From Way Downtown: MLS not bad fit at the CAB
Until recently I had never in my life watched a Major League Soccer match. Not even on television.
Sure, I've covered countless collegiate and prep soccer matches through the years and watched a fair share of World Cup contests, but MLS just never appeared on the sporting radar for me.
That changed earlier this year when I heard that Kansas City's MLS club, the Wizards, was playing its home matches at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of the T-Bones minor league baseball team.
Not only was there the instant curiosity of how the soccer pitch would fit on the baseball diamond but also the knowledge that the answer was roughly 20 minutes east on U.S. Highway 24-40.
So about two weeks ago I headed out to the CAB to watch the Wizards take on the New York Red Bulls. (Hey, who needs team sponsors when you can shill with your team name? Clearly the Wizards missed out by not calling themselves the KC Masterpiece. Cha-ching!)
The drive from Tonganoxie to CommunityAmerica was so easy I could have done it in my sleep (not recommended), and when I arrived I found free parking adjacent to the stadium about 30 minutes before the game. Not bad.
And it wasn't like the place was a ghost town. Tailgaters peppered the lot and steady streams of fans in blue Wizards garb, some toting flags and scarves as well, became increasingly prevalent.
Pretty impressive for a team and league I've blatantly ignored since its conception in 1996.
Upon entering through the CAB gates I, for some reason, was surprised that the soccer pitch, indeed, did fit on the baseball field. One goal line ran parallel to where the left field line would be if the T-Bones were playing and the opposite goal line ran right next to the right-field wall. If it weren't for the pitching mound still visible out of bounds there was little proof that a baseball team called the stadium home. Even the home-plate dirt was covered with a giant plastic Wizards jersey.
Still, there were other signs that baseball was the homeowner here. Vendors offered kettle corn, snow cones and cotton candy. Apparently it was enough to confuse Wizards goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who was wearing a baseball cap ... I mean soccer cap ... I mean futbol cap.
After finding my seats, my eyes immediately were drawn to three parts of the stadium.
First, there was the makeshift billboard behind the team benches featuring KC's Argentine forward Claudio Lopez. Don't remember seeing that at a T-Bones game.
Then there were two intriguing seating sections - one behind a goal in the stadium seats that was filled with those jerseys, flags and scarves I spotted earlier and another on the opposite side of the pitch where fans were lounging on blankets and towels on a hill in the July evening sun.
Turns out the uberfan section is called "The Cauldron." It's where die-hard Wizards fans gather to chant, sing, bang on drums and whimsically throw crepe paper streamers onto the field.
The more casual hillside seats are dubbed the "Grass Bern." And at $20 and $15, respectively, the "Cauldron" and "Bern" seats not only are the coolest seats in the house, but also the cheapest.
The best part, though, was the soccer. Not shabby at all. Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad, selected to his fifth MLS All-Star squad, got the 8,773 fans into the game in the 11th minute with a goal on a header.
Thanks to another goal in the 47th minute by midfielder/defender Davy Arnaud, who led KC with 10 shot attempts, the Wizards scored more than one goal in an MLS match for the first time since April 5 against the Colorado Rapids (it turns out Kansas City also played in international friendly matches during that stretch as well as the U.S. Open Cup and New Mexico Cup. The Wizards scored multiple times in some of those contests).
It turned out to be a solid sporting evening. With my attention soon turning to the looming football season, I don't know whether I'll be back for another Wizards match this season. But if you're a sports fan - and remember, true fans don't dismiss certain sports just because they aren't mainstream in America - get down to the CAB, where baseball and soccer somehow collide.