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Kansas City represents 'perfect story of the growth of soccer in this country'

Daniel Salloi Arrowhead Tifo
Posted at 5:44 PM, Apr 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-10 18:44:13-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes joined the then-Kansas City Wizards via trade in March 2000 and hasn’t left.

He’s been at the heart of the sport’s meteoric rise in the Kansas City region during the last quarter-century, growth not even he could have predicted 24 years ago.

Asked if the idea Kansas City could serve as a FIFA World Cup host seemed conceivable when he joined the Wizards from the Colorado Rapids, Vermes didn’t sugarcoat it: “No, no chance. No chance — not, and look all due respect, not here. When I came here in 2000, there's no way I would ever think that,” he said.

Yet, here we are on the cusp of an incredible few years of soccer in Kansas City, which has dubbed itself the Soccer Capital of America.

“The growth of soccer here in Kansas City's just a perfect story of the growth of soccer in this country, and it's still only the beginning, which is super exciting for sure,” JT Batson, the CEO and secretary general for the U.S. Soccer Federation, said.

Kansas City will host six World Cup games — including two knockout games, culminating with the last quarterfinal match July 11, 2026, at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

“What an unbelievable progression for us to be now, one of the host venues and to get six games,” Vermes said. “It's just — it's unreal and I know we'll do right by it. The best thing I can say is that, even if you're not a fan of soccer, you've got to participate in one of the games because it will be something that you will never forget.”

But the World Cup isn’t the only time the international soccer spotlight will settle on Kansas City in the coming years.

It all starts Saturday with Inter Miami and living legend Lionel Messi are set to square off with Sporting KC at Arrowhead, the first soccer game at Arrowhead since it was picked as a World Cup venue in June 2022.

The U.S. Men’s National Team will play Uruguay in a group-stage game July 1 as part of Copa America 2024, which is the championship for all of the Americas.

Sporting KC’s home grounds, Children’s Mercy Park, also will host a Copa America game between Canada and Peru this summer.

“Part of the reason that I think we've attracted these matches is that we're really a soccer city,” Joe Reardon, the president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said. “There wasn't spin when FIFA came to town, we didn't have to do that.”

Kansas City also will be in the mix to host games during the 2025 Club World Cup and the 2027 Women’s World Cup, if the joint U.S./Mexico bid is selected to host next month in Bangkok, in addition to some friendlies that may be staged in town ahead of 2026.

There are limited tickets still available for the Sporting KC/Inter Miami match, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Arrowhead. Parking is $50 and must be purchased in advance.