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Sporting KC honors Cerner CEO who they say saved soccer for Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Members of Sporting KC are taking time Monday to pay tribute to one of  the club's principal owners, Neal Patterson.

The 67-year-old founder of the Cerner Corporation died Sunday of complications from cancer.

Patterson is credited with helping make the metro area a better place to live, work and play.

From saving a major league franchise for Kansas City to boosting the American Royal, Patterson is being remembered for more than the health care tech company that he founded.

"I learned a great deal from Neal and Cliff at Cerner, more than I learned getting my MBA or anyplace else," said Alan Dietrich, who is now Sporting KC's chief operating officer. "A lot of those business principles that you pick up and you refine could translate very well to the sports industry."

While Cerner has grown to become the largest private employer in the metro area with more than 12,000 workers, sports fans also credit Patterson for helping prevent Major League Soccer from leaving Kansas City.

Patterson and four others bought the Kansas City Wizards in 2006 and transformed the club into Sporting KC, a model franchise for the league with a soccer specific stadium that has seen 97 consecutive sellouts.

"The vision that our ownership group has and especially Neal, you obviously see what he and Cliff have done with Cerner," said Peter Vermes, Sporting KC's head coach. "You put that same type of vision into this organization, you come up with a pretty easy answer. It’s no wonder that the team, club and organization has had success."

The son of Oklahoma farmers, Patterson had a reputation for hard work in everything he did.

During Cerner's years of explosive growth, he made national news in 2001 when he sent an email to workers, complaining that they were not putting in longer hours.

Patterson was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and hasn't been seen much at Sporting KC or Cerner since. But those whose lives he touched say his influence will continue to shape Kansas City for years to come.