Sporting KC Weekly Update: April 1, 2015

SPORTING KC TO HOST PHILADELPHIA UNION SUNDAY AT SPORTING PARK
Coming off their first victory of 2015, Sporting KC returns to Sporting Park on Easter Sunday for a nationally televised match against the Philadelphia Union. The game will kick off at 6 p.m. CT and air live on Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes, Sports Radio 810 WHB and 1340 AM. A limited number of tickets are available via Ticketmaster.com while supplies last and the first 10,000 fans inside the gates will receive a commemorative Dom Dwyer poster courtesy of adidas.

Last Saturday’s win at New York City FC lifted Sporting KC (1-1-2, 5 points) into a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference, while the Union (0-2-2, 2 points) enter Sunday tied for last in the East with two points from their opening four matches. However, Philadelphia is undefeated in their last three trips to Kansas City, winning two, and face a Sporting KC side that has just one victory in their last seven MLS matches at Sporting Park dating back to August 2014.

Sporting KC has posted two consecutive clean sheets and is in the midst of a 197-minute shutout streak dating back to March 14. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has conceded a league-high six goals and has failed to score in three of their first four games in 2015. The clubs have split the all-time regular season series 4-4-4, including a 2-2-2 mark in Kansas City. The home team in this match-up has won just one of the last six meetings.

Sunday will be Sporting KC’s 600th regular season match in club history and their 300th played at home.

SPORTING KC DEFEATS NEW YORK CITY FC 1-0 AT YANKEE STADIUM
Sporting KC claimed a 1-0 road victory last Saturday against New York City FC, handing the expansion side their first MLS defeat in front of a crowd of 27,454 at Yankee Stadium. Ike Opara headed home a Matt Besler throw-in for his second goal of the season and Luis Marin made three saves to extend the team’s current shutout streak to 197 minutes.

Sporting KC’s two central defenders combined for the game’s lone goal at the 12-minute mark. With eight NYCFC players positioned in the goal mouth to defend the throw-in, Opara rose above Kwame Watson-Siriboe to connect with the 35-yard throw from Besler at the top of the six-yard box and directed a powerful header past Josh Saunders.

Sporting KC is now 7-1-2 in initial meetings against expansion (or relocated) clubs since 2005 and adds Yankee Stadium to the list of stadiums in which clubs have suffered their first loss against Kansas City (BBVA Compass Stadium, BMO Field, Qwest Field, Rio Tinto Stadium, Robertson Stadium and Spartan Stadium). 

IKE OPARA NOMINATED FOR ETIHAD AIRWAYS MLS PLAYER OF THE MONTH
Sporting KC defender Ike Opara has been nominated for the Etihad Airways MLS Player of the Month award for March. The defender started all four matches during the month, scored two goals and anchored a backline that posted two shutouts. Voting for MLS Player of the Month runs until 1:59 a.m. CT this Thursday, and the winner will be revealed that morning.

After missing the final six months of 2014 with a chondral defect injury in his right ankle, Opara has made up for lost time with an excellent start to 2015. Through the first four weeks of the 2015 campaign, he leads MLS in interceptions (25) and headed clearances (24) and ranks second in total clearances (36) and duels won (34). He is the only Sporting KC defender to have started all four matches in 2015 and one of two field players with 360 minutes played. In addition, Opara has been named to the MLS Team of the Week three times, more than any other player.

OPARA AND FEILHABER EARN MLS TEAM OF THE WEEK HONORS
With four weeks of the regular season in the books, Ike Opara has already made three appearances on MLSsoccer.com's Team of the Week. The third occurrence came Monday after Opara continued his strong start to the campaign with a game-winning goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win over New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. His 12th-minute header highlighted a match in which he led all players with 13 clearances, 12 duels won and nine interceptions. Bleacher ReportGoal.com and NBC Pro Soccer Talk also included the 6-foot-2 defender in their Team of the Week squads.

Saturday also saw a stellar performance from midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who landed Team of the Week spots on MLSsoccer.com and Goal.com. The 30-year-old veteran was all over the pitch, making 19 recoveries—no field player has logged more in a game since March 2013—and winning nine duels.

MARCEL DE JONG STARTS TWICE FOR CANADIAN NATIONAL TEAM
Marcel de Jong started for Canada on Monday in a 3-0 win at Puerto Rico, but his 33rd international appearance ended early as the Sporting KC defender was replaced by Karl Ouimette in the 34th minute of the international friendly for precautionary reasons. The match came three days after Canada’s 1-0 victory over Guatemala in which de Jong played 90 minutes.

De Jong, 28, has represented his country at each of the past three CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments, as well as in 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying. He signed for Sporting KC in early March and made his MLS debut on March 14 after recording more than 225 club appearances over 10 professional seasons in the Netherlands and Germany. 

ROGER ESPINOZA EARNS 46TH CAP, HONDURAS QUALIFIES FOR GOLD CUP
Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza started and played 65 minutes for Honduras on March 25 in the opening leg of a two-game CONCACAF Gold Cup play-in series against French Guiana. Despite losing the match 3-1, Los Catrachos returned home and claimed a 3-0 win in the decisive second leg to win 4-3 on aggregate. Honduras now joins the United States, Panama and Haiti in Group A of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, having reached the semifinal round in four of the past five Gold Cup tournaments.

Espinoza, 28, has earned 46 caps for Honduras, scoring four goals and representing his native country at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, 2012 Summer Olympics and 2014 FIFA World Cup. He has played 133 matches for Sporting KC in all competitions with three goals and 12 assists, including a long-range strike at FC Dallas on March 14.

JON KEMPIN STOPS PENALTY KICK IN FIRST MATCH ON LOAN
On-loan goalkeeper Jon Kempin marked his first appearance for the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions last Saturday with a penalty kick save in a 4-2 friendly win over the Costa Rica U-23 National Team. The match at Toyota Field in San Antonio was the Scorpions’ final friendly before they kick off the 2015 North American Soccer League season this Saturday.

Kempin, who was loaned to the defending NASL champions on March 20, begins his sixth pro season after joining the U.S. Men’s National Team in January. The Leawood, Kansas, native made five competitive appearances for Sporting KC in 2014, including his debut in MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League, while also spending time on loan at OKC Energy FC of USL PRO. Kempin earned back-to-back MLS Save of the Week honors in his first two MLS appearances last August and was named MVP of the 2014 MLS Chipotle Homegrown Game. In doing so, he became the youngest keeper to start an MLS match in club history.

MIKEY LOPEZ STARTS FOR OKC ENERGY FC IN USL OPENER
On-loan midfielder Mikey Lopez played 77 minutes for USL affiliate OKC Energy FC on Saturday as Jimmy Nielsen’s side drew the Tulsa Roughnecks 1-1 in the 2015 season opener for both clubs at ONEOK Field in Tulsa.

Lopez returns on loan to the USL for the second straight year. He recorded one goal and one assist in 14 appearances split between Orlando City SC (nine games) and OKC Energy FC (five games) last season. The 22-year-old also logged eight MLS appearances for Sporting Kansas City in 2014 during a breakout second professional season. Lopez represented the United States at the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey and made his professional debut during the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

SKC ACADEMY COMPETING AT 2014-15 GENERATION ADIDAS CUP IN TEXAS
After a 4-2 win over Qatar's Aspire Academy on Sunday, the Sporting KC Academy U16's fell 2-0 to Toronto FC on Monday at the 2014-15 Generation adidas Cup in Frisco, Texas.

Those two results set up a decisive group stage finale today when Sporting KC squares off against River Plate (Argentina) at 3 p.m. CT on Field 8 at the Toyota Soccer Center. The Group A winner automatically advances to the semifinals—to be held in Toyota Stadium—along with the best overall second place finisher amongst the 12 teams in the Champions Division.

The Generation adidas Cup has been held annually since 2007 and serves as Major League Soccer's Under-17 national championship. Visit MLSsoccer.com for full scores, standings and schedules throughout the tournament. In addition, follow @SKCAcademy on Twitter and Instagram for all the latest updates.

SPORTING KC, BLACK & VEATCH TEAM UP TO LAUNCH GROWSTEM PROGRAM
Sporting KC announced today that the club has partnered with global engineering and construction company Black & Veatch to launch a program aimed at enhancing interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among local students in grades 6-8.

In 2015, Black & Veatch’s new growSTEM initiative, in partnership with Sporting KC, will include summer camps at Kansas City, Kansas middle schools. With appearances by Sporting KC players and engineers from Black & Veatch, each camp will offer a STEM-related curriculum highlighted by a challenge specifically focused on Sporting KC. Subjects will include the engineering elements in the design of Sporting Park, technology solutions for fan engagement and on-field data analysis and display of player performance.

The partnership with Sporting KC builds on Black & Veatch’s global STEM partnership with the Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park, along with the company’s many existing mentoring programs, and will be leveraged to drive volunteer efforts at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City.

TICKETS ON SALE FOR CONCACAF GOLD CUP DOUBLEHEADER ON JULY 13
Tickets are now on sale via Ticketmaster.com for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader to be played at Sporting Park on July 13. The United States Men's National Team will face Panama at 8:30 pm. CT in the Group A finale after Haiti takes on either Honduras or French Guiana at 6 p.m. CT. CONCACAF announced the group stage matchups for the 12-team tournament on March 12.

All tickets provide entry to both matches with prices starting at $35 for general admission seating in the South Stand or Members Stand. Sporting KC could feature players on three of the teams competing at Sporting Park that evening—Matt Besler and Graham Zusi of the U.S., Haitian midfielder Soni Mustivar and Honduran midfielder Roger Espinoza.

The Gold Cup is the region’s marquee national team tournament and the headline competition for the United States Men’s National Team in 2015. This year’s tournament carries additional significance as it will determine CONCACAF's representatives at the Centennial Cup America in 2016 and the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017.

SPORTING CLUB NETWORK ADDS NEW ACADEMY AFFILIATE IN INDIANA
Southwest Indiana Soccer Association has officially signed on as the 14th Academy Affiliate in the Sporting Club Network, presented by Price Chopper. Rebranded as Sporting Southern Indiana, SSI is now the first affiliate of Sporting Kansas City in the state of Indiana. For the latest Sporting Club Network news and updates, visit SportingKC.com/SCN and follow @SportingKC_SCN on Twitter.

FANS ENCOURAGED TO DONATE SOCCER EQUIPMENT FOR RECYCLE YOUR GAME
In recognition of National Recycling Month, The Victory Project and the Sporting Club Network, presented by Price Chopper, will host Recycle Your Game soccer equipment drives at both Sporting KC home games in April as well as at select network events. Fans are encouraged to bring new or gently used soccer gear to benefit underserved youth in the Kansas City metro.

In exchange for donating gear, fans will receive a 10 percent off coupon valid at the Sporting Style in-stadium locations as well as through the team’s online store. Collection bins will be set up at all gates for the April 5 and April 11 home games from the time gates until 15 minutes into each match.

Since the launch of the campaign in 2014, more than 500 pairs of soccer cleats, shin guards and soccer balls have been distributed to over 150 children within the community. To learn more about Recycle Your Game, visit SportingKC.com/RecycleYourGame.

SKCTV FANTASY LEAGUE TO BEGIN FRIDAY
The SKCTV Fantasy League (code: 633-2390) officially begins this weekend in conjunction with Week 5 of the Major League Soccer season. Those registered with MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager are encouraged to join the league to compete against SKCTV broadcasters and can tune in to SKCTV telecasts throughout the season for Jake Yadrich's Fantasy Tip of the Week. Prizes will be available for eligible participants with the most points each month (April - October) and at the completion of the regular season.

SPORTING KC TO HOST OPEN TRYOUTS JUNE 13-14
Sporting KC will host the team's 2015 open tryouts on June 13-14 at Swope Soccer Village (6310 Lewis Road) in Kansas City, Missouri. Online registration is now open and will be available to the first 200 players who are 18 years or older.

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The club first organized open tryouts in the buildup to the team's inaugural season in 1996. More recently, Sporting KC has welcomed prospective professionals each year since 2008 when two players, Nelson Pizarro and Kevin Souter, were signed by Vermes and went on to appear in 14 matches across all competitions.

Participants must pay all expenses (registration fee, travel costs, etc.), but discounted hotel rooms are available for out-of-town players. For more information, visit the 2015 Open Tryouts webpage on SportingKC.com.

REGISTRATION OPEN FOR SPORTING KC YOUTH CAMPS IN 2015
Sporting KC is offering a series of youth camps to foster the next generation of soccer players in the region. Camp registration is now open at SportingKC.com/camps, including the upcoming Speed and Agility Camp every Wednesday from April 1 to May 6 (six weeks) at Swope Soccer Village. For more information on the youth camps available to boys and girls, visit SportingKC.com.

FOLLOW SPORTING KC ONLINE
Sporting KC fans looking to keep up with the club online have a place to go. The Social Media page on SportingKC.com features Twitter account information for the team, its players and several staff members. Supporters may also take advantage of the Media Recap page for all the latest independent news coverage.

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