The Short-lived KC Wiz

kirsten-sporting-or
Official Sporting Kansas City Reporter

By Kirsten Arpin // @Kirsten_Hoogs

If you’ve been to a Sporting KC game then you have surely heard the Cauldron sing:

“Oh when the Wiz go marching in. Oh when the Wiz go marching in. Oh how I long to be in that Cauldron when the Wiz go marching in.”

Or chant:

“Ooooh KC Wiz! KC Wiz! KC Wiz! KC Wiz! Vamos KC!”

These chants echo back to a single season from the beginnings of a humble little sporting association called Major League Soccer.

The MLS was officially founded as an LLC in 1995. The reason for founding the league was because the United States promised to start a Division 1 professional league as a stipulation of their successful bid for the 1994 World Cup. It would have been pretty silly to have the World Cup in a country without a highly competitive professional league.

Kansas City sportsman extraordinaire Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, was one of the founding investors of the MLS, and he owned two of the original ten chartered teams. Hunt wanted to bring more to the sports culture of Kansas City, so he started the Kansas City Wiz. The Wiz even played their home games at the home of the Chiefs, Arrowhead Stadium. Mr. Hunt also owned the Columbus Crew and in 2003 purchased the Dallas Burn who are now FC Dallas. Mr. Hunt was such an influential figure in the US soccer community that in 1999 the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) renamed the US Open Cup to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

The Wiz were officially named a charter member of the MLS on June 6, 1995, and it took them four months to name former Crystal Palace player and Arizona Sandsharks manager Ron Newman as the first ever manager of the team. Newman was the first coach hired into MLS service, and he brought his son former San Diego Sockers (Major Indoor Soccer League) player Guy Newman with him as an assistant coach.

October of 1995 was an exciting month for the young MLS. The Wiz named Newman as a coach on the 11th, and MLS Unveiled, the first televised MLS programming, was simulcast to all ten MLS market cities on the 17th. At MLS Unveiled each team released their inaugural kits, colors, logos, and their first allocated player.

The event turned out to be pretty ridiculous. The league let the uniform manufacturers have too much say in the team names, colors, logos, and jerseys. That’s how the Tampa Bay Mutiny ended up with a mutant bat. Personally, I think The Wiz ended up as the winners of the name, color, and kit categories. There ended up being a problem with the name, but we’ll get to that later. The Wiz’s first ever allocated player was national team member and St. Louis native, midfielder Mike Sorber.

mlsunveiled

In December, January, and February, The Wiz were allocated one player per month. The player for December was former US national team forward Frank Klopas, January’s player was Zimbabwe national forward Digital Takawira, and the last allocated player was future Sporting Legend and future US national team member Preki. The rest of the players vying for a spot on a roster went to a combine and then to the draft where The Wiz drafted national team midfielder Mark Chung.

The Wiz’s first season was pretty exciting. In their April 13th home and season opener, The Wiz won their first ever game defeating the Colorado Rapids 3-0, with Digital Takiwara netting a brace. Three games later, on May 2nd, The Wiz and the Columbus Crew took part in one of the highest scoring games in MLS history. The two teams combined to score 10 goals with KC taking the win at 6-4.

Preki and Mo Johnston both scored twice with Sorber and Chung each getting a single goal. After losing their next four games, which took place over a 15 day streak, The Wiz traded wins with their opponents for the next eight games. That set of games was bookended by a game against future Sporting KC coach and player Peter Vermes and the NY/NJ Metrostars. The Wiz won the first game 2-1, but fell to the Metrostars 0-2 in the second game. The second game against the Metrostars also ended a five game scoring streak by Preki.

The Wiz had a successful inaugural regular season with 17 wins, 15 losses, and 0 draws as draws weren’t actually allowed in the first seasons of the MLS.

*Since the league was “experimental”, the founders decided to try a few rule changes from regular soccer. They thought that American fans would be bored by draws, so they implemented a shootout at the end of tied games. If a team won the game they would get 3 points, the losing team would get zero points, and the winning team in a shoot-out win would get 1 point. Another weird rule change was that the time clock counted down to zero as opposed to counting up to 90.

Their record qualified The Wiz for the playoffs. They defeated the Dallas Burn two games to one in the Western Conference Semi-finals before losing to the LA Galaxy two games to zero in the Western Conference Finals.

Wizards V Clash
21 Apr 1996: Team photo of the Kansas City Wizards before a game against the San Jose Clash at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California. The Wizards won the game 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport

At the end of their first season The Wiz were in a bit of a bind. There was a company in a different industry that already had been named The Wiz, and they sued The KC Wiz for use of the trademark. After a little digging I found that the trademark was most likely held by a small electronics chain from the northeast called Nobody Beats the Wiz. Since they weren’t allowed to continue with The Wiz, Kansas City officially changed their name to the Kansas City Wizards at the end of their first season. Thus ending the short life of the KC Wiz, but laying the foundation for the Sporting KC we know today!

#WeTogether

While doing research for this article I found this set of interviews done by Sports Illustrated. You should check it out >> https://www.si.com/longform/2015/mls/index.html

Featured image courtesy: @SportingKC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @Kirsten_Hoogs

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

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