For the first time since match play was suspended March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Soccer action will resume July 8 with the historic and unprecedented MLS is Back Tournament. This one-of-a-kind competition will see all 26 clubs descend on ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, marking the emphatic return of men's professional soccer in the United States after a near four-month hiatus.
As the opening match approaches, SportingKC.com is presenting a 20-day preview of the World-Cup style tournament from June 18 through July 7 called Countdown to MLS is Back presented by Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center.
Sporting Kansas City will kick off their Group D campaign on July 12 against rivals Minnesota United FC before facing the Colorado Rapids on July 17 and Real Salt Lake on July 22, with all three games shown live nationally on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/MLSisBack.
With the foundation of our MLS is Back Tournament countdown in place, the next three editions will reacquaint readers with a Sporting Kansas City roster whose depth will almost certainly be tested next month in Orlando. Today we dive into the club's defense, consisting of goalkeepers and defenders, before moving to midfielders on Tuesday and forwards on Wednesday.
As Sporting prepares for their trip to Disney World, keep in mind that MLS will permit five substitutions per team each match. Depth in numbers matters now more than ever, and everyone will get their opportunity to make a positive impact. Let's get straight to it.
Tim Melia: Sporting's all-time goalkeeping leader in regular season wins and shutouts doesn't appear to be slowing down. The 33-year-old Melia signed a long-term contract extension this winter and ranks second in MLS with an 83.3 save percentage through Week 2.
Richard Sanchez: With a strong 2020 preseason under his belt, the 26-year-old Sanchez is already in his 10th professional campaign after developing in the FC Dallas Academy and competing in the United States and Mexico.
John Pulskamp: At just 19 years of age, Pulskamp is an excellent prospect and could get lots of playing time with Sporting KC II when the USL Championship season resumes next month.
Eric Dick: The third-year professional will spend 2020 on loan with USL Championship side Phoenix Rising FC.
Botond Barath: The Hungarian made 24 appearances for Sporting in 2019 after spending the first several years of his career at Budapest Honved FC. He has yet to feature in 2020 but remains a solid option for Manager Peter Vermes in central defense.
Matt Besler: Sporting's captain and all-time leader in appearances has spent 12 seasons at his hometown club. Through Week 2 of the 2020 campaign, he leads MLS with a duel success rate of 84.2 percent.
Andreu Fontas: The 30-year-old Spaniard and former FC Barcelona defender was sidelined during preseason with an Achilles injury but has returned to fitness ahead of the league's restart.
Roberto Puncec: As one of Sporting's marquee offseason acquisitions, Puncec earned a starting role alongside Besler in central defense and assisted Alan Pulido's header on his MLS debut in a 3-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Feb. 29.
Winston Reid: The New Zealand international and longtime English Premier League veteran will continue his loan with Sporting, MLS reported on Friday. If Reid can settle into the side, he could provide a major boost to the team's backline.
Graham Smith: The 24-year-old Smith has proven himself at the USL Championship level with Sporting KC II and will look to make another jump in the weeks and months ahead.
Amadou Dia: The left back spent his first two professional seasons with Sporting in 2015 and 2016 prior to becoming a mainstay for USL Championship heavyweights Phoenix Rising FC. He returned to Kansas City in January and will likely play an important role this summer.
Jaylin Lindsey: Lindsey broke onto the scene in 2018 as an 18-year-old before missing the first half of 2019 with a knee injury. Now healthy, the athletic U.S. youth international will push Graham Zusi for minutes at the right back spot.
Luis Martins: The Portuguese left back enjoyed a terrific start to 2020, assisting Gadi Kinda's sweet strike in a Week 1 win at Vancouver and contributing to a 4-0 home win over the Houston Dynamo on March 7. Through Week 2, he leads MLS defenders with 45 passes in the attacking third and ranks fourth with 20 possessions won.
Graham Zusi: Alongside Besler, Zusi is an unmistakable face of the Sporting franchise and has demonstrated remarkable versatility over the course of 12 seasons with the team. He continues to hold down the right back spot with a penchant for joining the attack.