Sporting Legends unveiled to honor club icons
Sporting Legends, a new initiative paying tribute to club icons and providing a platform for inductees to re-engage with the local soccer community, was unveiled on Friday. Sporting Kansas City and Sporting Club selected Predrag "Preki" Radosavljevic, Tony Meola and Bob Gansler as members of the inaugural class to recognize the roles each of these three individuals within the organization played in the growth of soccer in Kansas City.
Preki starred for nine seasons in Kansas City during his illustrious 26-year playing career, collecting MLS MVP honors twice (1997, 2003), MLS All-Star selection in eight consecutive years (1996-2003) and MLS Best XI recognition on four occasions (1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003). His 112 assists rank fourth all-time in Major League Soccer history and he is Sporting Kansas City's all-time leader in goals (71) and assists (98).
Preki made 28 appearances for the U.S. Men's National Team, including two games played at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010.
"I am really humbled with the induction," Preki said. "I have a great memory about this place. This place will always have a specialplace in my heart. To see where the sport is today and how far Sporting KC has come, it's an incredibly pleasing thing to see."
Meola spent six seasons in Kansas City from 1999 to 2004 and captured MLS MVP, MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, MLS Best XI and MLS Cup MVP in the team's historic 2000 season. In leading the team to the Supporters' Shield, Meola recorded a 681-minute shutout streak and 16 shutouts; both of which remain MLS all-time records. The five-time MLS All-Star is Sporting Kansas City's all-time leader with 507 saves and ranks fourth on Major League Soccer's all-time chart in the category (1,136).
Meola made 100 appearances for the U.S. Men's National Team, second most by a goalkeeper, and started for the United States at the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups. He was voted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in2012.
"It's an honor to be inducted, especially to be in the first class with the people that I'm going in with," Meola said. "I made no secret about how much I loved playing here. The fans were great. We won two championships while I was here. It's something that throughout my career I loved and I'll never forget for the rest of my life."
Preki and Meola were both named to the MLS All-Time Best XI in 2005 as part of the League's 10th anniversary. The former teammates -- who helped Kansas City reach MLS Cup in 2000 and 2004, as well as the 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship - were in attendance at the 2013 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Sporting Park on Wednesday, taking part in the pre-game trophy presentation and watching the match from the Victory Suite.
On Thursday, Preki and Meola participated in a futsal mini-clinic at the brand new Wyandotte High School futsal courts with an exclusive group of Sporting Club Network members. Tonight, both Legends will make a special appearance at Children's Mercy Hospital to support The Victory Project by visiting with children before attending the Sporting KC Academy Affiliate All-Star Game at the Sporting Club Training Center in Swope Park for a Q&A with players and coaches.
Both Legends will then be recognized on field at halftime of Saturday's match between Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls at Sporting Park. Immediately following the match, Preki and Meola will visit the Boulevard Members Club for interaction with supporters.
Gansler is the club's longest-serving head coach in team history, managing the then-Kansas City Wizards for eight seasons from 1999-2006. His 86 career regular season wins rank seventh most in MLS history among all-time coaches and he led KC to five straight playoff appearances from 2000-2004. In 2000, Gansler was named MLS Coach of the Year for his role in the team's MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield trophies and he went on to secure theLamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy in 2004.
Gansler served as the U.S. Men's National Team head coach at the 1990 FIFA World Cup, having qualified the United States for the country's first World Cup in 40 years, and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011. He will be formally recognized as a Sporting Legend in conjunction with the U.S. Men's National Team's FIFA World Cup Qualifier at Sporting Park on Oct. 11.
"I'm extremely honored to be included in the first class," Gansler said. "I'm looking forward to coming to KansasCity with my wife. We had eight great years there. It's a good feeling whenpeople think that you have made some sort of contribution in one way or another; that you left the place looking a little better and people feeling a little better than when you came."
Beginning in 2014, one new Legend will be inducted annually. For more information, visit SportingKC.com/SportingLegends.