Sporting KC loses the match to Man City but wins the evening

Sporting KC forward C.J. Sapong celebrates after scoring a goal against Manchester City in the first half.

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Their Champs started lads from Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, Serbia, Spain, Argentina (again), Nigeria and Montenegro. Our Champs started fellas from Overland Park, Leawood, Overland Park (again), Texas, California, Virginia and Michigan.

English Premier League, magnet school for the best footballers in the world. Major League Soccer, somewhat smaller magnet school for the best soccer players in the Lower 48. Just because it sounds condescending doesn’t mean it isn’t also absolutely true.

So: Manchester City 4, Sporting Kansas City 1, and who cares? Friendlies — the international term for soccer exhibitions — are like that. Sporting wins, the locals go nuts, but the Sky Blues camp just shrugs. Man City won, won comfortably, and the Sky Blues camp … shrugged.

"I know that Sporting has a very important game this weekend in Toronto," City skipper Manuel Pellegrini said.

Oh, sure, there were stakes this time. Kind of. In an effort to spur interest — both on the part of the crowd and, perhaps, on the part of the visiting Sky Blues — the two sides, title-winners of their respective leagues this past season, played for something called the "Champions Shield."

Although, funny enough, even though there was actual silverware on the line, Sporting skipper Peter Vermes pulled his entire starting XI at halftime. For English sides, July friendlies are the baseball equivalent of spring training, and — keeping with the spirit — Manchester City brought several players with jersey numbers above 55. No Vincent Kompany. No Joe Hart.

"Obviously, for us, the focus is the league," Vermes said afterward. "We’re playing a big game (at Toronto) on Saturday and that’s where our concentration was, and is."

Not an excuse. Fact.


The Cauldron brought it, of course; same as it ever was, unfriendly even on the friendliest of stages. In the opening minutes, the U.S. battle cry from the World Cup last month was heard ringing through the stands:

I believe

I believe that

I believe that we

I believe that we will

I believe that we will win

I believe that we will win

I believe that we will win

I believe that we wi …

Then the Sky Blues’ Bruno Zuculini found the twine some two minutes in, putting the guests up 1-0. Just like that.

Sporting’s C.J. Sapong would return the favor in the 29th minute, taking a Benny Feilhaber cross off his chest on the right side of the box and, unmarked, firing a rope into the left lower corner of the netting past Man City keeper Willy Caballero.

From there, well … benches emptied. Sporting made 12 changes after the 30th minute; Man City, seven.

And it still beat the living tube socks off of Germany-Brazil.

Plus, the evening wasn’t a total wash, at least on the home front. Before the contest, Sporting and Kansas governor Sam Brownback joined local officials to announce plans to build a U.S. Soccer National Training Center — a potential home for the U.S. Men’s National Team, the Stars & Stripes, last month’s World Cup darlings — just up the road from Sporting Park.

The center is earmarked to include a state-of-the-art indoor facility with a practice field, eight professional-size fields, eight youth fields, a sports science institute and a full-service hotel with 125 rooms. The complex will host U.S. National Team training camps as well as coaching clinics and other soccer-related events, providing an estimated impact of more than $1 billion over the next three decades. Construction is slated to start in the fall.

Which means greater Kansas City isn’t just the metaphorical or geographic center of soccer in the United States anymore — the term applies quite literally as well.

"It just continues to show that we have big plans," Vermes said. "And the organization continues to keep moving forward with the state in trying to continue to grow our organization from a facilities perspective. With U.S. Soccer and their interest in doing this and being part of it, I think it’s really starting to demonstrate to everyone else that Kansas City really, truly is the soccer capital of this country."

Long term? Win. Massive win. Short term?

I just

I just hope

I just hope we

I just hope we don’t

I just hope we don’t get

I just hope we don’t get hurt

I just hope we don’t get hurt

"Our biggest thing is that we wanted to get out of here unscathed," Vermes said. "So from that perspective, everybody got out of there, no injuries, so that was great."

Their Champs got a shield. Our Champs got a trophy to defend.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.