In the Spring of 2013, representatives from U.S. Soccer traveled to Kansas City. It wasn’t to discuss hosting national team games at the recently completed state-of-the-art Sporting Park (now named Children’s Mercy Park). It wasn’t to meet with Sporting KC head coach and technical director Peter Vermes about national team mainstays Matt Besler and Graham Zusi. It was about something entirely different.
The U.S. Soccer representatives were brought into Sporting Park. Seats strategically positioned in front of the giant replay screen were waiting for them. Sporting KC played a video for them that boiled down a simple question: What would you say if we could build everything you’ve ever dreamed of in a soccer facility with the goal of winning the World Cup? A U.S. Soccer crest appeared on screen with a coveted gold star above it, signifying international soccer’s most coveted accomplishment: A World Cup victory.
The National Training and Coaching Development Center (NTCDC) was born.
Bringing a Vision to Life
On June 9, 2011, Sporting KC opened their crowned jewel, Sporting Park, which at the time was the latest and greatest of MLS’ soccer specific stadiums. Sporting KC was in its first year of its rebrand and had just sold out its first game at Sporting Park, with 2012 tickets well on their way to selling out as well. Coming off a successful rebrand and stadium launch, Sporting Club (Sporting KC’s ownership group) turned their attention to the future, asking what’s next?
David Ficklin, the vice president of development for Sporting Club, Sporting KC’s ownership group, said ambitions were bigger than winning the club’s second MLS Cup (although that would come just two years later). Instead, Sporting Club had their sights set on the international stage, envisioning a world where U.S. Soccer was among the world’s soccer superpowers, challenging for both men and women’s World Cup titles.
“We asked U.S. Soccer what if we took all that you need to build the best team in the world and put it in one complex?” said Ficklin. With a statement like that, it didn’t take much convincing to get U.S. Soccer on board. Sporting Club and U.S. Soccer also brought Children’s Mercy Hospital, the official health care provider of Sporting KC, on board.
Meeting after meeting took place over the course of a year between Sporting Club executives and U.S. Soccer. Every time they met, a bigger, better idea was thought of. Peter Vermes was heavily involved in the planning as well. “Peter would be in Barcelona and I’d get a picture message from him saying ‘Hey, can we do this?’” said Ficklin.
As plans began to take shape, it was clear this project would be the first of its kind. “A national team training center like this doesn’t exist,” Ficklin says proudly.
After planning was finalized, a truly world-class $80 million facility was about to take shape. Located just a couple miles away from Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, the facility will eventually have seven full sized soccer fields, five of which will be ready upon opening including the “super pitch”—three side by side full sized soccer fields fitted with fiber connections that will produce real-time video for players and coaches to review on the sidelines and a sky-cam that stretches across all three fields.
There will also be the 80,000-square-foot main NTCDC building. According to U.S. Soccer’s press release, this building will include:
The U.S. Soccer National Coaching Education Center, including two locker rooms, three coaching classrooms, eight breakout rooms and the world’s first fully wired coaching pavilion
The Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, including six exam rooms and a radiology center
Professional training facilities, including the new Sporting Kansas City player and coach locker rooms, two national team locker rooms, a video analysis suite, a conference room, an auditorium and a cafeteria
A 12,500-square-foot Sports Performance Gymnasium
A 2,100-square-foot Human Analysis Lab
A 1,700-square-foot Hydrotherapy Suite
A 1,500-square-foot Sports Performance Lab
An 800-square-foot Hydrotherapy Suite (with a variable depth system that can be customized for players with different injury recovery needs)
It may have taken four years for the project to go from conceptualization to construction, but Ficklin doesn’t view that as a bad thing. “One benefit of a project taking so long is you can add new ideas and new things you see around the world,” he says. “If you go too fast you become too tactical and can’t get it done with a vision.”
Construction began on the facility in January and is scheduled to be done on December 15 of this year, per Ficklin.
Improvements for Sporting KC
One of the benefits for Vermes and Sporting KC is the facility will become their full-time training home. Sporting KC currently trains at the Swope Soccer Village, which is a nice facility on its own. But SKC’s USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers and Sporting KC’s youth academy also trains there, which can make things a bit crowded.
The 12,500-square-foot gymnasium will be more than ten times bigger than SKC’s current gym at Swope Soccer Village. They’ll get their own full-sized pool. The locker room will be just steps away from the gymnasium, the super pitch and the Children’s Mercy facilities. The Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center will be used for all Sporting KC players, from youth academy players up through the senior team.
Vermes is also getting a training and conditioning hill he’s been wanting for years, according to Ficklin. The hill will have a ten-degree incline, a twenty-degree incline and three sets of stair treads built into a hill right off of the super pitch.
When asked if the new facilities will help with player recruitment, especially when going head-to-head with clubs in larger markets like New York and Los Angeles, Vermes said he certainly hopes so.
“These facilities will blow clubs away,” he says. “We sometimes have this perception that these clubs around the world all have facilities like these. They don’t.”
Soccer Capital of America
Kansas City already proudly boasts itself as the “Soccer Capital of America,” despite objections from fan bases in Seattle, Portland and pretty much everywhere else in the country. Hosting one of the world’s premier soccer training facilities that include the U.S. Soccer National Coaching Education Center will only further bolster the argument.
“This will be transformational for U.S. Soccer,” says Ficklin.
Don’t think that once construction is complete the project is done and over with. “This is version 1.0,” says Vermes. “We have 2.0 and 3.0 coming.”
Fast forward to 2026. U.S. Soccer’s men’s national team is hoisting its very first World Cup trophy. The women’s national team has continued its success on the international stage, winning its fourth and maybe even fifth World Cup. U.S. Soccer now sits among the world’s soccer superpowers, right alongside Argentina, Spain, Portugal and Germany.
It all started in Kansas City, Kansas.