After finishing atop the Western Conference regular season standings, Sporting Kansas City will look to punctuate an unprecedented 2020 campaign by winning silverware on Major League Soccer's greatest stage. The Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs will see Sporting join an expanded field of 18 clubs, all of which have their sights firmly set on hoisting the MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
In order to claim the ultimate prize, Sporting Kansas City must navigate a single-elimination bracket packed with in-form teams. The first step is a Round One showdown with the No. 8 seed San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, Nov. 22, at Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. CT with live coverage on FS1 and FOX Deportes.
As postseason anticipation continues to build, SportingKC.com is rolling out a 12-day countdown to the club's opening playoff match, offering a comprehensive preview of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. From key storylines and positional breakdowns to history lessons and community initiatives, our Countdown to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs highlights the many reasons to be pumped for Sporting’s pursuit of another MLS Cup title. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/playoffcountdown.
Sporting Kansas City surged to a first-place finish in the Western Conference thanks in part to one of the most prolific and well-balanced attacks in Major League Soccer.
Manager Peter Vermes’ men scored in all but one of their 21 regular season fixtures over the course of 2020—and anyone who remembers the 1-0 loss at FC Dallas on Oct. 14 knows that Sporting should have been awarded a goal in that game, too.
That minor blemish aside, Sporting ended the regular season with 38 goals scored—an impressive clip of 1.81 per game and the third-best average in the club’s history. In the process, Sporting spread the scoring wealth as the only MLS team to have four players with at least five regular season goals.
That list includes the three players who finished tied atop the club’s golden boot race—Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell and midfielder Gadi Kinda bagged six each—as well as Khiry Shelton and Erik Hurtrado, who added five apiece.
In today’s edition of the playoff countdown, and with only six days until matchday at Children’s Mercy Park, we take a look at the attacking personnel who have spearheaded the team’s goal-scoring ways during an unprecedented campaign.
The 29-year-old Mexican was every bit as good as advertised in his debut MLS season. Arriving from Chivas de Guadalajara on a club-record transfer fee last December, Pulido led Sporting in both goals (seven) and assists (five) across all competitions despite missing almost half the season either through injury or on international duty. The uber-talented forward was one of three finalists for the 2020 MLS Newcomer of the Year award and boasts an 8-2-1 record as a starter. The big question mark surrounding Pulido is whether he will be fit enough to feature for Sporting in the playoffs.
Russell has pieced together three straight seasons chalk full of excellent attacking performances in a Sporting uniform. The Scottish international added six goals and four assists in 2020 and was particularly rampant at Children’s Mercy Park, where he notched five goals and three assists. That could bode especially well for a Sporting side that will have homefield advantage on the Western Conference side of the playoff bracket. For good measure, Russell also had a team-best 31 chances created and finished among the league leaders in touches in the opponent’s box.
In 40 career regular season appearances for Sporting, Khiry Shelton has a remarkable 24-8-8 record and .700 winning percentage. The takeaway here? When Shelton plays, Sporting generally wins. This statistic spans the 2018 and 2020 seasons, as the versatile forward spent 2019 in Germany with SC Paderborn 07. Shelton has hit a career-high with five goals in 2020 and ranks near the top of the MLS charts in chances created from open play and duels won among forwards.
Arguably no player in MLS has been more productive during his time on the pitch than Hurtado. The 30-year-old has matched his career high with five goals, doing so in just 376 minutes of action. His 1.2 goals per 90 minutes lead MLS, and his world-class volley from a 2-1 win over Nashville SC on Oct. 11 is a surefire contender for AT&T MLS Goal of the Year.
As a part-time starter and part-time specialty sub, Gerso tallied three goals and three assists during a strong fourth season in Kansas City. In the span of 19 appearances, Gerso hasn’t gone longer than three games without a goal or an assist. His blistering pace on the wing makes him particularly hard to deal with for opposing defenses.
Salloi has yet to find the back of the net this year, but don’t forget what he did the last time Sporting went to the playoffs. The Homegrown forward had three goals in two home playoff matches in 2018, including a brace against Real Salt Lake in leg two of the Western Conference Semifinals. Salloi has a history of scoring in big battles at Children’s Mercy Park, having also provided the game-winner in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final.
Wilson Harris and Tyler Freeman
Aged 20 and 17, respectively, Harris and Freeman are two Sporting KC Academy products who have yet to make their MLS debuts. They may not feature during the club’s playoff run, but they are undeniably a pair of promising talents to keep an eye on moving forward.