To Gear Up For Its New Season, Sporting Kansas City Heads To The Nelson-Atkins Museum Of Art
Kerry Zavagnin is the assistant coach of Sporting Kansas City, but sometimes he dreams of another life.
"Deep down inside, I'm an opera singer without a voice, that would love to be on stage at one point," he says. "If I had any talent to sing, it would be the passion that I have the most for."
He grew up in suburban Detroit, playing every possible sport ... and the trumpet. Having started his career as a professional soccer player with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, he worried he'd miss New York's cultural options when he moved to Kansas City to play for Sporting in 2000.
He stopped worrying after a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
"I spent a lot of days over there at the Nelson getting to know it, and whenever I had friends or family come into the city, they asked me, 'What are the things that we can do?'" The Nelson was the first thing he'd mention, Zavagnin says.
These days he visits the museum with his family about twice a month, and his daughter attends the art camps. He even hosted his wedding reception there.
"When I'm there, I make a special trip to the café. Not for the food, but just because of the architecture and the peace that it gives me," he says.
Regardless of what city he's in, Zavagnin says he turns to the arts as a way to take his mind off of his work. So it's no surprise that the club is kicking off its new season with a party for fans at the Nelson, where the team will unveil its new primary jersey in Kirkwood Hall.
In previous years the event has been held at the Power & Light District, and one time it was in a hangar at the downtown airport; this is the first time the team has chosen a museum setting. In the past, the evening has drawn nearly 2000 fans.
Zavagnin says it's the fanbase that's changed soccer the most in Kansas City in the 18 years he's been with the club.
"We've transformed ourselves from the Kansas City Wizards into a viable brand that is extremely well supported in the community, that has a lot of community outreach programs, that has players that are very accessible," Zavagnin says. "So I think the fact that soccer has not only survived but is thriving in Kansas City, points to the support that people in Kansas City have for their community."
Sporting defender Matt Besler grew up in Johnson County and says he agrees.
"They’ve created one of the best homefield advantages in the entire league. If we go somewhere else and play, sometimes it's loud, sometimes there’s more people, but they don't quite follow the game as well as the people do in Kansas City," Besler says.
Unlike Zavagnin, Besler went to the Nelson on school field trips as a child. But his fondest memories are of the museum’s lawn.
Early in his career, Besler lived on Oak Street near the Nelson with fellow player and Florida transplant Graham Zusi. Both men had puppies.
"That’s pretty much where we raised our dogs," he says.
He applauds the idea of having the kickoff at the Nelson, both for the experience it'll give his teammates who might not have been there and for the fans.
"It's a good way for us to do something different," he says.
"The excitement of a new season is always a good feeling, and when you add to that the venue that we're at, I think it creates just a really warm place for people to gather and to support the team."
Sporting Kansas City came within one game of playing for the Major League Soccer championship in November. The new season's home opener is March 10 at Children's Mercy Park.
Sporting Kansas City Season Kickoff and Kit Launch Party, 6 p.m., Monday, February 4 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64111. Free and open to the public with registration.
Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter @annekniggendorf.