Cliff Illig and Peter Vermes - Sporting KC ownership

What is Sporting Kansas City’s long-term blueprint for success in Major League Soccer?  How does Peter Vermes go about building his senior team from the bottom up? What is the key to the sustained growth of soccer in the United States, and by the time 2026 rolls around, will Kansas City be hosting matches at the FIFA World Cup?

These were among the pertinent topics discussed Friday afternoon when Sporting Kansas City co-owner Cliff Illig joined The Program host Soren Petro on Sports Radio 810 WHB ahead of Saturday’s road game against the New York Red Bulls.

Illig, who was part of the Sporting Club ownership team that purchased the Kansas City Wizards from the Hunt Family in 2006, reflected on the sport’s evolution over the last dozen years in Kansas City and throughout the country.

Paramount to this progress — from higher TV ratings and attendance to increased quality on the field — has been the development of world-class facilities such as Children’s Mercy Park and Pinnacle, the new training home of Sporting KC that opened earlier this year.

“Unless you walk around and tour it, I don’t think people know how ahead of the curve that place is,” Petro pointed out to Illig during the 30-minute interview.

Illig agreed, citing David Beckham’s visit to Pinnacle this spring when he and the ownership group of the Miami MLS expansion team toured the venue.

“Beckham was very gracious about what we’ve done at Pinnacle,” Illig said, relaying the fact that Beckham “had seen (all) of the complexes that had any significance in the world, and he said Pinnacle was certainly in the top three.”

“Pinnacle is just part of an overall strategy for Peter Vermes, who is the CEO of what we call our player enterprise,” Illig said. “Not only is he our technical director and the coach of the senior team, but he presides over the Swope Park Rangers and our Academy program. All of that fits together, and the big investment we’ve made in that fits together in what we call a supply chain for soccer talent in our region. We’re investing in talent at the grassroots level.”

Illig then discussed Vermes’ strategy behind offseason player signings such as Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell and Yohan Croizet. He emphasized that the senior team’s main objective is to continue to compete for major trophies and finish as high in the Supporters’ Shield standings as possible on a yearly basis.

Petro also asked Illig about Kansas City’s prospects of becoming a host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, when 16 stadiums across the U.S., Canada and Mexico are selected to host matches. Kansas City’s proposed venue is Arrowhead Stadium, and FIFA is expected to select its host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in 2020.

“I think Kansas City is punching well above its weight being the 33rd largest market in the country,” Illig said. “We’ve got a strong case with the Hunt Family’s commitment to soccer and management of Arrowhead Stadium, plus what we’ve got with Pinnacle. I think we’ve got a very high probability of hosting, and when I say ‘hosting,’ we’d love to host some games in Kansas City.

“That’ll depend on a lot of things — how we’re doing with our airport, how we can accommodate fans at a world-class fan fest, and others. We will also have to convince people that we can host the world in Kansas City. We should be able to get two to four teams to hold their base camp in Kansas City because of the training facilities we have. We’d love to host some friendlies in advance of the World Cup.

“Ultimately when FIFA decides in 2020 who the host cities will be, I think we will have put together a very, very strong case that Kansas City deserves consideration.”

Listen to the full podcast below.