NOSTALGIA IS THE NAME OF THE GAME AS THE WINGS TAKE ON THE COMETS
Park City, KAN - The music. The balloon pop. The electric atmosphere. Vintage logos and tees. A full arena watching their men in orange taking on the Kansas City Comets.
The new incarnation of the Wichita Wings is decidedly old school - both pulling from and learning from the teams that came before them. And this weekend, the Kansas City Comets blow into town with a genuine blast from the past for the Wings who are fresh off an exciting overtime win at Hartman Arena against the Colorado Inferno.
"The game was really intense on the field," said Coach Roger Downing. "The crowd was great and the place was rocking. The guys were feeding off the energy. At the end of regulation, we were really putting it on them, we wanted to keep that same energy and pressure going into overtime."
The Wings currently sit in second place of the MASL2 standings. Fans are impressed with the launch of the new team and so are some former Wichita Wings.
"Blake (Shumaker, owner) has done a fantastic job. I've come down for a couple of games of FC Wichita and the fan base that soccer has in Wichita - it still blows my mind because I was there from 1980 until what? 2000? So, it's 20-plus years. And to see how the community just continues to grow? Roy (Turner, former Wings coach), Blake and the other owners have given Wichita a fantastic 40-year ride," said Kim Roentved, former Wing and Kansas City Comet, who remains a popular figure in Wichita soccer decades after his heyday as a defender for the team.
Roentved will not be at the match that pits his two teams against each other, but does plan to be in Wichita for the premiere of the documentary "God Save the Wings" on February 22 and the game on February 23 - and there might be time for a round of golf with his former teammates.
And although the next game against KC should be fun, it's also an opportunity to learn from the team in the top-tier of the league.
"The KC game should be fun it will give us an idea of what the MASL is like. It will also give some newer guys a chance to prove themselves against a quality opponent. Every game is an opportunity for us this year and we intend to make the best of each one," said Downing. "This will be the first time the rivalry is renewed with the Comets. This is going to be just the first taste of what’s to come in the future."
Roentved agreed fans shouldn't discount the value of the game, even though the match is an exhibition game and won't count toward the standings in the MASL2.
"It always counts because there's always bragging rights," Roentved said with a chuckle. "This rivalry goes back to 1981, and as much as we enjoyed the competition and it was 60 minutes of blood, sweat and tears, there has been a lot of fun games between them."
Roentved especially loved the triangle of the Wings, St. Louis and the Comets - three great Major Indoor Soccer League rivals who fought hard on the field and brought in sold-out crowds to the Kansas Coliseum.
"What did the Coliseum hold? 9600 people? You pack that many into the Kansas Coliseum and it's pretty electicfying," said Roentved. "This triangle was great - great times, I had great times with these three teams. There was always a lot on the line but we were there to win games and entertain, then leave the field healthy. You give 100 percent because at the end of the day both teams are in the same business and that's to win games.
"And you hope and pray that no one breaks a leg," Roentved said. "That's just the competitive part of the game and it's the same between KC and Wichita."
Fans are snapping up tickets to the match, but the players are also looking forward to renewing the rivalry.
"This next game is one everyone should have circled on their calendar. The Comets and Wings rivalry is something special. And is going to make for an amazing game on Sunday. They are a top division team, so its going to be fight. But I know our guys are ready to step up," said defender Daniel Sack.
The Comets will be coming off a long road-trip that includes both Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Wings, on the other hand, will be fresh and have had a strong week of practice before the match.
"Absolutely every time you play against a better team it makes you better - and the Comets players are advanced and a lot have played together for a long time," said Roentved, the former coach of the Comets. "I scouted most of them, including Leo Gibson, their top scorer."
Leo is the franchise's all-time leader in goals, assists and games played. So far this year in a dozen years he has score 22 goals and has 16 assists.
Goalkeeper Steve Hamersky and the Wings defensive squad will have their hands full. And it might be another historic chapter in perhaps indoor soccer's greatest rivalry.
The Wings and the Comets will meet in exhibition at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9 at Hartman Arena in Park City. Tickets are still available for purchase both at Hartman Arena and on Ticketmaster. And remember, they are NOT included in your season ticket package.