Victory Project Honoree Jorge Mendez inspires Sporting KC to Leagues Cup win

Jorge Mendez & Alan Pulido

Sporting Kansas City’s 1-0 win over Chivas Guadalajara on Monday had a distinctly special feel to it.

In the stands, an electric atmosphere at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park featured boisterous fan bases of both clubs. On the pitch, Sporting delivered one of its best performances of the season to sink the current first-place team in Liga MX and advance to the Leagues Cup Round of 32.

And in the Victory Suite, perched atop the northwest corner of the stadium, Sporting had the privilege of welcoming an 18-year-old soccer standout who knows a thing or two about comebacks.

Jorge Mendez, an 18-year-old from Carthage, Missouri, who will begin his collegiate soccer career this fall at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, was recognized as the newest Victory Project honoree on Monday night, continuing a decade-long tradition in which Sporting hosts a child or teenager battling serious illness at each home match.

For Mendez, the unforgettable occasion was the latest upward step in his inspirational story. Less than five months ago, the aspiring high school soccer player underwent a kidney transplant at Children's Mercy Hospital to treat a rare form of kidney disease (MPGN) he was diagnosed with at age 6. The successful operation took place on March 13 and forced him to temporarily halt his pursuit of one day playing soccer collegiately and overseas.

A few days after the surgery, Mendez received a pleasant pick-me-up: a video message from Sporting Kansas City players Roger Espinoza, Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell, followed by a phone call from Espinoza. He might not have realized it then, but it would not be the first time that Mendez crossed paths with the Sporting stars he had cheered on for years.

On March 25, as Mendez continued his recovery at Children's Mercy, he used REX the Robot to enjoy the sights and sounds of Sporting’s home game against Seattle Sounders FC. As Mendez watched on virtually, his family—including parents Jorge Sr. and Erminia as well as siblings Jackson, Leo and Eymi—attended the match in person Children’s Mercy Park.

In the weeks and months that followed, Mendez made tremendous strides rehabbing and regained the strength he needed to return to the soccer field. He also achieved one of his long-held goals by signing to play college soccer at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, just a 45-minute drive from his hometown of Carthage.

Jorge Mendez tunnel

Then another amazing opportunity presented itself. On July 29, barely four months after Mendez watched his favorite MLS team compete from his hospital room at Children's Mercy, he was welcomed to Sporting KC training at Compass Minerals National Performance Center. The entire team paraded Mendez in style, giving him the famous “tunnel” treatment to celebrate his improved health and freshly minted college soccer journey. In addition to receiving a signed jersey from the team, Mendez met each player and toured Sporting’s world-class training facility.

Two days later, it was matchday as Sporting hosted Chivas in a must-win Leagues Cup encounter. The good guys promptly took care of business on the field, prevailing 1-0 on Russell’s excellent first-half strike. After the match, Mendez went fieldside to reconnect with the goal scorer and a several other Sporting players as the cherry on top of a perfect late-summer evening.

In many ways, it was a full-circle moment for Mendez and his family. Through the ups and downs of his illness, his love of soccer and support of Sporting KC remained a constant. And after following the team from afar for as long as he could remember—including a virtual experience watching from Children's Mercy Hospital in March—Mendez was right there on the pitch with Russell to celebrate a win that seemed extra sweet.

For Mendez, it was a life-changing victory several months in the making.

Jorge Mendez & Johnny Russell