Just three years removed from being known as the Kansas City Wizards, Sporting Kansas City has become almost unrecognizable from its past life.
It's amazing how a team can change in three years. Three years ago the club now known as Sporting Kansas City was a middle of the road team called the Kansas City Wizards. A team that wasn't known for their attendance or their crazy fans. They were known as one of the original MLS teams and, outside of a few memories from 2000 and 2004, that was about it.
We've heard this story many times before: the rejuvenation of a middling team into a model organization in MLS with a new name, new stadium and new spirit. It seems that the success Sporting Kansas City is enjoying now is even sweeter when remembering where the team has been, and where the team is now.
The last year of the Kansas City Wizards was 2010. They barely missed the playoffs, but they showed signs of improvement, especially in goal with the addition of Jimmy Nielsen. Nothing to write home about, but a decent season nonetheless.
Well, it was a decent season back then. If Sporting KC were to miss the playoffs and take third in the Eastern Conference now, the fans would be panicking, wondering what went wrong, as they should. The club has built a reputation that must be maintained. But fans should never forget where the club once was.
Kei Kamara is one of the seven members of the 2010 Wizards still with the club. He was a bright spot in 2010, scoring seven goals in 18 appearances. However last week it was announced that the forward would be loaned to English Premier League club Norwich City until May 6, and may not return at all. Quite an improvement from his Wizards days, as he seems to have finally found his mark in the soccer world.
As Kamara moves on to greener pastures, however, the identity of the Wizards continues to fade just a little bit.
Kamara, himself, is similar to Sporting KC's story. He floundered around MLS for the start of his career but was rejuvenated into a really good player in Kansas City, becoming an excellent forward. Now he's going to play for a very reputable English club in Norwich City.
Roger Espinoza is another example of a Sporting KC player who found success after his play in Kansas City. His early days as a Wizard are near irrelevant now that he plays for Wigan Athletic, also in the Premier League. Of course, Espinoza wasn't particularly memorable as a Wizard in the first place. Most of his great play came as a member of either Sporting or the Honduras national team. Regardless, we didn't necessarily see a player find success like Espinoza did back in the days of the Wizards.
With Kamara, however, the situation is different. Kamara was a very recognizable name in Kansas City as a Wizard. Some would even say he was the most popular player on the team at the time. Regardless, his days as a Wizard are days people will still associate with him as he came into the spotlight.
Three years later and the majority of the roster is different. Others like Chance Myers have come into their own and have become a force for Sporting. Three years later and the team is barely recognizable as the Wizards they once were. Three years later, this is a brand new team. Remnants of the Wizards still remain (The name of this website, for example), but it is slowly leaving.
Kei Kamara being loaned to Norwich City takes away one of the prominent Wizards still on the roster. Whether he comes back to Kansas City or not, the identity of the Wizards is fading. It will fade further when Jimmy Nielsen retires, and when Matt Besler takes an offer abroad.
Soon the team will not have any Wizards veterans, and the franchise change will be complete. It's not a bad change in any respects, but a sad change to see the end of an original franchise's identity.
With the success Sporting has had, however, the change is completely worth it.