Developing a club identity is a process that typically comes with time and experience. For USL League Two club Kaw Valley FC, its partnership with Major League Soccer's Sporting Kansas City is helping the Midwest club build off a special culture.
Sporting has won two MLS Cups and four Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles in its near-quarter century in MLS, but the club’s vision and focus has evolved over the years. That has put the club's first team and the organization’s other assets in a position to develop a winning culture on and off the field.
As Kaw Valley enters its second season in League Two this summer, the club is using those unique connections and values to put together a winning product on the field and help propel itself to another level off of it.
“About four years ago we developed a uniform set of core values that started up at Sporting KC and trickled down to our club and all of the youth teams here,” Kaw Valley President and General Manager Marcus Dudley told USLLeagueTwo.com. “Team first, work ethic, intelligence and winning mentality are all things that we build our model off of. It’s embedded in the Sporting players, the operational staff, the youth academy and beyond.
“We adopted this with Kaw Valley and then added three traits underneath each pillar that kind of pointed more directly at us.”
In just one year of on-field play, Kaw Valley has already produced a number of quality talents, such as midfielder Tucker Stephenson, as well as a network of relationships within the greater-Lawrence, Kansas area that have helped every aspect of the club.
That includes the team’s partnership with the University of Kansas, which has proven to be a great network for producing internships within Kaw Valley.
“It goes beyond our relationship with Sporting KC and University of Kansas though,” Dudley said. “This team and this league is about finding the best practices to not only develop our players and coaches, but also prepare our front office and our interns and everyone involved with this organization for whatever comes next.
“Realistically this won’t be the end of the road for a lot of these guys and girls, so we’re all about providing a professional atmosphere that will set each and every one up for success.”
In 2018, Kaw Valley featured 10 players that previously trained and developed in Sporting KC’s academy system. Dudley says each of them knew what to expect and came prepared with the understanding of the team’s four core values.
It expands beyond the landscape of players though. Second-year Kaw Valley Head Coach Istvan Urbanyi has been involved with Sporting KC for a number of years, and recently added Director of Talent Identification to his list of roles for the MLS side.
The links that have formed within the organization have provided a defined pathway for many of the club’s assets, which go beyond the players on the field.
That sort of continuity and self-awareness is what Kaw Valley believes will continue to propel it in the future and allow the club to reach new heights during its continued evolution.
“We’ve altered our mission a couple of times, but for the last five years we’ve kind of stuck with this one for enriching lives and connecting communities through the sport of soccer,” Dudley said. “This is obviously important because we have this great relationship with Sporting KC. Although we all want to win, we’ve put a great emphasis on development over winning.
“It was a long conversation we had internally, and we had to ask ourselves, ‘why are we involved in soccer?’ It wasn’t just about the winning piece. It was about how we were all developing in this process”
That process of developing Kaw Valley was an idea that originated as a way to “bridge the gap” between Sporting’s high school and college-aged players and the ones ready for life at the USL Championship's Swope Park Rangers.
Outside of college soccer, Dudley said the organization felt compelled to add another pipeline within the Sporting network that would provide young players with an avenue to continue their pursuit of a professional career.
“For a lot of our guys, it was difficult once they got to that age of 18,” Dudley said. “Unless you continue playing in college there’s really a lack of other options for guys looking to continue to develop.
“We saw this as a credible opportunity to help provide our Sporting KC family with another chance to watch these players perform.”