British Columbia will provide the picturesque setting for Saturday's MLS regular season opener between Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place. The Western Conference clash is slated for 9:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish).
Following a long offseason that saw Sporting and Vancouver make ambitious roster moves after missing the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2019, supporters will finally be treated to a full-blooded Week 1 showdown that just might set the tone for the early stages of a new and highly anticipated campaign.
With tons to be hyped about as opening day approaches, let's dive into five notable narratives surrounding the contest.
1. From Liga MX to MLS
Sporting and Vancouver finished 11th and 12th in the Western Conference last season, respectively. In a bid to bolster their squads, both teams splashed club-record transfer fees on prized strikers from Liga MX.
Mexican forward Alan Pulido arrives at Sporting as the reigning Liga MX scoring champion, having totaled a dozen goals for Chivas de Guadalajara last fall. Vancouver's Cavallini, a Canadian international, returns to his homeland after a prolific three-year spell with Puebla.
Pulido and Cavallini are among the biggest newcomers to MLS, a league that has attracted numerous Liga MX talents throughout the winter. It's likely that both players will land their MLS debuts this weekend as attacking centerpieces with lofty expectations.
2. A Flurry of Firsts
Never before has Sporting played a regular season match in February, played a competitive game on Leap Day or opened an MLS campaign on Canadian soil. All of that will change Saturday as Major League Soccer raises the curtains on its 25th season.
Indeed, this is the earliest start to MLS action in league history, but don't expect either side to complain about it. Sporting and Vancouver have gone almost five months without a game after ending their 2019 ledgers on Oct. 6.
3. Conquering Canada
Recent history won't impact what unfolds on Saturday, but Sporting fans nevertheless have reason to feel confident. Manager Peter Vermes' men are 9-3-4 against Vancouver in the MLS regular season, including a 4-2-2 mark at BC Place. But that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Sporting has earned a three-goal victory in its last two visits to BC Place, prevailing 3-0 in July 2019 and 4-1 in October 2018. Vermes' side has also outscored Vancouver 14-2 across the last four MLS meetings, posting three wins and a draw.
That's not to mention Sporting's impressive all-time record against Canadian clubs: 30 wins, 11 losses and 15 ties, good for the most victories over Canadian opposition in MLS. Sporting owns a 12-7-9 record north of the border, with their 12 road wins the second-most among American MLS clubs.
4. Strength in Numbers
With the addition of Pulido and a wealth of wingers at his disposal, Vermes has the luxury of attacking depth. Gerso Fernandes, Erik Hurtado, Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi and Khiry Shelton are all in the mix, giving Sporting several different potentially looks offensively.
The midfield similarly deep, with the likes of Gianluca Busio, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez, Ilie Sanchez and high-flying newcomer Gadi Kinda hoping to make an emphatic Week 1 impact. Defensively, Vermes fielded a back four of Graham Zusi, Roberto Puncec, Matt Besler and Luis Martins throughout the preseason, but that doesn't mean a host of other Sporting defenders aren't capable of slotting in to shore things up.
5. First Kick Party
Good news: fans won't have to wait until 9:30 p.m. CT to celebrate the start of the season. Supporters of all ages are welcome to join Sporting for the First Kick Party on Saturday at Corinth Square in Prairie Village, Kansas, highlighted by interactive and family-friendly activities, food and beverage tents from First Watch and BRGR, specials at multiple Corinth Square shops, SportingStyle merchandise and FIFA 20 inside No Other Bus presented by Security Bank.
Admission to the First Kick Party is free and open to the public. Programming will begin at 1 p.m. CT and culminate with an all-ages viewing party inside Johnny’s Tavern at Corinth Square (8262 Mission Rd.) as Sporting and Vancouver lock horns in the Pacific Northwest.