KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The Kansas City area has two flourishing professional soccer teams: Sporting KC and the KC Current. And in a few years, one of the biggest sporting events in the world will come here: the World Cup.  

But Kansas City hasn’t always been a soccer city. The beginnings can be traced back to the 1950s and ’60s. 

“Way back when, they were immigrants that brought the game to Kansas City,” said Nick Garcia, executive director of Sporting Brookside and former Kansas City Wizards defender.

Before there was Sporting Kansas City and Children’s Mercy Park and a soccer fan base whose roars emanate from a state-of-the-art stadium, there was a group called the Los Latinos. Not professionals, just first-generation Americans doing what they loved to do.

“The games were very intense, maybe ended up in a fight but after the game was over, they’d invite us to have a drink and some meals with their families,” said Tony Tocco, head soccer coach at Rockhurst University.

These competitive matches were held on pitches at the park, serving as the birth of soccer in Kansas City. Before schools fielded soccer teams or youth clubs existed, it was them just having fun.

It’s something Tocco knows all too well. He’s been the head coach at Rockhurst University for the past 52 years.

“They played the sport that they loved, and they played it very hard,” he said.

“If you’d go out to Swope Park on a Sunday afternoon, you would see a whole contingent of people playing soccer, and mainly they were first-generation immigrant-type families playing,” Tocco said.

Their love for the game stretched all the way to the present day. Garcia is quite familiar with the support.

“The Hispanic population is very important,” he said. “The Latinos have a great passion for their players, and I think it’s a great thing,” Garcia said.

Both men credit the Hispanic and Latino communities’ contributions that brought the game here but more so keeping it alive — breathing life into a sport that hasn’t always been a fan favorite in America.

One of those supporters is Hector Solorio. He’s the creator of “La Barra,” a support group for the Wizards in 2000 when the team struggled to get more than 10,000 fans in a 70,000-seat stadium.

But Solorio and his crew were always there.

“It’s my life. It’s my second wife. I always say that,” he said. “Started to play the drums before the games, do barbeques.”

His support never waivered because, for many Latinos and Hispanics then and now, soccer is more than a sport. It’s a way of life, something they hold near and dear to their hearts. It’s a way to change your life in every facet, including escaping poverty.

“Right now, we have more access to more places to play, we have more chances to bring the kids to the academy, we have more chance the kids can be pro,” Solorio said.

So from its very inception in Kansas City, the game known as “futbol” around the world has been a movement started, led and kept alive by the Hispanic community.  

So now that Kansas City is often referred to as a soccer capital of the United States, getting ready for the international stage in 2026, what’s the state of the sport right here in our backyards?

“It’s unbelievable. When I take a look at Kansas City, when I came here and literally almost no soccer was being played, and then you see the power of Kansas City to get Word Cup games,” Tocco said.

To continue this growth, all three men said the key is more affordable access so kids pick soccer as their first sport.

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