TUKWILA, Wash. – Nestled in the abundance of deep green trees sitting under the oft grey skies of the Pacific Northwest is a culture of sports fandom hard to match elsewhere in the United States.
It’s a point of contention and ire for some outside the area, but nonetheless a point difficult to argue.
Seattle Seahawks fans continue to break records for volume levels, making sure they can be heard loud and clear, a far as the I-5 can stretch. The noise isn’t just that, though, as the current crown of Super Bowl champion backs up the Emerald City’s off-field actions.
Sounders fans spew their rave green colors into the streets, drowning out the colors of their rivals from Portland, Vancouver and any other intruder at CenturyLink Field. And those two cities do their part to make sure that the unique feel of fandom is truly regional, particularly in the case of the ravenous supporters of the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns.
But while all of this precipitated into something huge in that corner of the country over the last decade, a different kind of fan support has taken hold in a seemingly more inconspicuous part of the country: Kansas City.
[MORE: Complete coverage of the 2014 NWSL final from Seattle]
This Midwest landing spot is currently the home of the MLS Cup champions, Sporting Kansas City, as well as the country’s reigning indoor title holders, the Missouri Comets. And on Sunday, FC Kansas City – coach by Vlatko Andonovski, also the Comets’ coach – aims for a soccer sweep in Seattle against Reign FC, looking to bring another soccer crown back home with them.
With that success has come a support that demands attention. Sporting draws an over-capacity average attendance north of 20,000 per game, and its boisterous group called the “Cauldron,” who welcomes opponents to Sporting Park, now in its fourth season, with a sign that reads, “Welcome to Blue Hell.”
Supporters are evident but far more tame for the NWSL’s FC Kansas City, but the message is that Kansas City continues to be one of the hotspots for soccer in the United States.
Much like in the Pacific Northwest, soccer is becoming royalty.
“Soccer in Kansas City is almost becoming the sport,” Andonovski says. “There is definitely a buzz in the community with Sporting winning the title, of course it’s huge. But then with FC Kansas City having the success both years, being successful and consistent, winning lots of games the Comets winning a championship, the community is out there supporting the game. It’s probably the go-to sport for youth athletes.”
FC Kansas City finished second in the regular season last year before losing to Portland in the semifinals. This season, the Blues flipped the result against the Thorns in the playoffs to make the final.
U.S. Soccer also recently announced plans to build a national training center in Kansas City.
Attendance has been down for FC Kansas City after moving to a cozy venue on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, averaging just 2,018. Clearly, there’s a great deal of room for improvement.
But there is a hope that those numbers will grow, and a championship should help. Finding a way to parlay some of Sporting’s success over to the women’s game will be crucial. As of now, the interaction is mainly on a player level, with each team’s players going to each other’s games for support .
“Obviously anytime you have teams that are relatively close to each other and play relatively close to each other, you get to know them,” FC Kansas City defender Leigh Ann Robinson said. “I think it’s been kind of cool for us because obviously Sporting has been selling out their stadium every game. We got to go to a couple of their games, and those guys will show up at UMKC and support us.”
On Sunday, the Blues look to replicate their neighbors, Sporting, in bringing a championship back to Kansas City. But they’ll have to go through a Reign team that has lost only twice this season in 25 matches, including Sunday’s semifinal win over Washington. The Reign beat FC Kansas City in their first meeting of the season before drawing twice.
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