Sporting Kansas City wanted to thank supporters for their historically strong away support – and guarantee a big traveling contingent for this week's US Open Cup final match against the Philadelphia Union.
So for about 800 fans making the trip, tickets to Wednesday night's final at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., were theirs for the asking.
The club bought a block of around 1,000 seats for their first-ever away Open Cup final, distributing about 200 to players for their families and friends. The rest went to fans on a first-come, first-served basis.
“I think it's a great gesture of support,” Sean Dane, a member of the board of the Cauldron supporters group, told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “Obviously, since OnGoal purchased Sporting Kansas City, the dedication to supporters and realizing the value of away support – for the team, the players, to know those people are there – I think that's huge.
“We've got, I think, 800 people who are going to invest several hundred dollars of their own money to fly to Philadelphia. It is a really nice sentiment from the team to understand that.”
That support has run both ways, with fans packing Sporting Park on a match-in, match-out basis since the club rebranded and moved into its new home in 2011. Sporting have seen 68 consecutive sellouts at home in MLS play, and Kansas City's 1-0 win over Saint Louis FC earlier this year set a record for the largest crowd ever in the Open Cup's fourth round.
“If the fans didn't show up, the owners wouldn't have much motivation to work with us,” Dane said. “Certainly that relationship is double-sided.”
Triple-sided, perhaps: Sporting's players also benefit from the good relations between front office and the supporters, center back and captain Matt Besler told reporters during a conference call on Monday.
“That relationship is special, and it means a lot to us as players because we feel like it doesn't happen like that at every club,” Besler said. “We're all fortunate that it does at Sporting Kansas City, and we all feel the effects of it. When we go on the road and we see so many traveling supporters, it does have an effect on how we play and it does give us an extra boost. We can feel the support of our fans no matter where we play.
“There's been a buildup to this game, and we know there are going to be traveling fans as well, and we want to make sure we do everything we can to win the Cup for us and the club and also for the fans.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.