Sporting Kansas City celebrates the club's 25th season this year as one of 10 original teams when Major League Soccer kicked off in April 1996. For the next six days, SportingKC.com will look back at 25 moments that led up to our inaugural match, beginning with...
July 4, 1988
The roots of Major League Soccer, and therefore Sporting Kansas City as a charter member of MLS, date back to 6:21 a.m. CT on the Fourth of July in 1988 when FIFA Executive Vice President Harry Cavan announced:
“I declare on behalf of FIFA that the host country for the 1994 World Cup will be the United States of America.”
The decision, originally set for June 30 but pushed back on March 3, was reached by a vote of FIFA Executive Committee members at Movenpick Hotel in Regensdorf, Switzerland following the United States’ 22-minute presentation that included a taped message from President Ronald Reagan.
The 21-member FIFA body cast 10 votes for the U.S., seven votes for Morocco and two votes for Brazil, with FIFA President Joao Havelange and Abilio D’Almeida abstaining as Brazilian nationals.
At a moment in history when the United States was without a first division outdoor professional league after the North American Soccer League folded following its 1984 season, included in the United States’ 381-page bid book submitted by U.S. Soccer President Werner Fricker was the genesis of Major League Soccer: a pledge to put in place a new professional league.
Also included? Arrowhead Stadium as one of 18 proposed venues for the World Cup. And hopes were high back in KC – on the heels of hosting the NCAA Final Four in April 1988 and a May 1988 announcement that the Major Indoor Soccer League's national offices would be moving to Overland Park -- that the city would not only make the final cut, but might also attract the World Cup final.
“You hope to get three or four games, and I imagine we will get some early-round games,” said Chiefs Vice President Don Steadman. “But we’re going to push hard to get one of the premier games. We’d like to get the finals.”
Sound far fetched in hindsight? Consider that FIFA's technical inspection team, escorted by bid press director Jim Trecker, toured Arrowhead on April 13, 1988 and left with rave reviews.
“It (Arrowhead) is certainly one of the best stadiums in the world,” said Ernie Walker, secretary of the Scottish Football Association. “With some relatively minor adjustments, it would be perfect for soccer. You could play a World Cup final here, in fact.”
“We are very, very impressed,” Guido Tognoni, from Switzerland, said. “This is one of the most impressive sports complexes I’ve seen in the world, and I have been in many stadiums.”
Ultimately, Arrowhead was not one of the nine venues selected to host World Cup matches in 1994, however Kansas City groundskeeper George Toma -- with an endorsement from Pele -- played a pivotal role in bringing the World Cup to American soil.
"One of the best compliments I have ever received was from the great Brazilian star Pele, who played for the New York Cosmos," Toma writes in his autobiography. "Pele told me the (Kansas City Spurs) field at Municipal Stadium was the second-best pitch he had ever played on, right behind London's Wembley Stadium."
Toma, who oversaw the soccer fields used during the 1984 and 1996 Olympics, provided a demonstration for the FIFA delegation in KC on the ability to manicure a natural grass surface on top of artificial turf.
“I told the ground crew, ‘Let’s do the best job we can because this could be the determining factor on whether or not the United States gets the World Cup,’” Toma said.
Toma’s audition proved persuasive and he would be tasked with turf operations at Soldier Field in Chicago, site of the opening ceremonies, and the Silverdome outside Detroit, the first indoor stadium used in a World Cup.
- MEET THE SOD FATHER: The greatest groundskeeper in the history of sports
All these years later, Toma is still on the job. He has prepared the field for all 54 Super Bowls and celebrated his 91st birthday with a Chiefs victory in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.
Meanwhile, Arrowhead Stadium - which is once again in contention to host World Cup matches -- would play host to the U.S. Men's National Team in one of the most unusual exhibitions in American soccer history.
That story is next in our 25th season retrospective as SportingKC.com reflects on 25 moments that set the stage for Kansas City's MLS debut on April 13, 1996.