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Sporting KC Plus Me

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I was once told that those best at their jobs are the human beings who have most closely aligned with what they believe and are surrounded by the most good people who believe the same. I am shown the truth in that by my hometown club Sporting Kansas City—an organization that has mastered the art of being high-brow and your neighborhood friend at once, an organization that each Kansas Citian has a special reason to get behind. Here is mine.

Salloi leading the "I beleive that we will win" chant at the season kickoff party.
Salloi leading the "I beleive that we will win" chant at the season kickoff party.
Gary Rohman

I stood outside of No Other Pub for 30 minutes on Thursday evening. Inside, Sporting Kansas City was hosting its Season Launch Event. No Other Pub is located right across Grand Boulevard from The Sprint Center—fitting that these two places should mirror each other in the heart of Kansas City: two places where people in Kansas City go to be with their favorite athletes or musicians or performers. But there is one difference. People go to The Sprint Center to see their favorite performers as they blow through the city for one night before moving on to the next; people come to No Other Pub to feel a part of Sporting Kansas City, to continue a relationship between club and supporter that has been strong since 1996.

I looked around while waiting in a snaking line in the Power and Light District and saw people wearing Sporting kits, hats, scarves or just some shade of blue. We were all there for one umbrellaed reason, and that is either because we really, really like Sporting Kansas City or because Sporting's innovation had yet again stirred interest in our city. But I wondered, deeper, Why are each of you here? I wanted to ask each and every person in line with me, Why do you love Sporting Kansas City? What's your connection?

For years and years, people have spoken about what their favorite sports teams, athletes, musicians—their favorite anything—means to them. But we each have an answer that can't be replicated. A special connection that is only ours. And so, as another Sporting season dawns on Sunday in Seattle, I took a moment to reflect some on my special connection to my hometown club.

I remember sitting with Dom Dwyer at Sporting's Swope Park training facility last August. Dom says and does a lot of interesting things, but I have carried with me these words of his in particular. He said to me, "You get good people who come into your life and you try and keep them there, and they make it more fun." That's what Dom is-that's what everybody involved with Sporting Kansas City is—good people you want to keep in your life.

Dom shows and explains his new tattoos to me every time I see him. He teaches me the importance of self-expression. He took a young woman searching for purpose and confidence and made her believe that she have tattoos if she wants—and now I have three. I have even tattooed the Roman numeral for 14 on my arm because that was my playing number and will always be my number.

I remember a fall Sunday in 2014. I had just run the Plaza 10K race earlier in the morning with my cousin, Jillian, and our friends, T.J. and Kristina. We decided to go to Coal Vines for brunch with my aunt and grandmother. I looked up from my menu to see Matt Besler and his wife enjoying brunch, too. There we were, one a Sporting Kansas City captain and the other a young unestablished writer, both enjoying a beautiful day in the city we love with our families.

And on that day, without even knowing it himself, Matt Besler taught me that you don't always have to leave home to chase your dream and find your purpose in this giant world. Kevin EllisChristian DukeJon KempinErik Palmer-BrownSeth Sinovic and many other Sporting homegrown players teach us all that same lesson.

Of course, some people do have to leave home. People like Brad DavisJustin MappBenny Feilhaber—who, might I remind you, shaved "KC" into his mullet last season—,Graham ZusiAmadou DiaSaad Abdul-SalaamConnor HalliseyRoger Espinoza, Alex Kann, Lawrence Olum, Jimmy Madranda, Soni MustivarChance MyersIke Opara,Paulo Nagamura, Nuno Coelho and Jacob Peterson. People like Peter Vermes.

People like Jordi Quintilla, who hails from Spain but ripped his grass-stained shirt off in glory after scoring the game-winning penalty kick in Philadelphia that gifted Kansas City the U.S. Open Cup trophy—Sporting's third trophy in five years.

People like Tim Melia, who taught us that even when you're down and even when people are telling you that you're out, you can choose whether you're down and out and you have the power to be your best instead.

People like Daniel Salloi, the 19-year-old Hungarian-born homegrown product, who was initiated into the Sporting Kansas City family on stage in front of everyone at No Other Pub Thursday night when Besler gave him the microphone and encouraged him to lead everyone in the "I Believe That We Will Win" chant.

People in the Cauldron, on the field, on the sidelines or anywhere in Children's Mercy Park who have come to realize that Kansas City is a wonderful place to call home, too.

And so, as I mingled among hundreds of passionate people inside of No Other Pub on Thursday night, unable at first glance to differentiate between player and supporter, I thought: This is what sport is supposed to look like, this is why sport exists, this is what it looks like when there is a genuine bond between Sporting Kansas City and people who want them to succeed just as much as they themselves want to succeed. This is a good place to be.

A place like No Other Pub.

A place like Swope Park.

A place like Children's Mercy Park.

A place like Kansas City.