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Wizards stay put
August 31st, 2006 8:35PM
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For the past two years the Confidential has steadfastly reiterated that the Kansas City Wizards were most likely staying put, and not headed for Rochester, or Philadelphia, or Houston, or Seattle.

Confirmation came Thursday with the announcement that OnGoal LLC, a consortium led by Cerner Corporation CEO Neal Patterson and vice chairman Cliff Illig, has bought the team from Hunt Sports Group. The group also includes Robb Heineman and several other members of Rock Island Capital, a private investment firm. Heineman has been discussing a soccer project with Johnson County (Kan.) city and county officials as well as developers for the past few years.

The price of the sale was not announced. A source put the likely figure as between $10 million and $15 million.

Operator-investor Lamar Hunt formally put the team up for sale in January, 2005, yet in the previous year had been contacted by individuals in Johnson County interested in discussing a move out of Arrowhead Stadium and into a soccer complex.

Extensive renovations at Arrowhead, home of the NFL Chiefs as well as the Wizards, and other business restructurings, along with failures to raise funds for a stadium through local tax initiatives, prompted Hunt to find local owners.

Hunt had refused to finalize any sale until substantial progress had been made on a stadium plan. Last week, the consortium told the city of Overland Park it had chosen a 300-acre parcel of its land for the project, and on Monday night the Johnson County Park and Recreation District board voted 5-0 to place a $75 million bond issue on a November ballot for a vote of support.

Taxpayers will be asked if they support construction of 24 soccer fields as part of an extensive community project that could also include residential and commercial components as well as a soccer stadium. The proposed site is about 15 miles southwest of downtown Kansas City.

While the ownership and stadium maneuverings were going on, Commissioner Don Garber and Hunt, among others, dropped hints of what might happen should nothing develop in Kansas City. The players and coaches were told last year that Seattle wasn't entirely out of the question.

Sometimes the principals of disinformation got their signals crossed. Garber's proclamation to the players that the team might move to Philadelphia was negated by subsequent denials from Rowan University officials, as well as a statement from an MLS spokesman that the area was in line for an expansion team, not one relocating from another league city.

For most of its existence in Kansas City, the MLS team - despite winning MLS Cup 2000 and reaching the final two years ago - has been plagued by poor attendances. Hunt personally led a ticket-sales drive on one occasion to drive up interest yet his staunch adherence to frugality has hindered efforts to expand the team's influence.

Maybe Kansas City is a bad market, as a few critics have insisted. Yet a new ownership group and a proposed new home across the state line gives the market a whole new look. And a real chance at success.

CONNECTIONS. There are drawbacks to MLS clubs being owned and operated by foreign teams, yet CD Chivas USA has shown the benefits of being attached to a pipeline of potentially good players unfettered by the conflicting demands.

Jesus Morales joined the MLS team from parent club CD Guadalajara for his league debut last week and played a promising 71 minutes, assisting on the first goal, in a 3-2 victory over Houston Sunday. Morales, 20, is classified as a youth international.

A season-ending injury to former Mexican international Ramon Ramirez has resulted in Johnny Garcia joining the MLS team. Garcia, 28, has played for CD Guadalajara the past five seasons. He started 109 of the 138 games he played in and scored 10 goals. He takes Ramirez's senior-international slot on the 18-man roster.

Such moves are permitted as long as they do not contravene FIFA regulations governing transfers and loans. A player must be registered during open transfer periods of the league he is joining, which for MLS teams concludes Sept. 15 and re-opens Jan. 1. There are also restrictions on how many moves a player can make during a 12-month period.

During the days of the NASL, dozens of players came to America via loans or on short-term contracts and in many cases were required to leave after attaining success and great popularity. The most glaring example was Mike Flanagan, who scored 30 goals for Philadelphia during the 1978 season, was named MVP, and afterward stayed with his English club (Charlton Athletic). In other cases, players were taken from NASL teams in August, just as the playoffs were getting underway and the European seasons were starting.

MLS teams operated by owners of foreign clubs, as in the case of CD Chivas USA and Red Bull New York, have only the FIFA restrictions to deal with. An alliance between Real Madrid and Real Salt Lake isn't likely to bring a Robinho to MLS except for a friendly or two, but any link to a great team has value.


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