed his importance to the club in an important position. From being the stand-up midfielder next to the destroyer Matt McKeon in his early years with KC to taking a leadership role with the club and being a shutdown defensive midfielder for Kansas City, Zavagnin was a key part of the club for a long period of time and only now with Matt Besler does it look like some of Zavagnin's records with the club could be in jeopardy of falling. He's a very deserving Sporting Legend without taking into account his work as an assistant and being part of every Sporting KC team that has won any championship.