Sporting Kansas City's 2021 season will mark the club's 26th year in Major League Soccer. Kansas City was introduced as one of the 10 charter members of MLS on June 6, 1995. Four months later, the league unveiled the nicknames, logos and uniform designs for the franchises, including the Kansas City Wiz.
- Timeline: Notable dates in club history
In April 1996, the Wiz began play under Head Coach Ron Newman. Led by star midfielder Preki, who earned his first of four career MLS Best XI selections, the inaugural season ended with a elimination in the Western Conference finals. The team officially extended its name to “Wizards” following the 1996 season, ending the short, but memorable, life of the “Wiz” moniker.
In 1997, the re-christened Wizards finished 21-11 and atop the Western Conference, but surprisingly bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. Preki led MLS in scoring with 41 points and was named League MVP. He was joined on the MLS Best XI squad by Mark Chung and Richard Gough.
The 1998 and 1999 seasons were rough for Wizards fans, as the team missed the playoffs both years. During the 1999 season, Head Coach Ron Newman was replaced by former U.S. National Team Manager Bob Gansler.
The Wizards ushered in a new era before the 2000 season, as the team offices moved to Arrowhead Stadium. Also, adidas, the official outfitter of MLS, unveiled a shade of blue as the team’s primary color, which sat alongside white as the organization’s official colors.
The team’s roster underwent an overhaul in that off-season as well, including the acquisitions of defender Peter Vermes (now manager), midfielder Kerry Zavagnin (now an assistant coach) and Miklos Molnar, a proven goal scorer from Denmark. The Wizards got off to a 10-0-2 start and went on to win both the Supporters’ Shield (regular season champion) and the 2000 MLS Cup.
The route to MLS Cup included what most long-time Wizards fans would name as the most memorable match in club history, a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference final, followed by a 1-0 golden goal victory in the “mini-game” immediately following regulation that broke the overall series tie and sent the Wizards on to the Cup.
The players and technical staff were showered with individual accolades commensurate with the team’s success. Tony Meola was named MLS Cup MVP, League MVP, Goalkeeper of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year. Peter Vermes won MLS Defender of the Year, and Bob Gansler was named MLS Coach of the Year. Both Vermes and Meola were named to the MLS Best XI.
The next three seasons saw the team advance to the postseason, but no silverware was added to the trophy case. 2003 will be most remembered for Preki’s remarkable season at age 40 that garnered him his second league MVP award.
In 2004, the Wizards won another of U.S. Soccer’s most coveted trophies, claiming the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with an overtime win versus the Chicago Fire at Arrowhead with Mr. Hunt in attendance. The Wizards also returned to the MLS Cup final, where they fell 3-2 in dramatic fashion to D.C. United.
2005 was a season of change. Prior to the season, Lamar Hunt announced his intent to sell the team. Wizards fans, community leaders and corporate interests all mobilized to help keep the team in town, though rumors of relocation persisted.
Missing the playoffs on the last day of the season for a second consecutive year was a disappointment, but 2006 will not be remembered for events on the field. On August 31, 2006, the Wizards began a new era as OnGoal, LLC purchased the club from the Hunt Sports Group. New ownership brought about a change on the soccer side as well as the business side. Former Wizards great Peter Vermes was brought in as the Technical Director, and he hired Curt Onalfo as the Head Coach.
2007 marked a return to the playoffs. The organization’s new commitment to attack showed itself immediately, as the Wizards led the league in shots by a wide margin. After going through conference champ Chivas USA in the first round, a showdown in Houston ended 2-0 in favor of the Dynamo, who went on to win MLS Cup. OnGoal’s commitment to the Wizards and to Kansas City had its first physical manifestation in 2007, when a new, world-class training center opened in Swope Park.
2008 brought not only a change in the team’s uniforms, adding navy and yellow accents to a new primary shade of blue (Cobalt), but a much bigger change - a new stadium. CommunityAmerica Ballpark proved to be a successful home ground for the Wizards, with the team posting their second-best home record in club history in is inaugural season. Claudio Lopez also became the first Wizard signed under the MLS Designated Player rule; and the two-time World Cup veteran for Argentina went on to lead all MLS newcomers in scoring. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t top its playoff performance from the previous season, going out to eventual champion Columbus in the first round.
The 2009 season was something of a disappointment for the club, punctuated by the dismissal of Curt Onalfo as Head Coach in August. Technical Director Peter Vermes took over the head coaching responsibility, as the fourth permanent head coach in club history. In the draft, the Wizards went local, selecting Blue Valley West and Notre Dame defender Matt Besler in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft. Josh Wolff claimed top honors as the team’s leading scorer, notching 11 goals.
2010 began with much excitement as the club broke ground on a stadium site in Kansas City, Kansas and construction commenced on the team’s state-of-the-art, $180 million plus new ground. On the field, Kansas City would miss the postseason for a second straight season, marking the third time in club history to not qualify in back-to-back years. Vermes, in his first full season in charge, re-shaped the roster with several new international additions, including creative playmaker Ryan Smith, midfield engines Stephane Auvray and Craig Rocastle, and Danish goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. The club also drafted the reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner Teal Bunbury out of Akron in a youth movement that also included signing the team’s first Home Grown Player, 17-year-old goalkeeper Jon Kempin mid-season. For many fans, the year will be most remembered for the team’s historic 2-1 upset of Manchester United in front of 52,424 at Arrowhead Stadium, an all-time attendance record for a soccer match in KC.
Following the 2010 campaign, the team was officially re-branded as Sporting Kansas City at a major announcement that featured the unveiling of the team’s highest profile signing in 2010, Mexican icon Omar Bravo.
2011 marked the most significant change in the club’s history as Children's Mercy Park was completed, giving Sporting Kansas City their first true home for players and fans alike. In addition to the Designated Player signing of Bravo in the offseason, the club also brought in new faces from the market abroad who became key contributors such as Aurelien Collin and Julio Cesar. A ten-match road trip to start the season put Sporting Kansas City behind the eight ball in the Eastern Conference standings, but the opening of Children's Mercy Park brought about a dramatic turnaround that saw the club climb all the way to the top of the conference by the time the regular season had concluded. Matt Besler was recognized as an MLS All-Star for the first time in his career, while forward C.J. Sapong took the League by storm, scoring five goals and contributing five assists on his way to being named 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year.
As the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the MLS Cup Playoffs, Sporting advanced past the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids before falling 2-0 at home to the Houston Dynamo.
2012 saw Sporting Kansas City start the season with seven straight victories, setting the club's all-time record for longest regular season winning streak in regulation at nine games, dating back to 2011. The only other time the team had won seven consecutive regular season matches came in 1997 during the MLS shootout era. This marked only the second time in MLS history that a club had won seven consecutive matches in regulation to start a season.
Sporting Kansas City won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup prevailing 3-2 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation against Seattle Sounders FC. Sporting KC went on to finish the regular season atop the Eastern Conference before bowing out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals in a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo on aggregate scoring.
In 2013, Sporting Kansas City claimed the club's second MLS Cup championship after prevailing over Real Salt Lake in a penalty kick shootout at Children's Mercy Park. After finishing one point behind the New York Red Bulls in the Supporters' Shield race, Sporting KC lifted the Eastern Conference Championship trophy after victories over the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo. Aurelien Collin was named the MLS Cup 2013 MVP with his game-tying goal in regulation and the winning penalty kick in the shootout.
Sporting Kansas City also represented Major League Soccer in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League, finishing atop Group 2 with an unbeaten record in the group stage before falling to Mexico's Cruz Azul in the quarterfinal round.
Defending its MLS Cup title in 2014, the club advanced to the MLS Playoffs for a fourth consecutive year after finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference. Vermes' side led the Supporters' Shield race through mid-August, but a late-season dip in form culminated in a Knockout Round playoff defeat to the New York Red Bulls and elimination in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage. Forward Dom Dwyer set single-season club records with 22 MLS goals and 24 goals across all competitions, while defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi both represented the United States at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and signed long-term Designated Player contracts with the club through 2018.
Sporting Kansas City punctuated its 20th season by winning the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the club's third Open Cup title and its sixth major trophy overall, with a 7-6 penalty shootout victory over the Philadelphia Union after a 1-1 draw in regulation. Newcomers Krisztian Nemeth and Tim Melia played instrumental roles in the championship match, with the former scoring an equalizer in the 65th minute and the latter saving two penalty kicks in the decisive shootout. It was the club's third major trophy in four years.
Peter Vermes led the club to another postseason berth in 2015 and became Sporting Kansas City's all-time winningest coach. Nemeth became the club's first-ever MLS Goal of the Year winner for his stunning solo run and finish against the Portland Timbers on Oct. 3, while goalkeeper Tim Melia took home MLS Comeback Player of the Year honors in his sixth season (first with Sporting KC). Benny Feilhaber garnered Sporting KC MVP honors after recording a club-record 20 assists in all competitions while also landing an MLS MVP nomination.
Sporting Kansas City set a club record in 2016 with its sixth straight appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The team also reached 13 wins for a sixth straight regular season, becoming just the third franchise in league history to accomplish the feat. Dom Dwyer was named Sporting KC's team MVP, while Benny Feilhaber and Saad Abdul-Salaam took home Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards, respectively. Elsewhere, Matt Besler received MLS All-Star recognition for the fourth straight year, joining teammate Graham Zusi to represent the U.S. Men's National Team at Copa America Centenario, a prestigious international tournament played across the United States.
Vermes steered the club to further success in 2017 as Sporting Kansas City became the only American MLS club to win four major championships dating back to 2012. The newest addition to the trophy cabinet was the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title, secured on Sept. 20 when Sporting KC defeated the New York Red Bulls by a 2-1 scoreline at Children's Mercy Park. Led by standout performances from Melia and center back Ike Opara, Sporting KC conceded just 29 goals during the 2017 regular season campaign, eight fewer than any other team. At season's end, Melia and Opara received MLS Best XI honors and were named MLS Goalkeeper and MLS Defender of the Year, respectively. Key newcomers Ilie Sanchez and Gerso Fernandes helped pace the side to a record seventh straight appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, with Ilie leading the team in minutes played and Fernandes finishing atop the scoring chart with 10 goals in all competitions.
An excellent start to the 2018 campaign was punctuated on May 7 when Vermes signed a contract extension as Sporting KC's manager and technical director through 2023. The club enjoyed one of its best seasons ever, amassing 62 points and a club-record 65 goals en route to an 18-8-8 record and a first-place finish in the Western Conference. With Homegrown Player Daniel Salloi bagging a team-best 16 goals and Johnny Russell becoming just the fourth player in club history to record 10 goals and 10 assists in a single regular season, Sporting defeated rivals Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Semifinals before falling just short with a 3-2 aggregate loss to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Championship. Sporting nevertheless sparkled throughout 2018, stringing together an unprecedented offensive campaign and extending their club record with an eighth straight playoff appearance.
Sporting made club history in the early stages of 2019, advancing to the Concacaf Champions League Semifinals for the first time. Vermes' men thrashed Mexican side Toluca by a 5-0 aggregate scoreline in the Round of 16, marking the largest aggregate win by an MLS team over a Liga MX club. Sporting would fall to eventual champion CF Monterrey in the semifinals. In MLS competition, the club began brightly with wins over the Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact, but a mid-season dip saw Sporting drop below the playoff line. A fourth-round exit to Minnesota United FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was followed by an 11th-place finish in the Western Conference, drawing an end to Sporting's eight-year playoff streak—the fourth-longest such run in MLS history.
By 2020, Vermes had become the longest-tenured manager in MLS and built the longest tenure at a single club in league history. A momentous 2020 campaign featured high-profile additions such as Mexican striker Alan Pulido, Israeli midfielder Gadi Kinda, Croatian defender Roberto Puncec and forward Khiry Shelton, who returned to the club after spending 2019 in Germany. In a shortened 21-game season prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sporting finished in first place in the Western Conference with a 12-6-3 record and 1.86 points per game, the best clip in team history. This marked the fourth first-place conference finish under Vermes since 2011, with no other coach amassing more than two first-place finishes during that time. Sporting participated in two knockout tournaments, advancing to the quarterfinals of the historic MLS is Back Tournament in Walt Disney World and the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs as the top seed in the West. The 2020 campaign also saw numerous Homegrown Players make palpable impacts as the likes of Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, Felipe Hernandez, Cam Duke all contributed valuably.