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I Am at a Precipice with Sporting Kansas City
I see two options in front of me. Step back or dive in.
I realized several things on Saturday night. I watched Sporting Kansas City’s 4-1 loss to Seattle from my big yellow papasan chair in my living room and found myself unlocking emotions. Some of these were new and some of these were known but long-buried. I sort of gestured at it last week, but I was pretty upset after the FC Dallas match. I am tired of hedging and finding silver linings in dark clouds, and I am frustrated with the fact that most of the problems of this 2023 are the exact same as the problems of 2022, except with the caveat that we’re locked into those problems for five more years now.
There is an inherent silliness to the fact that I am upset about this. I am 27 years old and this is a Major League Soccer team that has me genuinely frustrated. There is a part of me that feels that I am too old to feel any sort of negative way about this, that I should have jettisoned anything that makes me feel so consistently frustrated from my life. This is also an MLS team. The vast majority of people in the US, of sports fans in the US, of soccer fans in the US, bring indifference at best and mocking scorn at worst to MLS – The idea of me feeling honest hurt and disappointment at this Sporting KC season is, to most people, either an odd curiosity or a downright hilarious concept, the sort of thing reserved for an irony-poisoned Tweet, like “Imagine caring about an MLS team.” But I do care! This matters to me. It became very clear in their absence which started around this time three years ago that this was highly important to me, and these past two years of ineptitude have only solidified that fact: This matters to me. Some people give themselves to religion, some people give themselves to a cause, et cetera et cetera et cetera.
I had a moment at the beginning of the match where I regretted not buying a ticket and driving to the stadium. There is something comforting about this team playing to me. I remember watching that Seattle match in the Club World Cup and having an honestly optimistic surge run through me, knowing that I’d be watching Sporting again within the month. Even this evening, from my home, I just felt happy seeing the match kick off. When Willy Agada scored his first of the year, that desire to be there only grew. Then, after Jordan Morris’ first goal, that feeling grew just slightly with the sense that this might be an entertaining multi-goal thriller. After Morris’ second, that desire began to wane. After the third, it waned further…
But then, paradoxically, after the fourth, I started to want to be there again. I still kind of wish I’d been there. It is a paradoxical feeling, but there is something interesting, maybe literary, to me about being present around an irate crowd, to watching an entity that I care about struggle. It is a suffering entirely invented, but I find some virtue in choosing to suffer in the immediate present for the sake of things getting better in some distant future. This finally paid off with the Kansas Jayhawks last fall and I wrote 60,000 words about it.
I sit at a precipice. I am frustrated with this, frustrated not just with the losing and the mediocrity in attack, but at the fact that my complaints that I’m publishing outwardly here on this blog in March of 2023 are basically the same complaints that I wrote down privately in the early summer of 2022. It’s so much poor injury luck and we’re so lacking in depth, our best players are all hurt, and if we’re going to lose, why are we losing with a veteran-heavy lineup and not trying to get younger players more time out there? If we’re going to rebuild, can we fucking rebuild? It’s not just that the problems haven’t been resolved, it’s that they’ve hardly even changed! It’s not just that our highest-salaried players are hurt, it’s that it’s the same high-salaried players! It’s still Shelton and Sweat blunders and the same young prospects not getting time while the veterans struggle. It just feels like that gradual slide, nothing changes but everything somehow still gets worse.
And I mean precipice! I didn’t just pick a more fanciful word than “crossroads.” It’s just a rhetorical precipice, and maybe I could say I’m at a crossroads, but I think the choices here are taking a step back to an unexciting safety or taking a step forward and experiencing the metaphysical rush of falling off of a cliff.
Option 1: Resign in Protest
There rests, in my e-mail inbox, a message from a representative from the Sporting KC ticketing department asking about my experience at the home opener against the LA Galaxy and how they could get me to come back out for more games this season. I recognize that this is really just a formality and primarily a question of the actual in-stadium environment, but it is a question, and I have an answer to it. There is a large part of me that wants to say I will not buy tickets, merchandise, et cetera, as long as the club’s current management is in place. This is a small thing to come from one man, of course, but as the club’s only successful venture so far this year (threatening to sue an independent podcast until it changed its name away because of a trademark the club holds on a stupid t-shirt slogan we used for a building-scale beer ad) has shown, Sporting Kansas City is primarily an operation concerned with selling t-shirts and beer. Ergo, intentionally withholding purchases of t-shirts and beer (and tickets to matches) is a small act of protest.
Drop out, quit, resign in protest, whatever you call it. I know that this sounds like very little on its face, but this would be difficult for me. I really care about this. I feel an honest love and connection to this team that is stronger than that of any other professional team, and really stronger than very few other external entities in my life, outside of the schools I’ve attended and 3 or 4 bands and musicians. Sporting KC at this point is in my blood, I’ve been going to SKC/Wizards matches for more than half my life, and I’ve experienced the shift from struggling to get 8,000 into Arrowhead for my first game in 2006 to the highs of the 2010s. Even when I moved away from the area for a few years, I drove up to LA to see the team when they played there. I write this blog about the team for no money, no real sense of long-term career benefit, it’s basically exclusively out of a personal desire to have my thoughts written down somewhere where I can go see them again. I am very dedicated to this club, there is a non-insignificant amount of my personality and emotional makeup wrapped in it. It would matter to me, even if it doesn’t matter on an individual level to anybody with any influence and agency. I wish that was enough to push for change. There is a growing part of me that doesn’t want to support this club’s stagnation, though.
The other part, though…
Option 2: “KU Football Mode”
Oh but I do bet on losing dogs, don’t I? Oh but don’t I watch this team as they are beaten so so badly by other teams in this fair league and at least find something intriguing, something artistic, about it? Aren’t I inspired in some way to turn this into something, mightn’t I find myself in some way philosophically through forcing myself to suffer along?
When I was in college, I went through five highly bleak, but formative seasons with the Marching Jayhawks. Late Weis era, early Beaty era, 2013-17. Nine wins total across five years. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but boy did I learn about myself, choosing year after year to go right back out there and watch this team lose, and lose so very badly! It warped the way that I view sports, and in a lot of ways, it warped the way that I view all manner of aspects about life, like what ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyment’ and ‘meaning’ mean to me. There’s something addicting about making the decision to go get kicked in the nuts every weekend. I already find myself slipping into what I call “KU Football Mode”, where I start finding some of the things that upset me to be kind of funny (like, really, how long do you think the winless streak would have to get before anybody gets fired? The numbers I’m thinking of reach absurd heights. I’m tempted to think that it’d be at least 40) and referencing Los Campesinos lyrics in blog posts. This is only five games in! Imagine if we make it to the mid-summer with a single-digit point total. Our last two matches of the year are against other potential doormats Minnesota and Salt Lake, what if we’re all jockeying for 28th place in that series? The potential is immense for something truly fascinating to develop.
There is a part of me that wants to dive in even further and really immerse myself in Sporting KC this year. Despite it all. Spend time, money, and emotional bandwidth not just to get a seat at Children’s Mercy Park, but to travel to opposing stadiums as well. There’s some kind of romance and virtue I find in making the choice to continue caring when it’s insensible, to immerse myself in failure. There’s something invigorating about going out to the stadium to watch a team I know will probably lose while surrounded by thousands of other people who are doing the same thing. It’s ritualistic. It is getting dangerously close to being church for me. It’s probably what I’m going to do.
I’ll write about it. I’ll have fun with it. I’ll write about it. I’ll have fun with it. I’ll write about it. I’ll have fun with it.