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Sporting Kansas City honored at White House, plays a little ball

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) photographs the 2013 MLS Cup during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Oct. 1, 2014. Sporting is the sixth MLS championship team honored by Obama since he took office in 2009. (Olivier Douliery/McClatchy)
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) photographs the 2013 MLS Cup during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Oct. 1, 2014. Sporting is the sixth MLS championship team honored by Obama since he took office in 2009. (Olivier Douliery/McClatchy) MCT

According to President Barack Obama, something is going on with Kansas City.

The president on Wednesday not only praised players from Sporting Kansas City for “getting it all started” to help soccer grow in the United States, but also the city’s fans for their enthusiasm for sports.

“The thing about Kansas City fans is that even in below-freezing temperatures, the seats were filled,” Obama said about the MLS championship game in 2013. “This is a city that loves soccer.”

And not only did the fans stick around on Dec. 6, 2013, but the players stuck it out through 10 rounds of nail-biting penalty kicks to finally clinch the 2013 MLS Championship Cup against Real Salt Lake.

Kansas City soccer took center stage Wednesday when Sporting KC met the president for a ceremony to celebrate that championship. Obama joked around with the team and congratulated it on its successes before posing for a photo in the East Room of the White House.

“As soccer continues to grow here in the United States, it does so in large part because of the great example of dedicated fans in Kansas City,” Obama said.

Forward Dom Dwyer, who is from England, said the experience at the White House was “unbelievable.”

“You know, I never thought I’d get a chance to come to the White House, maybe even be in America, so it’s an amazing experience for me,” he said.

The ceremony in Washington was another marker of a fantastic week for fans of Kansas City sports. In football, the Kansas City Chiefs dominated the New England Patriots on Monday night, 41-14.

Then the Sporting KC team cheered on Kansas City baseball late Tuesday, when the Royals pulled out a stunning extra-inning victory over the Oakland A’s in a wild card game, the team’s first playoff win in 29 years.

Sporting KC team captain Matt Besler grew up in the Kansas City area, and he said Tuesday’s game, which he watched on TV, was the most exciting baseball game he’s ever seen. “It’s an exciting time to be part of sports in Kansas City,” Besler said. “The energy in the city is the highest it’s ever been.”

Later in the afternoon, the Sporting KC players helped with a youth soccer clinic on the White House lawn. Several players said their time at the White House will not be a distraction but will motivate the team for its upcoming games. Sporting KC will play D.C. United on Friday.

Obama also congratulated Sporting Kansas City’s manager for winning MLS Championship Cup titles twice – as a player and as a coach.

Peter Vermes played in 2000 for Kansas City’s then-Wizards when they won the MLS championship. Now, Vermes is making his trip to the White House as the manager of the 2013 MLS championship-winning Sporting KC.

“It was obviously a tremendous honor for us as an organization to come here and be recognized,” Vermes said. “It’s definitely a historical day in Sporting Kansas City’s history.”

For many players, including Besler, it was their first time to visit the White House. “It’s a huge honor and it’s something we will all definitely remember for the rest of our lives,” Besler said.

This summer, Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi played for the first time on the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Zusi said Sporting KC is ready to defend its championship.

“I think naturally the team who wins the championship always has a bigger target on their back than in years before,” Zusi said. “So we expect everyone’s top game.”

Email: sehlinger@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @samehlinger

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