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An Open Letter to Sporting Club (formerly OnGoal)

The staff of The Blue Testament pens a letter to Sporting Kansas City ownership in support of the Columbus Crew fanbase

MLS: Sporting KC at Columbus Crew SC
May this continue to be an annual occurrence in MLS—Sporting Kansas City versus Columbus Crew SC (with SKC scoring the goals, naturally).
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

To Robb Heineman, Cliff Illig, Pat Curran, and Greg Maday (principals of Sporting Club):

This missive begins with a note of profound gratitude: thank you for making the decision, just over a decade ago, to keep Major League Soccer in Kansas City. Without Lamar Hunt, Sporting Kansas City would not exist to begin with, but without you, it would likely now exist somewhere else, or not at all. By buying the franchise from the Hunt Sports Group, rebranding it, and setting it on the trajectory it is today, you have not only permitted soccer to survive in the Paris of the Plains, but to thrive, in the form of three Open Cup trophies and an MLS Cup in the past five years.

You would argue — and we would wholeheartedly agree — that such a haul of silverware is no less than what the city deserves, even as we continue to hope for better from the club in the playoffs that have come since that MLS Cup win in 2013.

But we write to you to say that we similarly wholeheartedly believe that the devoted and passionate fanbase in Columbus likewise deserves that shot at glory for their city— hopefully not at our expense, but, then, that’s the nature of professional sports...just as it is, sometimes, the nature of professional sports teams to relocate.

We realize that relocation is a reality in the sporting world that we ply our writing in. But it ought not, and should not, be the reality for the city of Columbus and its legions of fans clad in yellow and black, precisely because it was not the case for Kansas City’s blue-bedecked fans either.

I (Eric) know of what I speak: from the first time my father took me to a then-Wiz game in 1996, when I was a soccer-obsessed elementary school kid. After seeing players like Vitalis “Digital” Takawira and now-Sporting Legends Preki and Mo Johnston in action, I was instantly hooked on soccer in Kansas City. My dad and I became season ticket members in 1997, a status we maintained through the 2004 season, at which point I had relocated for college.

Even then, we faithfully attended games together whenever I was home on break from school, cheering on the Wizards in the cavernous dimensions of Arrowhead Stadium and the sardine can confines of Community America Ballpark alike. Sharing in the experience of those games is one of my greatest memories of a father-son relationship filled with good memories.

Around this time, though, even with a US Open Cup title in 2004 — and an MLS Cup title in 2000 — the Hunts wanted to sell the Wizards. Part of this had to do with diversifying MLS ownership groups after years of the Hunts and Philip F. Anschutz largely placing the league on their shoulders, but at the same time, the Wizards faithful knew that Kansas City had far more soccer fans than the meager few who populated Arrowhead or who could fit into Community America.

You believed that, too. You kept the Wizards in Kansas City. And the rest, as they say, is history. Silverware-laden history.

Enduring the will-they/won’t-they speculation of your hometown sports team moving because of the economic realities of depressed match attendance and miniscule merchandise sales was tough enough for me a dozen or so years ago. Enduring it when your team plays in what is by far the most storied soccer-specific stadium in the country (seriously, what would the dos-a-cero legend be without MAPFRE Stadium?) and when your fanbase’s attendance at that stadium is growing in that department despite an admittedly sub-optimal location...well, that’s a will-they/won’t-they speculation that is best left for Ross and Rachel or Jim and Pam, not an MLS fanbase.

This fanbase has turned out time and again to watch an exciting team assembled by their own version of Peter Vermes, Gregg Berhalter. Federico Higuain is the household name everyone knows, but I’m sure you’ll agree that Columbus fans deserve to see young talents like Zack Steffen, Ben Swanson, and Wil Trapp develop into the sort of stars we now appreciate Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, and Roger Espinoza for being.

Certainly the team feels that way, as Berhalter dedicated their compelling victory over expansion phenoms Atlanta United to the fans, saying simply, “We wanted to do this for the fans of Columbus.”

It has been over a decade since our own time through that will-they/won’t-they wringer, but the memories of it remain. I wouldn’t wish that sort of speculation on any fanbase in MLS, and it is precisely because OnGoal bucked against that speculation years ago that made this year’s tributes to Neal Patterson so important to me—and, I know, to many other fans who remember those years as well.

Ordinarily, you are on the same side as us, cheering on the boys in Sporting Blue and doing everything possible to enable them to succeed. But today, we are asking you to also be on the same side as the yellow and black to enable soccer in Columbus to succeed. It is increasingly clear that MLS leadership has lent its tacit approval to the abandonment of Columbus, and while leadership may approve of such a move, we do not believe that the fans do.

We are asking you for something very big — not just for the Columbus fans who deserve far better than they are getting right now from their ownership, but for you as well, because of how you preserved, fostered, and nurtured soccer in Kansas City and would need to go against the grain to call for the same now on Columbus’s behalf. We are asking you to potentially go against the wishes of a colleague within a rarefied fraternity.

But we would not ask you to consider this if we did not value this part of Sporting Kansas City’s own history, of being revitalized without also being relocated. And the Crew doesn’t even need to be revitalized, it just needs ownership committed to remaining in Columbus.

If the move away from Columbus comes to a vote, we respectfully urge you to consider voting against such a move.

Thanks for reading.

For the writing and editorial staff of The Blue Testament,

Eric Atcheson

Kansas City Wizards STM, 1997-2005