A guide to soccer in Kansas now that KC is hosting the World Cup in 2026

July 29, 2022 3:33 am
The U.S. men’s national soccer team warms up before a friendly match against the national team of Uruguay on June 5, 2022, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Eric Thomas)

The U.S. men’s national soccer team warms up before a friendly match against the national team of Uruguay on June 5, 2022, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Eric Thomas)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

Last month, the international governing body of soccer announced Kansas City as one of the 11 host cities in the United States for the 2026 World Cup. The metro area — which is just as much Kansas as Missouri in terms of soccer clout — will welcome the largest sporting event in the city’s history.

Any honest estimation would call it the largest sporting event in the region’s history, as well. The World Cup will make the University of Kansas basketball fans storming downtown Lawrence look like a block party.

While the games will be played across the state line at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Chiefs, the impact and civic pride will wash over neighboring Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas.

First, consider the list of the other US cities that will host: Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York / New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. In terms of media market size and population, Kansas City is easily the smallest. 

Yet the city — and the region — earned the World Cup with a mixture of luck, grit and soccer bona fides.

The luck came from geography. The map of host cities would have looked suspiciously hollow in the Midwest without Kansas City. With Chicago signaling tepid-to-cool interest in hosting, Kansas City stepped up its bid and eventually celebrated at an announcement ceremony June 16.

To be ruthless about it, Kansans should feel doubly blessed economically. World Cup visitors will cross the state line to spend money, whether on lodging or BBQ. However, Kansas didn’t have to stop the collection of sales tax on World Cup tickets as the state of Missouri did. In a game like soccer that welcomes ties, Kansas earns a win-win.

The data provided by international federations like FIFA or the International Olympic Committee about the economic benefits of hosting can be suspect. The Kansas City Star reported that Missouri legislators relied on estimates that the event could bring $600 million to $750 million in economic impact. The Sunflower State seems likely to gain tens of millions in visitor spending.

So far, the 2026 World Cup bid process has not been tarnished with the same allegations of bribery, corruption and even slavery that have plagued other selection processes connected to FIFA, the international soccer federation. To secure the World Cup to be played in the United States and specifically in Kansas City without a blemish like that should provide even more pride.

When it comes to soccer, what does Kansas have to boast about? Quite a bit it turns out.

Adrianna Franch is introduced during the Olympics send off ceremony July 5, 2021, in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Adrianna Franch is introduced during the Olympics send off ceremony July 5, 2021, in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Sporting KC, the Major League Soccer franchise perched between the Kansas Speedway and the Legends shopping area, has earned rabid supporters with championships and players who represented the U.S. national team. Unfortunately, this year has been a disappointment for the club in the regular season, as they sit in last place. They also suffered an upset loss to Sacramento FC, a team from the division below MLS, Wednesday night in the U.S. Open semifinal.

Youth soccer in Kansas is thriving. Largely drawing from soccer-crazed Johnson County, the Heartland Soccer Association boasts its status as “the largest soccer league and tournament host in the United States.” According to the association, more than 30,000 young players suit up for its soccer leagues.

During the past few weeks, Kansas youth soccer also earned three national championships in one of the most prestigious tournaments for club soccer teams. Three different clubs — Sporting Blue Valley, Toca FC and KC Legends — won the top prize in Orlando at the USYS championships. That one-year total eclipses the number of national championships that Kansas clubs have ever won through decades in the competition.

The women’s game is particularly vibrant in Kansas as well. The head coach of the women’s national team, Vlatko Andonovski, was previously the technical director of a youth soccer club based in Kansas. Ranked No. 1 in the world, his team has qualified for the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.

Salina native Adrianna Franch previously played for the national team and earned a bronze medal at the 2021 Olympics. She now guards the net as goalkeeper for the Kansas City Current, the NWSL team playing its games at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (The team will move to a downtown stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, once it is constructed.)

Already constructed and widely used is the Compass Minerals National Performance Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The facility hosts soccer coaching education programs and provides a training ground for national teams when they visit Kansas City, like they did when Children’s Mercy Park hosted a friendly match between the United States and Uruguay on June 5.

With all of this, our region is poised for a soccer boom in the years leading up to 2026. Four years of runway provides enough time to do more than simply scramble to plan the event’s logistics. Instead, Kansas can build on its already impressive resume as a soccer destination.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.