The Thrilling Past and Exciting Future of Kansas City Sports
If you're a Chiefs fan, you have it good right now. You have a team coming off of a Super Bowl championship run with a historically great quarterback complemented by dynamic weapons all around him and the most pass-heavy offense in NFL history. And it's only the beginning. But the Chiefs' success is only one part of Kansas City's golden age of sports. The whole region has enjoyed a thrilling past and an exciting future.
The Kansas City Royals took the city's primary sports focus for a three-year span from 2014 to 2016 with exciting, winning baseball with players the city will always remember, such as Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez. In 2014, the Royals had their first playoff appearance since their World Series championship in 1985. They had a run that no one saw coming. In the Wild Card game against the Oakland Athletics, the Royals overcame a 7-3 deficit in the eighth inning with three runs in the eighth, one run in the ninth, great pitching from Brandon Finnegan in innings 10 and 11 and a two-run 12th inning capped off by a base hit by Perez that just got past the glove of future MVP Josh Donaldson.
After this incredible Wild Card victory, the Royals swept the top-seeded Los Angeles Angels 3-0 and the second-seeded Baltimore Orioles 4-0 to clinch the AL Pennant and go to the World Series where they would face the San Francisco Giants. They became the first team to enter the World Series unbeaten in the postseason since the 2006 Colorado Rockies. The Royals traded blows with the Giants, with the Royals winning game two in San Francisco, game three in KC and game six in KC to force a home game seven. The Royals gave the Giants a battle but fell one run short.
The following season, the Royals had their best season in franchise history. They won 95 games, their most since 1980, had seven All-Stars and won their second World Series in franchise history. The 2015 season also broke the Royals' franchise attendance record with a total attendance of 2,708,549 and brought a championship parade attended by 800,000 proud fans.
Since the 2015 World Series, the Royals have gone 278-370 with fewer than 60 wins in the last two seasons. Naturally, this has led to the city of Kansas City not giving the time of day to focus on the Royals, because who would want to watch bad baseball? However, these years of bad baseball, as it does in other North American sports, means that the Royals have the upper hand on bringing in some of the best players of the future, and they are taking advantage.
As of the finish of the 2020 MLB Draft last week, the Royals are building a farm system that is looking to become competitive with the farm system they built prior to their championship runs, with the recent additions of 2018 18th overall pick Brady Singer, 2019 second overall pick Bobby Witt Jr., 2020 fourth overall pick Asa Lacy and 17-year-old international star Erick Pena, among others. You may not be interested in the Royals now, but they were good just five years ago and it may not be long before they're good again with the promising young talent being infused into the ballclub within the next four years.
Sporting KC is a team that needs much more attention than they get in Kansas City. Even if you didn't grow up loving soccer, Sporting KC has had a successful history that has helped put Kansas City on the map as one of the best soccer cities in America.
Before they were Sporting KC and Kansas' lone pro sports team, they were the Kansas City Wizards, and they played in Arrowhead Stadium. As the Wizards, the club won three trophies. Two in 2000 — the MLS Supporters' Shield for the best regular-season record and the MLS Cup, the postseason championship — and one in 2004 — the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. During these years, they were primarily led by Preki, who remains the club's all-time leading scorer, and goalkeeper Tony Meola, who played 100 games for the United States national team and was one of the lead commentators for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on FOX.
In 2011, the club moved from Kansas City, Missouri to Kansas City, Kansas and changed their name from the Kansas City Wizards to Sporting Kansas City. What followed were Sporting's golden years to this point. Led by Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer and Overland Park native Matt Besler (who remains the only Kansas-born player to play in the FIFA World Cup), Sporting recaptured the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2012 and an MLS Cup title in a thrilling match concluding with a penalty shootout vs. Real Salt Lake in 2013, thanks in part to the heroics of MLS Goalkeeper Of The Year Jimmy Nielsen. Sporting followed that up by adding two more Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles in 2015 vs. Philadelphia Union and in 2017 vs. New York Red Bulls, which featured who some consider the best current American soccer player, Tyler Adams.
Throughout and since these years, the club has undergone a restructuring to the roster. Dwyer was traded to Orlando City, Nielsen was replaced by Tim Melia, who has claimed an MLS goalkeeper of the year award of his own, and they have lost other key players such as Ike Opara, Benny Feilhaber and Krisztian Nemeth. Now the focus belongs to the top attacking talents of the team, like Scotland's Johnny Russell, Hungary's Daniel Salloi, Guinea's Gerso Fernandes and newly-acquired Mexican striker Alan Pulido.
Since joining Sporting KC, the four players combined for 51 goals in 228 games played. Russell joined in 2018 and has already become the first and only player in club history with multiple hat tricks. Salloi has received regular minutes since 2017 and has been in Sporting's top three in Expected Goals, an advanced metric that measures the quality of chances created and conceded. Gerso, as he is primarily called, has been among the top players for Sporting in combined goals and assists per 90 minutes in all of the last four seasons. Lastly, there's Pulido, Sporting KC's new striker. Sporting bought Pulido from Mexico's top league, Liga MX, for a club-record transfer fee that exceeded $9.5 million. If the early part of the 2020 season was any indication, Sporting got their money's worth.
Sporting KC responded to a disappointing 2019, their worst season of the decade, with an explosive start to their 2020 campaign. Sporting played just two matches in the 2020 regular season before COVID-19 forced the season to be paused, but they won them in dominant fashion with wins of 3-1 against Vancouver Whitecaps and 4-0 against Houston Dynamo. Pulido and Israeli loanee Gadi Kinda have led the way with two goals each.
Another piece of the puzzle for fans to watch is midfielder Gianluca Busio. Busio has only played 17 minutes in the 2020 season, but he is considered to be one of the best under-20 American players and he showed some reasons why in 2019 when he played 928 minutes and had 0.40 Expected Goals per 90 minutes, the second-best on the team. The 18-year-old has already played in 15 games and scored seven goals for the United States under-17 national team, including in all three of their matches in the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup, and played in two matches for the under-20 national team.
Starting on July 8, the MLS will return with the one-time "MLS is Back Tournament" in Orlando, starting with a group stage with all 26 teams in six groups (five groups of four teams and one group of six teams) and finishing with a 16-team knockout stage with the final coming on August 11. Sporting KC will be among the favorites to win the tournament, but have been given a tough group to get through with fellow unbeaten teams Minnesota United and Colorado Rapids, and capping it off with 2019 playoff quarterfinalists Real Salt Lake. If you haven't yet seen a Sporting KC match, I invite you to join in and get behind the team in their quest for a fifth trophy in the last eight years.
Now, back to the Chiefs. We have witnessed some special moments recently. In the past two seasons, we've seen the first Most Valuable Player award winner in Chiefs history, the second Super Bowl championship in Chiefs history and possibly the most explosive offense in NFL history. Add in the additions of Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark, Mecole Hardman, Juan Thornhill, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Willie Gay Jr. and Mike Pennel in the last two offseasons and we see clear signs of a dynasty in the making.
With Mahomes' impending contract negotiations in progress, some may have concerns about the ramifications of such a deal, feeling that it could hurt the team because it'd lock up too much money to one player. However, as shown by Pro Football Focus' Eric Eager, Mahomes will still clearly be worth his enormous extension. When you have a good enough quarterback and a good enough system around him, you should be willing to pay him whatever it will take. If Mahomes continues on the path he is on, Andy Reid sticks around for several more years and the Chiefs keep the same pass-heavy attack they have run with, it will not matter if Mahomes gets $50 million per year, the Chiefs will be in legitimate Super Bowl contention every year.
It's an exciting time to be a Kansas City sports fan. Personally, I am a fan of all three teams and have been for a long time. I watched all three of these teams win all of their recent championships live on TV and relished the amazing moments that came from those games. Stay tuned though. The Kansas City area is going to add more hardware in the coming years.