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Finally, Kansas City has a chance
March 5th, 2007 1:48AM

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Quietly, without much fanfare, ground was broken Friday in Swope Park, Mo. for a training facility, a four-field complex to be used by thousands of local youth players.

Yawn Grande, right? Well, hardly. Shovels in the ground does not a franchise revive, but what has begun is the transformation of the Kansas City Wizards from shoestring operation to professional sports enterprise.

OnGoal LLC, the entity formed by Cerner executives Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig and their partners may fail in their quest to make pro soccer go in Kansas City. But I disagree with proclamations that a pro team can't make it there. Pro soccer hasn't worked, quite true, but it's never been given a real chance. Now it has the backing of resources and money and committed individuals.

The stringent frugality of Hunt Sports Group has worked in Columbus and Dallas largely because HSG built stadiums in those cities, but its uneasy marriage with Arrowhead Stadium and the long-term illness of the late, great Lamar Hunt left Kansas City not unloved but certainly under-supported.

Despite the struggles of the pro game in this country, dating back several decades, there still persists among many fans the feeling that the sport must flourish simply because they believe it should. It's the world's game. Plant teams and they will grow tall and strong, even in America.

Tell that to fans of the Mutiny, Fusion, and Clash/Earthquakes, or those of the dozens of North American Soccer League extinctions. The NASL went with big names and bright lights and expired; the MLS approach of steady growth and real-estate underpinnings is widely unpopular, and its had to cast off two teams and move another, but it's still here.

One Kansas City stadium proposal failed - heavily, it must be said -- at the ballot box, which triggered further fusillades of guaranteed failure. Those experts forget: The Wizards may be behind, but the game is far from over.

HSG lost two elections in Columbus. The McKinney (Tex.) city council reversed its own vote to send Dallas scurrying off to Frisco. There was plenty of political lobbying behind the multi-sport complex called Home Depot Center.

How many times did Dave Checketts get his nose bloodied by city, county, and state governmental officials? Real Salt Lake has hit the canvas more times than Rocky Balboa, but at the final bell, it was Checketts -- straight out of "Survivor" -- standing with his arms raised in triumph.

Tales of Kansas City's demise are way premature. In at least two previous seasons, there were exactly zero regional broadcasts of Wizards' games. For  2007, Metro Sports will cover all the games not shown nationally, and there will be related programming as well.

The Swope Park complex will be used by the Wizards as a training facility as well as by local players. Kansas City has a ways to go with a stadium, yet several communities are in the mix and as in a few other MLS cities, it's only a matter of when and where. It might be on the Kansas side; details, details.
And only then can we know if this storied city - and its Kansas counterpart astride the Missouri River -- can support professional outdoor soccer.


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