Sporting KC will welcome St. Louis City SC to Children’s Mercy Park for the first time on Saturday night. It’s the club’s first opportunity to respond after an embarrassing 4-0 defeat the first time they met.
“I want to win every game we play,” Sporting president and CEO Jake Reid told The Star. “But man, I really want to win this one.”
The next chapter in the rivalry between Kansas City and St. Louis will begin when referee Allan Chapman blows his whistle to signify the match’s kickoff. The backstory for Saturday night’s match, however, was written in May.
Four months ago, the rivalry between the KC and St. Louis fan bases was already in full swing online, as the anticipation built for the first-ever matchup between Sporting Kansas City and St. Louis City SC.
Each team released a pregame hype video that had something to do with being the Soccer Capital of America.
The phrase became a sticking point after Sporting’s legal team reportedly sent a St. Louis-centric fan podcast a cease-and-desist letter, which was brought up often in tiffs between the fan bases online. That back-and-forth continued through the pregame festivities on May 20 at CITYPark in Saint Louis.
But in reality, all that was simply noise surrounding what occurred on the field.
In the buildup to that match, Sporting players spoke about the idea of a rivalry against St. Louis, saying it would take a few games for it to feel that way.
“It’s a weird game because we haven’t played them,” said Roger Espinoza after Sporting’s first matchup with St. Louis. “It was just another game for us. It’s just like another game we play.”
He went on to explain that Sporting’s rivalries in the past — with Houston and Salt Lake, to name a few — came because of the matches they played in the Open Cup, MLS playoffs and even an MLS Cup Final.
Conversely, St. Louis winger Indiana Vassilev said, “We heard it was a rivalry, we heard they didn’t like SKC, so we don’t like SKC.”
And they played like it, overwhelming Sporting early en route to a 4-0 victory. Sporting and St. Louis approached that first matchup differently, and it ended up mirroring their performances on the pitch.
“For (it) to become a rivalry, something needs to fester, needs to grow, there needs to be a moment,” St. Louis City head coach Bradley Carnell said. “I think (that first victory) is the moment now that we start this up and down, back and forth between the two teams.”
There were other factors leading into that first match, including a difficult travel and match schedule that had worn Sporting KC out. But the contrasting approach was notable, and that’s not something that figures to be the case this time around.
Sporting manager Peter Vermes was asked on Thursday if he and his staff explained to players how fans saw the matchup with St. Louis. He delivered a short and pointed response.
“I don’t think I have to tell them about it,” Vermes said. “If you don’t know, then you probably shouldn’t be in the business, or you shouldn’t be on the team. So I think the guys already know.”
After Sporting’s 3-0 win over San Jose last weekend, captain Johnny Russell’s comments showed the club has been waiting for the chance to set the record straight.
“That one hurt,” Russell said. “We didn’t do ourselves or our fans any justice in that game.
“We had to get (the San Jose game) out the way. ... Now, the focus shifts to (St. Louis) and we’ve got a point to prove.”