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.
Our positional preview of Sporting Kansas City's squad began Monday with a look at the goalkeepers and defenders who will be at Manager Peter Vermes' disposal next month in Disney World. This time around, we get reacquainted with a Sporting midfield that flexed its might earlier this year but will have to navigate the rest of the season without a key contributor.
As mentioned on Monday, Sporting will be permitted five substitutions per match at the MLS is Back Tournament. This makes depth as important as ever, and given the fact that midfielders tend to cover as much ground as anyone else on the field, each of the following players could have a legitimate role to play in Florida.
Gianluca Busio: MLSsoccer.com has tabbed Busio as a breakout candidate for the MLS is Back Tournament, and it's not hard to see why. The U.S. youth international, who turned 18 last month, scored three goals in 26 appearances for Sporting last season and will look to take another major step forward in 2020.
Cam Duke: The 19-year-old Sporting KC Academy product has yet to make his professional debut, but that will almost certainly change in the coming weeks and months. The younger brother of longtime Sporting KC II midfielder Christian Duke, Cam has a tireless motor and brings plenty of energy at the midfield and outside back positions.
Roger Espinoza: Anyone who thought the 33-year-old World Cup veteran was in the twilight of his career might want to watch Sporting's first two games of 2020. Espinoza was particularly devastating in a 4-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on March 7, buzz-sawing his way into the record books by becoming the first Sporting player to score a goal, win five tackles and complete more than 40 passes in an MLS match.
Felipe Gutierrez: Sporting's leading scorer and team MVP from 2019 won't be back in action until 2021. Gutierrez underwent successful surgery on his knee earlier this month and will be sidelined for the rest of the season.
Felipe Hernandez: Sporting KC II's shining star from 2019 will have his sights set on making a first-team impact this year. The 22-year-old Hernandez is notably the first-ever Sporting player to progress from an Academy Affiliate club to the Sporting KC Academy to Sporting KC II before signing with the senior team.
Gadi Kinda: The 25-year-old Israeli was an absolute revelation during the early stages of 2020, becoming the only player to land MLS Team of the Week honors in Week 1 and Week 2. Kinda scored a stunning curler in a 3-1 road win over Vancouver before contributing to the demolition of Houston with yet another goal. The diminutive midfielder has joined Alan Pulido as the third and fourth players in Sporting history to score in their first two MLS appearances for the club.
Ilie Sanchez: One of the league's premier holding midfielders, Ilie is the all-important fulcrum in the center of the pitch who comprises a vital part of Sporting's spine. In addition to shielding the backline, Ilie is also a pivotal distributor going forward, as his 72 passes in the attacking half rank fifth in MLS through Week 2.
Wan Kuzain: The 21-year-old Sporting KC Academy product was a busy man back in April and May, joining eMLS star Alekzandur for a second-place finish at the eMLS Tournament Special. Now that summer has arrived, Kuzain will aim to translate his FIFA form into strong performances on the pitch.