Inaugural Match - April 13, 1996 - Kansas City Wiz

25th Season Rewind: Part IV in series turns back the clock as MLS era began in KC

Sporting KC celebrates the club's 25th season this year as one of 10 original teams when Major League Soccer kicked off in April 1996. SportingKC.com is looking back at 25 moments that led up to our inaugural match in a seven-part special series: Part I, Part II and Part III.


June 30, 1995

Major League Soccer was coming to Kansas City.

Lamar Hunt was invested in operating the franchise. The team would play at Arrowhead Stadium. And more than 4,000 fans had placed deposits for season tickets.

With 40 weeks until Major League Soccer’s first match, that was the state of affairs when Tim Latta became the club’s first hire and new general manager on June 30, 1995.

Tasked with overseeing the club’s business operations – marketing, ticket sales, personnel, etc. – Latta, 35, arrived after more than a decade in the San Diego Sockers organization, having served as GM from September 1992 to February 1995 while also serving on the Continental Indoor Soccer League's Board of Governors.

"To be on the ground floor of a new team and league is a unique and rare opportunity, especially with the rising status of soccer in this country," Latta said. “We're not just starting a team but starting a team from scratch and a league from scratch.”

“Tim's strongest attribute is that he's very dedicated,'' said Randy Bernstein, the Sockers previous general manager and at the time an MLS senior vice president. “Nobody is going to outwork him. He's the first one in the office and the last one to leave. He has a tremendous understanding of all aspects of an organization.”

His first task, forming a front office, was two fold: hiring a staff and finding a place for them to work.

Temporarily housed in the Chiefs’ offices at Arrowhead Stadium, Latta secured a lease for the club to move into the ground floor of the SoHo building in the Garment District at 706 Broadway in downtown Kansas City in November 1995.

Latta first reported to Tim Connolly, the Chiefs executive who had moved into a position with Hunt Sports Properties before leaving for a new job in Chicago (and returned again in 1996 to help oversee operations for Hunt’s two MLS franchises), then later reported to Hunt directly in the year-long absence of Connolly.

“Everyone I talked to said to work for Lamar Hunt would be an honor and a privilege. I couldn't pass that up,” Latta said. “To be involved with a league at this level is the opportunity of a lifetime."

In the months ahead, Latta would fill the front office with the team's original staff of associates in preparation for the inaugural season. Many are listed below in recognition of their contributions to the club:

  • Public Relations: Jim Moorhouse
  • Director of Ticket Sales: Kevin Spudic
  • Account Executives: Chris Cissell, Lori Noah, Rusty John & Ron Stern
  • Senior Account Executive: Steve Bartel
  • Director of Corporate Sales and Marketing: Gregg Hibbeler
  • Marketing Assistant: John Denniston
  • Ticket Manager: Dan Faggard
  • Executive Assistant: Jacqui Winfrey
  • TV Commentator: Randy Hahn
  • Finance Manager: Evelyn Bray
  • Operations Assistant: Shellie Hardisty
  • Office Assistant: Martie Harter
  • Photographer: Scott Indermaur
  • Internet Services Coordinator: Sam Pierron
  • Gameday Statistician: Mike McFarland

The club’s most important hire – a head coach – was also in the works.

October 11, 1995

“I came to Kansas City with a short list of coaching candidates – one,” Latta said. “For the task of establishing Major League Soccer and making Kansas City the flagship franchise in the league, there was no other choice than Ron Newman.''

Despite being the last team announced by Major League Soccer, Kansas City was the first team to name a head coach when Newman was introduced on Oct. 11, 1995.

Newman, 61, had compiled over 700 victories as a head coach in American soccer since 1969, most notably winning 10 indoor championships during a 14-year tenure as head coach of the San Diego Sockers from 1980-1994.

He’d also won a pair of championships with the Dallas Tornado in 1971 and a trophy with the Los Angeles Skyhawks in 1976, giving him a stunning 13 total titles on a resume that also included induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1992.

“About two years ago, I heard I was on the shortlist for the MLS and I was arranging my contract with the Sockers at the time. When MLS delayed a year, I went to Phoenix,” said Newman, who hadn’t coached an outdoor team since 1984. “I was a little surprised that I had a call from Lamar Hunt. He thought it was a good idea to bring me back to outdoor coaching."

“We think we're awfully fortunate to have one of the real spellbinding ambassadors of the game in Ron Newman,” Hunt said. “You would have to search hard in any sport to find anybody with the experience that Ron has and how he has produced championships."

"Ron Newman is one of the most experienced coaches in America," said MLS Chairman Alan Rothenberg. "His record of success with every team he has coached has been outstanding and he has a personality which will energize the Kansas City soccer community. With his dedication to soccer in this country, it is only appropriate that he is the first head coach hired by Major League Soccer."

A Fareham, England native, Newman was a veteran outdoor player of 13 seasons in England – featuring for Crystal Palace, Portsmouth, Gillingham and Leyton Orient  – before moving to the U.S. in 1967 to sign with the Atlanta Chiefs for their maiden season in the National Professional Soccer League.

           

His next stop united him with Hunt in Dallas for the beginning of an illustrious 30-year coaching career.

“Teaming up with the Hunts again was a big factor for me," Newman said. "It is very exciting to think that I won my first game as a coach with Lamar and now I've made the complete circle. I'm thrilled to have a chance to return to my roots."

     Ron Newman Coaching Resume
     1968: Player and assistant coach for Dallas Tornado
     1969-1975: Player and head coach for Dallas Tornado
     1976: Head coach of LA Skyhawks
     1977-1979: Head coach of Fort Lauderdale Strikers
     1980: Head coach of Miami Americans
     1980-1994: Head coach of San Diego Sockers
     1995: Head coach of Arizona Sandsharks
     1996-1999: Head coach of Kansas City Wizards

“Soccer is my life. I live and breathe it every minute of every hour of every day. It’s all I talk about,” Newman said. “I guess I’m probably quite a bore.”

Quite the opposite, in fact. Newman, a goldmine of quotes with a witty sense of humor, would become known as “the league’s most colorful figure.”

“Ron Newman, without any doubt, was the Bill Veeck or maybe it was the Casey Stengel of pro soccer, a mischievous spirit who understood that if soccer was to be popular in the USA, it had to be entertaining too,” Soccer America wrote.

“The question no longer is what Ron Newman will do to promote soccer. It is what hasn’t Ron Newman done to promote soccer?” wrote the Miami News.

As an indoor coach, he infamously turned in a lineup sheet filled with Disney characters for a match held on April 1.

In 1978, with his Fort Lauderdale Strikers off to an 0-3 start, Newman arrived to Lockhart Stadium in a hearse and was wheeled to midfield on a stretcher covered like a corpse before bursting off and yelling into a microphone: “We’re not dead yet!”

“But the mic didn’t work,” Newman said. “It was the only bloody thing that was dead.”

In February 1990, he challenged the U.S. MNT to play a group of indoor all-stars. The winning team would represent the United States at the 1990 World Cup.

He then interviewed for the U.S. MNT job a year later.

And while amassing the most wins of any team in the first two seasons of Major League Soccer, he produced one of the more memorable disciplinary decisions after being ejected from the sidelines of Ohio Stadium on July 4, 1997, five days before coaching the Western Conference in the MLS All-Star Game.

MLS fined Kansas City coach Ron Newman $1,500 for his physical confrontation with Crew midfielder Marcelo Carrera, his attempts to provoke a fight with several Columbus players and his foul language.

As he was escorted off the field by two officers, Newman adjusted his tie, smiled for the broadcast camera and held up his fingers to indicate the scoreline: Kansas City 2, Columbus 1.

Newman would step down as manager on April 14, 1999, nearly three years to the day after Kansas City’s inaugural match, following the team’s 0-4 start that season.

“Certainly it hurt at the time, like I’d suddenly lost my magic of winning,” said Newman, who remained in the Kansas City area until 2005 and passed away in 2018. “I really wanted to win a championship here, or get close to one, before I retire.”

After KC claimed the club’s first MLS Cup the following season, Newman received a note in the mail. It was postmarked from Lamar Hunt with a memorable message.

“Lamar Hunt sent us a nice letter," Newman said in Dec. 2000, "saying we were part of the championship.”

Make it 14 championships for the man advertised as America’s winningest coach.

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