President Obama honors Sporting KC at White House

Sporting Kansas City was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday in a ceremony celebrating the team’s 2013 MLS Cup championship. Sporting Kansas City lifted the Philip F. Anschutz trophy on Dec. 7, 2013 at Sporting Park after prevailing in penalty kick shootout over Real Salt Lake.

Sporting Kansas City was represented on Wednesday by players from the 2013 championship team, including captain Jimmy Nielsen who retired two days after MLS Cup, as well as members of the technical staff, front office and Sporting Club ownership group. The ceremony was held in the East Room, the largest room in the White House and the site of many historic events over the last 200 years.

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Wednesday’s visit continued the tradition begun by President Obama of honoring sports teams for their efforts to give back to their communities. Following the team’s tour upon arrival, President Obama welcomed Sporting Kansas City to the White House and addressed those in attendance with the following remarks:

Welcome to the White House. Give it up to the MLS champ Sporting Kansas City. Now, my Press Secretary Josh Earnest is from Kansas City. He has made the observation that the Royals are advancing, that the Chiefs made the Patriots look kind of bad on Monday night, and so clearly something is going on in Kansas City. But apparently, these are the guys that got it all started, got the ball rolling. It’s a pretty good day to be from Kansas City. You guys are feeling kind of cocky right now.

We’ve got some members of Congress who are here today from Kansas City who obviously love sports—it’s a great sports town. We’ve got Sporting KC’s owners and family (with us). I want to congratulate their manager Peter Vermes for becoming the first person in MLS history to win titles both as a player and a coach in the same organization.

That is not the only history that Sporting Kansas City made this season. After beating New England and Houston in the playoffs to win the Eastern Conference, they were rewarded with the coldest title game ever played in Major League Soccer. When the game started, the temperature was just 20 degrees; by the end, it was just 10 degrees. That was after 120 minutes of soccer and the longest penalty shootout—10 rounds—in MLS Cup history. But finally, Aurelien Collin kicked the winning penalty shot and KC raised their second Cup.

The thing about Kansas City fans is that, even in below-freezing temperatures, the seats were filled. Sporting Park was packed. It is a city that loves soccer. They have sold out 51 straight games, and in a section of seats called The Cauldron, thousands of fans come out to stand and chant all game long. This past summer, when Americans packed restaurants and stadiums and city parks during the World Cup, fans in Kansas City led the way. It seemed like 10 minutes couldn’t pass without seeing live shots of thousands of fans crowding the Power and Light District and cheering on Team USA. I know they cheered extra hard for Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, who represented Sporting KC and their country in Brazil. So as soccer continues to grow here in the United States, it does so in large part because of the great example of dedicated fans in Kansas City. So congratulations to all of you.

In the same way that Kansas City has embraced its soccer team, the soccer team has embraced the city. Aurelien has a fashion line and clothing shop in Kansas City…I’m going to look like him after I get out of office. He looks pretty sharp. You’ve got Seth Sinovic, assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin and (former) goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen who all made their debuts in the Kansas City Ballet last year. That’s impressive. They got to bring that trophy with them on stage to distract the audience from their limited ballet skills. And through The Victory Project, Sporting KC works to raise money for kids in the region with cancer, special needs and life-threatening medical conditions through the Make A Wish Foundation. They’ve opened new practice fields and they're hosting soccer clinics all over Missouri and Kansas. This is an organization that knows that being a champion isn’t just about what you do on the field. It’s also what you do off the field. I know that the entire city is very proud of you. We want to congratulate you, and I want to congratulate all the fans of Kansas City for the great job you do as well.

President Obama, the nation’s 44th president, was presented with a framed No. 44 Sporting Kansas City jersey and posed for a group photo with the Philip F. Anschutz trophy. Additionally, Sporting Kansas City conducted a one-hour soccer clinic for children from DC Scores on the South Lawn in support of President Obama’s United We Serve campaign and as a way of highlighting the club’s commitment to programs for underserved and at-risk children through The Victory Project.

"Fourteen years ago, as (President Obama) stated earlier, I won MLS Cup with the team as a player. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to come to the White House. So I figured I had to come back and coach to win it so that I could get here—and here I am. I’m pretty excited about that," Vermes said. "What I’d like to say is, from the entire organization, thank you very much for hosting us. We greatly appreciate it. Obviously it’s an incredible honor for all of us, and more importantly, hopefully we can do it again and see you a year from now."

Sporting Kansas City will remain in the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United at 7 p.m. CT on Friday at RFK Stadium. The match-up between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference will be nationally broadcast on NBCSN and the team will host watch parties at the Johnny’s Tavern locations in the KC Power & Light District and in Overland Park.