KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Wizards President Robb Heineman is thinking big-picture.
First came the ground breaking on Kansas City’s new soccer-specific stadium in January. Then came the boisterous World Cup watch party that packed the Power and Light district with more than 12,000 soccer fans to watch the United States take on Ghana in the round of 16.
Now, Heineman and the Wizards are busy preparing for this Sunday’s marquee exhibition match against Manchester United at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I think this is one of a series of events here that are staking claim that Kansas City truly is a soccer town,” Heineman said. “The things we are trying to do here aren’t small minded in nature.”
And while Manchester United’s visit to Kansas City may represent a huge victory for the Wizards and soccer in Kansas City, Heineman has his eye on an even bigger prize: the World Cup.
Kansas City is one of 18 cities still in the running to host potential World Cup matches in the event the US is awarded the world’s marquee sporting event in 2018 or 2022, with Arrowhead the proposed venue.
“Kansas City, I believe, is as appropriate as anywhere in the Unites States to host the World Cup,” Heineman said. “I think Arrowhead, having gone through the renovation that it has just gone through, will serve as a perfect venue. I think Sunil Gulati and the people at US Soccer are starting to notice that.”
Sunday’s exhibition match could go a long way toward convincing USSF officials to consider Kansas City as a legitimate World Cup host. Ticket sales have been brisk, reaching 40,000 in late June, and are still climbing, especially since the team announced select upper level seats are now priced at only $20.
Philadelphia announced a crowd of 44,213 for its match against the Red Devils on Wednesday while 39,139 fans attended another exhibition against Scottish giants Celtic in Toronto last weekend. Manchester United will play one more game after coming to Kansas City, taking on the MLS All-Stars in Houston on July 28.
“I’m hopeful that we are going to have the largest crowd on the tour,” Heineman said, something that appears to be a realistic goal.
Heineman expects the crowd, which will be largest ever in Kansas City and mid-America for a soccer match, to fully enjoy the opportunity to be exposed to one of the world’s premier sporting institutions in Man. United. But he also stressed that the Wizards have a prime opportunity to showcase their own abilities in front of an audience that may not normally have attended the team’s games.
“I hope we’re able to demonstrate our style of play and the athleticism we have on our team,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we try to push the game a bit. I know that’s stating quite a lot when you are playing Manchester United, but I’m hopeful that we do try to play the way that we play and people have an appreciation for the types of athletes that we have in Major League Soccer.”
Judging by the narrow 1-0 defeat suffered by the Union on Wednesday night and the gap in fitness between the two sides, the Wizards certainly have a fighting chance even if they are the clear underdogs.
But no matter the result against United, the most important thing to Heineman is the message being sent to US Soccer and the rest of the nation about the city and organization's dedication to growing the beautiful game in the Midwest.
“This match speaks volumes for the momentum we have in Kansas City,” Heineman said.