Tag Archives: Kansas City Wizards

“On the Whole, I’d Rather be in Philadelphia”

Ivan Gazidis explaining to Peter Wilt at the 2003 draft that sometimes you just can't make a team take a free draft pick.

Ivan Gazidis explaining to Peter Wilt at the 2003 draft that sometimes you just can't make a team take a free draft pick.

The last couple weeks have been somewhat melancholy for me.  Each day I read stories out of Florida, then Philadelphia about the MLS combine and MLS and WPS drafts.   It is the most important and most fun time of the year for MLS player personnel people. The week starts with the MLS combine and concludes with the MLS Super Draft, WPS Draft and NSCAA Convention.

The MLS combine is equal parts scouting, reunion, winter vacation and Liar’s Club convention. That’s followed by a few days back home when teams download all the information they’ve gathered from a myriad of sources and create a game plan for draft day.

Then it’s off to the NSCAA Convention, which is the networking event of the year for the U.S. soccer community.  It brings together all of the sport’s stakeholders from every level of the sport.  At the NSCAA Convention, the draft’s game plan is massaged, adjusted and played out by coaches and GMs in mock drafts before the big day. You’re always trying to move up in the draft, find out what players other teams are interested in and positioning to get an edge in the season by acquiring a player, pick or allocation money for less than you give up.

The draft itself can get hectic when you have multiple picks in the same round and trade offers are coming and going.  Here are a few draft day anecdotes:

2003 MLS SuperDraft

In a column last month, I related a particularly hectic draft episode at the 2003 MLS SuperDraft in Kansas City that, despite two time outs (which are ALWAYS well received by the live audience), some serious hand wringing and pleading, still failed to produce a deal.  During the draft Fire Head Coach Dave Sarachan and I completed a conditional trade of Kelly Gray to Columbus,  but the condition was that we include a particular 2004 SuperDraft pick to the Crew that potentially could be owed to Kansas City as well if Josh Wolff reinjured his knee during the 2003 season.

When asked what he would like his epitaph to read, WC Fields reported said, "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." The NSCAA Covention in the City of Brotherly Love last week had Peter Wilt sharing that sentiment.

When asked what he would like his epitaph to read, WC Fields reported said, "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." The NSCAA Covention in the City of Brotherly Love last week had Peter Wilt sharing that sentiment.

Due to the potential double jeopardy, we needed Kansas City to approve our deal.  I offered Wizards GM Curt Johnson a FREE 3rd round draft pick to approve the trade and a poison pill 1st round draft pick for each of the next three seasons IF Chicago didn’t deliver a pick as good or better than required if Wolff reinjured his knee (I knew we could find a qualifying pick if needed, so the three 1st round picks would never have to be delivered).  Johnson inexplicably turned the offer down and during the two timeouts allotted Chicago and Columbus, I very publicly and impetuously implored Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis to intercede and find a way to approve the trade.  My emotional rant went for naught, but was captured on film and used on the cover of Andy Mead’s Emerald City Gazette’s March, 2003 issue.

2005 MLS SuperDraft

Chris Rolfe was a relatively unknown senior forward from the University of Dayton in 2005.  Chicago Fire Premier Head Coach Mike Matkovich brought Chris in to the PDL club in 2004 where he came onto the Fire’s radar.

He received an invitation to the MLS combine where I happened to overhear San Jose Earthquakes General Manager Alexi Lalas talking to Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear about wanting to draft Chris.

This Fire staff maneuvered to draft six players who later saw MLS action in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft including Chad Barrett, Chris Rolfe and Gonzalo Segares.

The Fire had the #35 and 36 picks overall in the third round.  San Jose had picks 30, 31 and 32.  Our staff was hoping Chris would drop to the end of that third round, but I was certain San Jose was going to take him with one of their three picks.  Dallas had picks 27, 28 and 29 as well as an interest in Fire goalkeeper Henry Ring, who we had decided was going to move on.  With little time to spare, we snapped up the #29 pick just ahead of the Quakes by giving Dallas our 2006 2nd r0und pick and Ring.

On the surface it didn’t make sense to trade a better pick AND a player for a 3rd round selection.  The deal was justified though as soon as Ivan Gazidis announced “Chicago Fire trades for Dallas’ #29 pick and selects Chris Rolfe from University of Dayton”, which was followed immediately by Alexi ringing my war room phone and yelling “You $%&!@  #%$&@#!  How did you know we were gonna pick him?!?”

Oh, and by the way….with the Fire’s #35 pick we took Gonzalo Segares.

2008 WPS International Draft

My team also used a dreaded timeout during the first WPS international draft in the fall of 2008.  The Chicago Red Stars selected fifth and were planning on picking Canadian striker Christine Sinclair when the first four teams passed on Brazilian star Cristiane.   GM Marcia McDermott, Head Coach Emma Hayes, Assistant Coach Denise Reddy and I condensed a day long debate into the allotted five minutes prior to our pick.  Each of the four opined on the pertinent questions:  “Can we  afford her?  Will she leave Europe? Will she fit with Lindsay Tarpley and Carli Lloyd?  Can she adjust culturally to Chicago?”   The five minutes expired quickly and we called the timeout.  Five more minutes of debate and we still had no clear answer to the basic question:  Do we take the safe way with Christine or the gamble with Cristiane.  In the end, there was no dissension in the room and Emma made the official decision to go with the Brazilian just seconds before the timeout expired.

After the draft, virtually every team feels they did very well – mainly because at the time they make the picks, they of course think the players will help them out.

While the real draft grades aren’t handed out until the end of the season, the combine and draft week is the time of the year I miss most about not being in MLS or WPS.  Instead, I was in Milwaukee preparing for the Milwaukee Wave’s home and home series against Rockford (we lost both).  To quote WC Fields, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”

Kansas City Wizards New Stadium on a Fast Track

The Kansas City Wizards first played in Arrowhead Stadium (home of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Missouri), and created quite the echo chamber with attendance barely in five figures in a stadium holding 80,000. Then in 2007, they moved to a stadium that barely holds five figures, CommunityAmerica Ballpark (home of minor league baseball team the T-Bones in Kansas City, Kansas), an oddly angled fit for soccer and too small for the Wizards.

Finally, they might be on the fast track for their own just-right 18,500 capacity soccer-specific-stadium. We’ve heard this before, of course, with the Hillcrest Road project in south Kansas City, Missouri. In 2007, a new stadium at the Bannister Malls site was approved by the Kansas City council. Then for two years, we didn’t hear much more about any progress towards groundbreaking. The council’s support for the project stalled in the wake of the economic crisis.

Kansas City Wizards new stadium rendering

Kansas City Wizards new stadium rendering

But OnGoal, owners of the Wizards, remained committed to a 2011 opening for a new stadium, which the team desperately needs. And finally, this goal does look attainable:  just not on Hillcrest Road, or even in Kansas City, Missouri. Instead, a separate $414m redevelopment project near Kansas City Speedway and not far from CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kansas has actual funding and is being railroaded through with local government support (for anyone unfamiliar with the Midwestern United States, Kansas City is a small city in Kansas and a satellite of the much larger Kansas City in bordering Missouri. I think.)

Location of proposed Kansas City Wizards stadium

Location of proposed Kansas City Wizards stadium

The reason my money’s on this project coming to fruition is that the stadium is just one half of the larger economically desirable development plan for Village West centred on the activities of local company Cerner Corp, who are in the increasingly lucrative business of providing IT to the healthcare industry. Cerner’s stock has doubled in the past year, and they continue to grow rapidly. In fact, they plan to add over 4,000 jobs at the Village West location in a new 600,000-square-foot office project key to the $414m redevelopment proposal.

Oh, and two of Cerner Corp’s co-founders — Cliff Illig and Neal Patterson — happen to be two of the five investors in OnGoal, the Kansas City Wizard’s ownership group since 2006.

Moreover, public STAR Bonds funding is already available and OnGoal’s real estate developer, Lane4 Properties Group, are applying for their use for the development scheme (existing STAR bond sales tax revenues is running at an impressive $40m a year). With 4,000 new jobs at Cerner tied to the proposal (which would be the largest single job creation program in the history of the county), it’s no wonder Wyandotte County’s Unified Government endorsed the proposal yesterday. Quotes from the Kansas City Star illustrate just how keen local officials are on the project:

In addition to the 4,000 direct new jobs paying an average salary of $54,000, the developer is projecting that 1,900 spin-off jobs would be created by the office campus and 2,400 more jobs to be created by the soccer stadium and amateur sports complex. This would bring the total to more than 8,300.

The estimated annual economic benefit would be more than $500 million, and the new stadium and soccer fields alone would attract 2.5 million visitors annually, according to the developer.

“We’re very excited about the prospect of thousands of new jobs,” said Dennis Hays, Wyandotte County administrator. “The proposed office complex is an integral part of the overall plan for Village West, to bring daytime traffic.”

Hays said county officials supported the STAR bond proposal being proposed by the developer.

“The economic benefit of 8,000 new jobs in our community far outweighs any investment of sales taxes,” he said. “We’ve had discussions with state officials and will continue to work with them on this.”

$202.7 million of the project is earmarked for the Wizards stadium, with a further $47.7 million for an attached soccer field complex, a model that has proved profitable elsewhere in MLS. Along with the public funding, $221 million would come from private financing.

Officials in Kansas City, Missouri are left befuddled as their stadium project was a key part of the entire redevelopment plan for the Bannister Malls area. Some will also question the scale of public funding for the project.

But purely from the perspective of MLS, a new stadium developed by local ownership could revitalise the Wizards — and would obviously stave off continued rumours that the league wanted to move the team elsewhere — and provide a further, much needed bedrock for the league in the Midwest.

The Kansas City Wizards New Home, Handily Next to a Shopping Center

Readers who like to characterise MLS as a Mickey Mouse league (don’t be shy about it, folks) have a little more ammunition today as the poor old Kansas City Wizards announced their home for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. From playing in the absurdly large Arrowhead Stadium (home to the NFL’s Chiefs), the Wizards have gone to the opposite extreme, as they’ll now play at a baseball stadium with a capacity below 10,000, one home to the minor league T-Bones.

Part of the number one tourist attraction in the state of Kansas, CommunityAmerica Ballpark will let the Wizards build partnerships with the Legends at Village West, a destination shopping center directly east of the stadium. During the 2007 season, the Wizards participated in multiple events at the Legends, including player appearances and post-game festivities.

“Soccer is more than a spectator sport. It is experiential,” Executive Vice President Greg Cotton said. “Our fans’ gameday experience should include both pre-game and post-game festivities. With the Legends right next door, we have a unique opportunity to introduce our fans to this extended experience.”

The Wizards are committed to creating a total entertainment experience surrounding their home games in anticipation of a soccer-specific stadium complex with an adjacent entertainment district in the team’s immediate future.

“With approximately 10,000 seats, this move allows the Wizards and our fans the opportunity to be a part of a more intimate atmosphere that has not been present before,” Cotton said. “We believe this is an excellent venue for showcasing our world-class athletes in at atmosphere that is exciting, energetic and fun.”

Lord knows what activities the Wizards have planned at the adjacent shopping centre. Still, it’s true that playing in a sold-out small venue is better than playing in a giant, empty huge venue, so can we characterise this as progress?