“Boot it! BOOT IT!”
People around us in the crowd began to look concerned as my wife’s voice rose into the upper ranges of human hearing.
Not that Patricia noticed; every bit of her attention focused on the soccer pitch below us, where a forward for the Sporting Kansas City soccer club had dribbled past the other team’s defensemen, closing in on the goal.
The opposing goalkeeper moved out of position, leaving a crease open for a shot. But one of his teammates angled in quickly to break up the play.
“You’re going to lose the shot!” my wife cried, totally focused on the action down there, seeing nothing around her.
This was no small feat; the match in question was under way at the state-of-the-art stadium, Children’s Mercy Park, in the sports-loving city of Kansas City, KS. Beside Patricia, our two kids leaned toward the edges of their seats, just as rapt.
“We need it!” shouted Thad, our 12-year-old.
“Bury it!” cried Ashley, his 15-year-old sister.
Late in the match and the score tied at 2 each, the climax of this game also doubled as the peak of our visit to Kansas City, KS.
Besides Sporting KC, another great draw in Kansas City, KS is the Pinnacle National Development Center, a state-of-the-art, $75 million training facility devoted to building American soccer, elite players, coaches and referees of all ages. It was a natural fit for Kansas City, KS the Soccer Capital of America.
The facility has all the credentials—even soccer icon David Beckham pronounced it one of the top five such soccer training complexes in the world. It’s a team creation by Children’s Mercy Kansas City, Sporting KC and the U.S. Soccer Federation. This is something our family is completely on board with, so getting to tour Pinnacle was almost as exciting as the Sporting KC match that followed.
You hear it said constantly about arenas: “There’s not a bad seat in the house.” But at Children’s Mercy Park, it’s really true, and in more ways than one, we learned as a short rain shower passed early in the second half. It’s an open stadium, but the overhanging roof protected us from the rain.
“It’s all the good parts of an open and a closed stadium at the same time,” my wife said, approvingly. She notices that kind of thing. “Soccer stadiums all over the place are going this same way.”
Meanwhile, with a soccer match going on, our conversation got lost in the roaring from all the excited members of the Cauldron—that mass of Sporting KC superfans who spend the entire match standing, chanting, waving banners and generally celebrating every positive turn for the home team.
Cauldron members get amped and ready to go with a great deal of tailgating before any match begins. Their self-imposed rules require that they spend all 90 minutes of the game on their feet—plus extra time.
Super-superfans lead them in singing, chanting and group movements, keeping their backs to the action for nearly the entire match—the better to keep up the noise and hoopla that players insist gives them the extra boost they need to keep racing up and down the pitch.
Between halves, we made a quick trip to the Ameritas Shield Club to enjoy some authentic Kansas City cuisine and the midfield view of the pitch. Yes, we did linger and watch some of the action from there, it was such a comfortable spot; and we found something irresistible about staying close to the nosh options served up by friendly, chef’s-hat-wearing staff. Thad couldn’t live without a chicken-and-waffles sandwich—that’s chicken between two syrupy waffles—and Ashley attacked a Kansas City street dog, a hot dog folded into a slice of fresh-baked bread and topped with barbecue sauce and slaw. And we thought the fact that Children’s Mercy Park lets local service club volunteers help out as fundraisers for their organizations made for a great community touch.
As we explored the arena, we fell in love with a wall completely draped with colorful soccer club scarves from around the world, left as gifts by visiting soccer fans. That was almost as amazing as the food options.
When we got back to our seats, we really appreciated the park’s roomy spectator spaces. As the clock ticked down to the game’s exciting finale, the sun dropped below the taller west-side stands. On the east, where we sat, we enjoyed the shade as well as the rosy glow of the western sky above the arena roof.
Watching the action, I could easily imagine these highly trained athletes taking advantage of all the new amenities at The Pinnacle training center. It’s still fairly new, but as the Sporting KC attacker stutter-stepped around the last defender and set up for a shot on goal, I had to wonder: was training at The Pinnacle paying dividends already?
We jumped to our feet as his foot struck the ball, sending it on a spinning trajectory almost beyond the margin of the goal, but then curving back just past the straining fingers of the goalkeeper and into the net for a score.
We erupted in cheers along with the rest of the partisan Sporting KC crowd. Vibrant banners and flags came alive all around the arena, glittering in the stadium lights. Fans jumped to their feet, spinning their dark and light blue Sporting KC scarves jubilantly over their heads. The crowd broke into one of the team’s rollicking spirit songs to urge the players to hold on for the remaining seconds of the match. When the time expired, we all burst into cheers and hugs.
“That’s what it’s supposed to look like!” Patricia shouted in my ear.
“And probably what it’s going to look like from here on out!” I shouted back.