I went to the inaugural NWSL match in Kansas City this past weekend. I was one of 6,784 people to see two squads battle it out on a high school football field. I saw Christine Sinclair battle her Canadian National Teammate Desiree Scott for 90 frustrating minutes, I cheered on Dani Foxhoven when she came on in the second, and applauded the team at the final whistle. It was great fun. But it was also a very different experience than what will be happening at JELD-WEN on Sunday so I thought I would share a different perspective in the new National Women’s Soccer League.
I wanted to go to support the new league and it just happened that this first match was a Thorns FC game. From my perspective, everything was lining up so well. I have been traveling to watch the US Women’s National Team play in various US cities for the past year so I’ve made friends with other women’s soccer supporters and 5 of us met up in KC for this match. I was the only one going for the Thorns, though. Fortunately, the Rose City Riveters family is already large and I was able to meet Patricia, Tara, Colby, and Robby from Champaign, IL (a 6 hour drive) and Luke Howitt from Long Beach, CA. Together, the six of us cheered on the Thorns that night.
I knew there was a tailgate. It was stocked with sandwiches, chips, dips, soda and water. They had music blaring from a couple of cars and cornhole all set up, decked out in “Blue Crew” fashion. It was more than I was expecting for a first ever tailgate, but I was in. I got to know the founders of this supporters group, which got started almost as soon as FCKC was announced.
The tailgate didn’t have a ton of people attend or stick around, but it was a great way to network fans into something larger. Blue Crew shirts were on sale as a fundraiser so they can start to do more and they were able to sell quite a few from what I saw. People were mingling and talking about women’s soccer and it was all a very good vibe.
Getting there so early, I was able to see a lot of the set-up for the game. There was a slick Mexican food truck that ended up being one of the concession stands, a band started playing cover songs (and drowning out the tailgate music), Jimmy Johns had a tent and was giving out samples. ESPN had a reporter and a photographer there who interviewed the Blue Crew.
At one point we even started seeing the teams driving around trying to figure out where they were supposed to be.
About 2 hours before kickoff, a line at the gate started to grow. By the time they let people in, I’d estimate there were near 300 people waiting to get in. Mostly families of players, hoping to get front row seats. The seating at the Shawnee Mission Stadium is by section, so it was first come, first serve for bleacher seats. I went in and headed toward the top section, as we had a 2 stick that we wanted to keep up the whole game. That and I didn’t see many flags in the crowd so knew we could wave them proudly at the top and not interfere with anyone else’s gameday experience.
Before the match, as the stands started to fill, the six of us were joined at the top by a couple of youth clubs. These kids were cute, the younger ones interested in our swag (scarves, hats, flags) and the older ones trying to talk smack about the Thorns or talk up KC. It was adorable. We let them wave the flags, we told them about the Rose City Riveters, and we even tried to get them to participate in PT-FC, at least until the older kids realized we were converting them. During the game, the kids went and sat by their parents and we were closed in on by more fans and families.
When the teams came out for the first time, the Blue Crew got loud. They were having a blast. They even had a Rosie two-stick, though I don’t know what it said. I don’t think it was a slight in our direction, as we had just announced our SG name that week.
I won’t write much about the game, as I’m not an analyst, but I will say that our players looked tired. The crowd seemed into it, from what we could tell. Again, we were at the top of the bleachers, but we heard the Blue Crew horns and drums for most of the game. A lot of the same songs were played on repeat, and we would interject “Thorns” in where we could to sing along. We weren’t prepared with many chants or all that organized, but we stood and had fun the whole game.
At half they played a couple of audience participation games and had a couple of mascots come out and interact with the crowd. A lot like what I’ve seen at Pilots games over the years.
The second half it started to cool down a bit (it had been about 70 degrees at kickoff, cooled down to maybe 50 degrees) and around the 75th minute I noticed that the crowd was thinning out a bit. We started chanting “Game’s not over!!” as it looked like the majority of people leaving were across the stadium, then the people in front of us left. I wouldn’t say it was a mass exodus, as a majority of people stayed until the end, but I was surprised by how many people left before the final whistle.
After the final whistle, the teams made the rounds to thanks the crowd, as expected. We waved our flags as the Thorns came over. It was a nice moment.
Then there were The Autographs. A phenomenon I’ve only seen in women’s soccer. Crowds of fans waiting for players to acknowledge them. A lot of FCKC fans looking to get Morgan’s autograph were a little distraught that she was whisked off to the side right away. We didn’t stick around to get any autographs, but it took us a little while to take down our 2 stick that was zip-tied to the top of the bleachers so we saw a lot of the hub-bub.
We stopped by the merch table on the way out to see if they had any “Inaugural Match” gear but it was all FCKC gear. Some different stuff I haven’t seen from the Thorns yet, like stadium seats, mini soccer balls, lapel pins, and the more basic stuff like kits, hats, tees.
All in all, I had a great time at the game, wished our team did better but it felt good to get the first match out of the way. Also, we met up with some KC supporters at the local pub, Sully’s and had some good talks about women’s soccer and our new markets. Everything I could ask for from 31 hours in Kansas City, really.