A guide to soccer in Kansas now that KC is hosting the World Cup in 2026

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

Last month, soccer’s international governing body announced that Kansas City one of the 11 host cities in the United States for the 2026 World Cup. The metro area – which is just as much Kansas as Missouri in terms of football influence – will host the biggest sporting event in the city’s history.

Any honest guess would also call it the biggest sporting event in the region’s history. The World Cup will make University of Kansas basketball fans storming downtown Lawrence look like a block party.

As games are played across the border at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Chiefs, the impact and civic pride will ripple through neighboring Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas.

First, consider the list of other US cities that will host: Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle. In terms of media market size and population, Kansas City is by far the smallest.

However, the city — and the region — won the world cup with a mixture of luck, courage and good football faith.

Luck came from geography. The host city map would have looked oddly hollow in the Midwest without Kansas City. With Chicago reporting lukewarm to cool interest in lodging, Kansas City stepped up its offer and finally celebrated at an announcement ceremony on June 16.

To be ruthless about this, the Kansans should feel doubly blessed economically. World Cup visitors will cross the state line to spend money, whether it’s accommodation or barbecues. However, Kansas did not have to stop collecting sales tax on World Cup tickets like Missouri State did. In a game like football that welcomes ties, Kansas wins everyone.

Data provided by international federations like FIFA or the International Olympic Committee on the economic benefits of accommodation can be suspect. The Kansas City Star reported that Missouri lawmakers relied on estimates that the event could yield between $600 million and $750 million in economic impact. The Sunflower State looks likely to earn tens of millions of dollars in visitor spending.

So far, the 2026 World Cup bidding process has not been marred by the same allegations of corruption, Corruption and even slavery which have plagued other selection processes linked to FIFA, the international football federation. Securing the World Cup which will be played in the United States and more precisely in Kansas City without such a stain should provide even more pride.

When it comes to football, what can Kansas boast about? A little, it turns out.

Adrianna Franch is shown during the Olympics kick-off ceremony on July 5, 2021 in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Sporting KC, the Major League Soccer franchise perched between Kansas Speedway and the Legends shopping district, has won rabid fans with championships and players who have represented the US national team. Unfortunately, this year has been a disappointment for the club in the regular season, as they are in last place. They also suffered an upset loss to MLS lower division side Sacramento FC on Wednesday night in the US Open semi-finals.

Youth football in Kansas is booming. Drawing largely from football-mad Johnson County, the Heartland Soccer Association claims its status as “the largest soccer league and tournament host in the United States.” According to the association, more than 30,000 young players dress for its football leagues.

In recent weeks, Kansas youth football has also won three national championships in one of the most prestigious tournaments for club football teams. Three different clubs – Sporting Blue Valley, Toca FC and KC Legends – have won top prize in Orlando at the USYS Championships. This total of one year eclipses the number of national championships Kansas clubs have won over decades in the competition.

Women’s soccer is also particularly vibrant in Kansas. Women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski was previously the technical director of a Kansas-based youth soccer club. Ranked No. 1 in the world, his team qualified for the World Cup 2023 and the 2024 Olympics.

native of Salina Adrian Franch previously played for the national team and won a bronze medal at the 2021 Olympics. She now guards the net as a goalkeeper for the Kansas City Current, the NWSL team playing its matches at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (The team will move to a stadium in downtown Kansas City, Missouri once it is built.)

Already built and widely used is the Compass Minerals National Performance Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The facility hosts football coaching education programs and provides a training ground for national teams when they visit Kansas City, as they did when Children’s Mercy Park hosted a friendly match between the United States and Uruguay June 5.

With all of this, our region is poised for a football boom in the years leading up to 2026. Four years of track provide plenty of time to do more than just scramble to plan the logistics of the event. Instead, Kansas can build on its already impressive resume as a football destination.

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