KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The U.S. soccer scene lost one of its greatest ambassadors when Grant Wahl died Dec. 10 while covering the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
“I could not believe it,” Sporting Kansas City Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said. “Honestly, I was devastated. I was actually in Florida when it happened, and I couldn’t believe it. At first, I thought it was a mistake.”
It was, of course, not a mistake.
Wahl, 48, had suffered an ascending aortic aneurysm and collapsed during the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal. The Mission native Shawnee Mission East graduate had established himself as the nation’s foremost soccer journalist with Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and later his own Substack newsletter.
Across Major League Soccer, clubs reserved a seat in the press box in remembrance of Wahl as the 2023 season kicked off in late February.
For Grant.— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) February 28, 2023
We join the @MLS and its clubs in honoring Grant Wahl with a reserved seat in our press box tonight 💚 pic.twitter.com/DCGZSZbYlh
But Sporting KC will go even further in honoring Wahl before Saturday’s home opener against the LA Galaxy at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park.
Wahl’s name will be added to the Sporting Local Legends wall on a patio outside the Budweiser Brew House.
“We’re going to honor him,” Sporting KC CEO Jake Reid confirmed Tuesday during the club’s media day. “His name will go up on the wall in our Members Club. We’ve got a cool pregame deal we’ll do. ... It will be an emotional day, but we’re excited for the family to honor him.”
Wahl’s brother, Eric Wahl, will represent the family as Sporting KC presents a jersey in Wahl’s memory on field before the game.
Proud to say I'll be in our hometown Saturday, 3/11, @ CM Park for the Sporting Kansas City home opener as Grant is honored in their Local Legends initiative. No place I'd rather be. So much love for you, Kansas City. Xoxo— Eric Wahl (@ziplamak) March 5, 2023
“I told Robo (Chief Communications Officer Rob Thomson) this, because I’m sure it was his idea, that it’s a really, really great thing that you’re doing and kudos to you for coming up with it,” Vermes said. “I really think it’s tremendous. I know he’s (Wahl) a Kansas City guy; he’s from here. I really think it’s an awesome thing.”
Sporting KC also will leave a seat open with a tribute to Wahl in the press box.
“Obviously, I’ve talked to him I don’t know how many times over the years, — class individual, 100% percent class, always incredibly professional, knew his stuff,” Vermes said.
Reid and Vermes both lauded Wahl for his role in growing the beautiful game in the U.S. with his coverage.
“I think that he was a little bit of a pitbull with whoever he was working for at the time to push the agenda of soccer,” Vermes said. “I thought he was really good at that, but he did it — again, really a class guy and very professional. ... Guys like him helped propel the sport.”
Wahl’s singular drive to bring stories about soccer to the U.S. audience is another reason Sporting KC felt compelled to honor Wahl with a place on the Local Legends wall.
“His contribution to our sport and what he’s meant just overall to the industry, it speaks for itself when you look at his track record,” Reid said.
Wahl was a champion of FIFA awarding games to Kansas City for its next men’s soccer World Cup, which will take place in North America in 2026.
“We’re excited,” Reid said. “It’s crazy to think that, after the World Cup he passed while covering, the next one will be in Kansas City, having games.”
Sporting KC kicked off the Local Legends initiative in 2017.