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The Flyover Derby

There’s something special happening in Kansas City.

MLS: Sporting KC at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Far from the free-spending and free-wheeling ways of the coasts lie two teams who’s performances epitomize the spirit of their fans. Sometimes gritty, sometimes captivating, but never boring and never lacking in excitement. Sporting Kansas City vs Minnesota United may not be the flashiest or most high profile rivalry, but it is well on its way to becoming one of the most passionate.

When the Loons entered the league last season, Sporting Kansas City was already on its second name and third stadium. Their fans have had the pleasure of cheering on teams that went on to win two MLS Cups, a Supporter’s Shield, and four Open Cups. They have been captain by several US international and their beloved coach has been linked with the USMNT job several times. “In Peter[Vermes] we trust” is the response from any SKC fan when the team’s decisions or tactics are questioned.

The growth of SKC was never defined for the amount of money they spent, but by the passion of their fans and the product on the field. They have built one of the best academies in the US and can now boast a world class training and coaching facility. Even their USL team, Swope Park Rangers, has found success as more than just proving ground for youth players. Since their inception in 2016 they have lost in the USL Cup final twice, 5-1 to RBNY II and 1-0 to Louisville City FC. They were the second team in USL history to reach the final in their first season and the only team to reach the final in their first two seasons. Swope Park is where newly minted Manchester City centerback Eric Palmer-Brown cut his teeth before moving abroad. Other US youth internationals on their roster include Jaylin Lindsey, Gianluca Busio, and Wan Kuzain, just to name a few. If these names aren’t commonplace now, they very well could be by the time the next World Cup rolls around.

Despite having a robust youth system, Sporting haven’t shied away from the occasional big signing. Johnny Russell and Felipe Gutierrez added a significant chunk to the wage bill, but were offset by the departure of Dom Dwyer and the retirement of Kenwyne* Jones. The lack of a traditional high scoring forward hasn’t been a problem due to the production of their wingers in Homegrown Daniel Salloi and the aforementioned Russell. In the offseason they picked up Khiry Shelton who works hard, but lacks a pair of shooting boots. His tireless running causes problems for defenses and opens up space for the rest of the team. Their backline is anchored by Matt Besler, Ike Opara, and Tim Melia. All three are Sporting and USMNT vets who have been playing together for a while now. The rest of the pieces may rotate, but the core of veterans, youth, and low cost foreign DPs has been working for SKC for many years now.

Children’s Mercy Park opened in 2011 and is one of the most beautiful grounds in all most MLS. On any given Sunday(or Saturday, or Monday, or other gameday) the entire stadium is rocking as the home team takes the field. There’s a reason almost every game is sold out and the have one of, if not the longest sellout streaks in MLS. The stadium is not dissimilar in size to what Allianz Field will be next year, but that just adds to the noise level and the camaraderie. Even the casual fan can’t help but get swept in the excitement of it all. Children’s Mercy has played host to many US Mens and Womens games over the years and have always been greeted with a warm reception. Next summer’s Gold Cup features Allianz Field and Children’s Mercy as host stadiums, giving both teams a chance to showcase their state of the art arenas and the passion of their fans.

The Loons welcome Sporting Kansas City this weekend not only as a rival, but also as a confidant, a reminder that Midwest ideals where you bust your butt before busting out the checkbook are still important. We may be 20 years behind them in terms of MLS experience, but SKC is a good model for the Loons to learn from as we continue to expand in the League

*Kenwyne Jones was acquired by SKC in a trade with Atlanta United in the offseason and subsequently retired.