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Peter Vermes’ first Major League Soccer home game — and by association, the first home game for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, for whom Vermes played — took place in front of 46,000 fans at historic Giants Stadium.
One problem: Giants Stadium never felt like home to Vermes.
Captained by a young Vermes in 1996, the MetroStars played their first season in Major League Soccer that year. But they were a clear third in the pecking order at 80,000-seat Giants Stadium behind the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.
A year later, Vermes was traded to the Colorado Rapids, who shared Mile High Stadium with the Denver Broncos.
His next team: the Kansas City Wizards, an organization that shared Arrowhead Stadium with the Chiefs.
“There was a time when I was playing, especially in the early years, and you just weren’t sure if (soccer) was ever going to take the kind of foothold that it has now,” Vermes said Tuesday.
Now the longtime head coach for Sporting KC, Vermes finally got his wish for a soccer-specific stadium in 2011, when he and his players moved into state-of-the-art Children’s Mercy Park.
MLS has progressed since then. There are now 20 soccer-specific stadiums in the league, and more are on the way.
A decade removed from Sporting KC’s relocation from Arrowhead (and then T-Bones Stadium) to permanent digs across from Kansas Speedway, KC’s National Women’s Soccer League team is about to follow a similar path.
The KC NWSL team’s owners announced Tuesday that they’re building an 11,000-seat soccer-specific stadium on the Berkley Riverfront in downtown Kansas City. The club plans to break ground next year and begin playing at the new stadium in 2024.
The KC franchise will be the first club in league history to build and play in a dazzling stadium that’s all its own.
KC NWSL spent its inaugural 2021 season playing home games at Legends Field, home of the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team, and will spend the next two seasons just up the road at Children’s Mercy Park.
Vermes is excited that KC NWSL is building its own stadium. He knows all too well what it’s like to share one.
“We were always the step-child at somebody else’s stadium,” he said. “You’re kind of just a lessee; it’s not yours and it’s also not your fans’ ...”
Sporting KC’s move into Children’s Mercy Park helped legitimize its stake as a top-tier franchise. Construction of the Compass Minerals National Performance Center, where Sporting KC trains across Interstate-435 from Children’s Mercy Park, further cemented Sporting’s mark on the local soccer landscape.
KC NWSL is pursuing a similar path, but in accelerated fashion, developing both venues at once: a $15 million KC NWSL training facility in Riverside is also on the way and will open before the new stadium does.
“Once you have your own (facilities), I think it changes the stakes a little bit,” Vermes said. “I think it puts more pressure on everyone to be better at what they do. Every time a club in MLS or NWSL improves their facilities, I think it gives them the ability to raise the expectations and the standard within their organization.”
Bottom line, Vermes thinks KC NWSL is making the right moves not only for itself and its fans, but also for Kansas City soccer in general.
“As the women’s league continues to grow, as youth soccer continues to grow, as our league continues to grow, it’s great for the sport that I love,” Vermes said. “And I was hoping that some day (soccer) would start to get the recognition that it deserves in this country based on the popularity of it worldwide.”