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The enemy is well equipped. Time to ramp up, SKC fans, SKC brass: An “In the Box” commentary

A return to prominence in crowd intimidation is in the hands of the organization and its fandom.

SOCCER: NOV 28 MLS Cup Playoffs - Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“’That’s as challenging a game on the road as you’ll ever see in this league,” said [New England Revolution] boss Bruce Arena, “’in that stadium with clearly a 12th man for 90 minutes, something you don’t see to that extent – and against a good team. To walk off with a point is a plus.’” (taken from Columbus Crew and their fans flex new muscle with Lower.com Field cauldron | MLSSoccer.com)

After the same match – the first at Lower.com Field – New England center back Henry Kessler concurred: “’There was a lot of energy from their fans and their players as well. It was definitely contagious for them. It was difficult.’”

The supporters’ section at Columbus Crew’s Lower.com Field (opened in 2021) holds 3,356 rowdy fans at a 37° “rake”, putting the fans in the safe-standing section virtually on top of the field.

Bursting onto the MLS scene last season, Austin FC and its 3,500 strong supporters’ section quickly made a name for themselves. Their Q2 Stadium is another of the new generation of soccer specific stadiums, built bigger, built to bring fans closer to the pitch, to create a louder atmosphere, to intimidate.

Comparatively, Sporting Kansas City’s Cauldron supporters’ section holds 2,000. The fans within are rowdy, relentless, and renowned and were a critical part of Kansas City’s MLS renaissance in 2011 and beyond. Since then, fanbases for Portland Timbers (and its 4,000 strong supporter’s section), Minnesota United, Los Angeles FC, and Nashville SC have come online, impressively. Furthermore, the MLS Player’s Association tabbed two other stadium atmospheres as the best in the league in 2021.

Like Children’s Mercy Park (CMP), Sporting’s supporters’ section was a template for the clubs that came into MLS after 2011. And that is where the issue begins.

Templates are a beginning for others; they do not remain the standard.

Is adding that rumored 2nd level to The Cauldron and/or converting the larger South Stand to a traditional supporters’ section the answer to leveling the supporters’ playing field? Maybe. Even so, each would only be part of the answer. And the answer’s least important part.

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I have been a diehard Kansas City Wizards/Sporting fan from the start and a season ticket member since 2011. From my position in the East Stand, I have been a part of many epic atmospheres. Although the level has never reached “Cauldron” heights in the East Stand proper, it has been substantial.

But not in a long time. Now, if fans clap along rhythmically with the supporters’ sections it fades quickly. If fans chant along, it is audible only to oneself, even “I believe that we will win” is shouted mostly half-heartedly. For the vast majority of the 90 minutes, and for much of the stadium, hands remain on laps, backsides in seats, and voices relatively quiet.

Yes, goals scored or heroic saves made bring stadium-wide, mostly on-its-feet elation. Yet, when is it that the crowd becomes most cohesive? When is the crowd most boisterous in extended moments? Moments when referees make questionable or poor decisions. In an instant, the crowd becomes one – a unified, powerful force. Unity that rare is unfortunate (and even more so when it scornful and sometimes unsavory). The referees, and Sporting, need to be held to high standards. So should we the fans. How powerful would it be to turn a fully unified crowd towards supporting our team?

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Deloitte.’s study of “The stadium experience” states what many could have guessed from experience: that one of the four core expectations for fans attending in-stadium across the sporting world is an exciting atmosphere within that stadium.

Some fans come to a Sporting match for “A celebration, an escape into fantasy and revelry.” Others attend to be entertained or to admire the “art” of the sport. Some come out because the plight of the team is tied to their identity. Others to foster ties with whoever they are with or to be part of a community drawn together. It is all of those fans that create a compelling atmosphere, not just one section of the stadium.

The Raising… “We never know how high we are, Till we are called to rise…” Emily Dickinson

There are those fans who are not at a match to cheer and chant or even participate. The vast majority, though, are not intrinsically opposed.

In writing, there is a concept that states, “To reveal the impact of something big, write small.” In example, to reveal the horror of war, write about the burnt children’s shoes in the street.

The small evokes the large. For stadium atmosphere amidst the battle on the field, hundreds of smalls can build to thousands. How many times has one’s clapping in an audience ended with all applauding?

So clap. Mimic the established motions. Stand more often. Chant. Encourage those newbies (or slouching oldies) by example and sometimes creative and fun-loving cajoling.

As you do, joys as small as the cheerful exchanges as you glance to your right or left seeing those next to you chiming in grow. As small as the laugh when someone falters on the words or misses the percussive beat. When a favorite player inspires a bellow from your neighbor, a common bond begins. Even if the match itself is ultimately forgettable, the interactions stay. Indeed, memories are not made of inactivity.

We all hold the power to bind. The camaraderie, the shared spirit in moments of spontaneous acts, the power of group exultation in moments of celebration manifest joy. Joy is best when shared. And sorrow, least when communal. As Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “I am a part of all that I have met.”

The end effect is symbiotic. Your energy creates a ripple. That ripple grows to a band that spreads threw the stands and, ultimately, to the field. Research clearly shows that loud crowds increase adrenalin and benefit athletes that require strength and endurance to fight boldly and those that “play” within a team. “The most renowned sport stadiums are those that have an unrivalled atmosphere, where the athletes truly feel the fans’ support… Fans that are engaged, immersed and fully present in that moment.”

The above may be a romantic, fantastical view. Yes, it may be, because the reality is that at each Sporting Kansas City match, there is a two-out-of-three chance that Sporting will not come away with a win, and, perhaps, even a lesser chance that something spectacular will happen. More so, then, the time spent at our soccer haven is about making the experience memorable no matter the result. It is the little moments that make memories, and they often turn to big moments. At the end of the evening – and in the weeks and months and years to come – those who attended a match should all be able to brag, “I was there. I was in that crowd!” And the individual players will notice, and raise the level of the team to win the war.

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Convergence (Or “Here comes ol’ flat top, he come grooving up slowly… Come together, right now…)

The most important part of the answer to leveling the supporters’ playing field – and Children’s Mercy Park reclaiming its rightful position as one of the top five atmospheres in MLS – is marked involvement from every section, the stadium entire.

Children’s Mercy Park ranks 25th out of 28 MLS stadiums in capacity. Size does matter. All about the size, though, it is not. The amount of fight within is key and can be about how one uses what one has. And that should be the focus of Sporting KC’s fans in every moment possible, every match. Furthermore, fully engaging those in the stadium and harnessing that power should be the focus of the current supporters’ sections and the SKC brass as well.

In their article “The roar of the crowd – how fans create electric atmospheres” on theconversation.com, Hill, Eckhardt, and Canniford claim, “Atmospheres rarely emerge spontaneously. It is through preparing, rehearsing and engaging that crowds become capable of responding as one.” To supplement those “ing”s, the author’s state, “Open dialogue between fans and event organisers is vital to encourage the social practices that contribute to atmospheres.”

The good news is that the dialogue is – and likely always has been – active.

Asked if Sporting and South Stand Supporters’ Club leadership are working together to create a stronger atmosphere at CMP, South Stand SC President Kyle Wall and his cohorts replied, “Communication always exists between Sporting and us. We all want the same thing in terms of atmosphere; we want it to be louder and more passionate than the year before. Whether in the South Stand, Cauldron, East Stand, or West Stand, we all want fans engaged in chanting and enjoying the match for the full 90 minutes.”

Cauldron President Stephanie Burton and her committee stated, “The working relationship between The Cauldron and Sporting is what allows both of us contribute as much as we do to the atmosphere of CMP.” Although Wall said South Stand SC works “independent for the most part”, Sporting’s front office “has always been supportive of our ideas and does ask if/how they can help” as long as the decisions work for the supporters’ groups and the club. Ditto for The Cauldron: “Sporting is open to and generally supportive of the ideas and projects that The Cauldron approaches them with. They truly care about the input of not only The Cauldron but all Supporters Groups and fans.”

Existence doesn’t mean the dialogue can’t be expanded, current practices evaluated, and ideas considered:

1. Create a fan-centered, fan-active routine during the Starting 11 roll call.

2. “I believe that we will win” segues into an anthem the entire stadium sings for the next few minutes.

3. A more inclusive “Sporting – KC” call and reply that goes from Cauldron to East Side to South Stand to West Side and back again.

4. A new stadium-wide chant to begin the second half, or maybe better yet, one that boosts the team on the field at the 75th or 80th minute of a match.

5. The post-match “Oh when the Wiz” sing-along was initiated by the players towards The Cauldron; however, perhaps it should feature the team still positioned on the north end, then turning toward each section of the crowd as the chant progresses, facing The Cauldron for the frantic crescendo.

Some say, ‘Don’t force traditions.’ Yet, dictating and facilitating are two different beasts.

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Gone is the day when Sporting’s home atmosphere was authentically and universally revered by all as being in the upper echelon of MLS.

Expanding or altering the stadium, creating a stadium-wide symbiosis that raises new joy and strength for all, and actively bring together all parts of Children’s Mercy Park would take time. Until then, we fans can realize a gauntlet has been thrown down, take it in our hands, and take ownership of the atmosphere at Children’s Mercy Park.

Some may argue that many fans have been doing that all along. Agreed. As the leaders of The Cauldron stated, “We come from all over, sit in different areas, but at the end of the day we’re at CMP to support our boys in blue.”

But now is the time to re-intensify, and perhaps re-imagine, efforts.

St. Louis City SC will join MLS next season. Let’s not wait until then to turn up the intimidation factor at Children’s Mercy Park. Let’s not pick and choose when we support Sporting Kansas City at our highest level. Like any race, momentum is a great factor in winning.

Sporting will open its season today in Atlanta United’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. United’s matches averaged 43,964 fans last season in their indoor/open roof stadium. The atmosphere will be deafening and intimidating, even for the most focused and talented athlete.

It is time to ramp up support, Kansas City. Captain Johnny F Russell and Co. need Children’s Mercy Park entire to be The Blue Hell, more than a bold moniker.

It is time to realize that what our men face when fighting for points on the road is increasingly formidable.

It’s time to fight back, not to yield:

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” A. L. Tennyson

Ramp up, Sporting KC fans, Sporting Kansas City brass. Ramp up.