As Sporting Kansas City prepares for its 26th season as a charter member of Major League Soccer, SportingKC.com is rolling out a 26-day countdown to the start of the 2021 campaign. A mouthwatering opening weekend of MLS action will see Sporting Kansas City visit the New York Red Bulls at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday, giving supporters their first look at Manager Peter Vermes’ side since last December.
The 2021 Preseason Countdown, presented by Children’s Mercy, serves as the comprehensive, go-to preview of everything that awaits Sporting Kansas City in the weeks and months to come. From key storylines and bold predictions to statistical breakdowns and players to watch, the 2021 Preseason Countdown highlights the many reasons to be excited for what’s ahead. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/2021countdown.
There it is again—that pleasant springtime smell in the warming breeze of April. It's the smell of new beginnings. It's the smell of hope.
Hope is a beautiful thing—one of those powerful emotions that, if fully harnessed, allow us to believe anything is possible. And in Major League Soccer, at no point in the season is hope more prevalent than in Week 1.
Whether you support a perennial title contender or a languid loser, an MLS original or an expansion team, every single fan has the right to dream big on opening weekend. Everyone starts with a 0-0-0 record with zero points and a goal difference of—you guessed it—zero.
The slates are completely blank and MLS is back, ladies and gents. Because of that, we have no reason not to fantasize about our beloved team hoisting the biggest trophy at the end of the year.
So that's exactly what I'm doing in this edition of our countdown to the 2021 season. With four days to go until Sporting visits the Red Bulls, here are four reasons why Manager Peter Vermes can lead his team to an MLS Cup championship eight months from now.
1. Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell pack a lethal one-two punch
There's a reason Pulido and Russell are two of the nine highest-rated forwards in MLS Fantasy. The guys simply know how to score and create for their teammates. Imagine a world in which Pulido is bagging goals freely and Russell is turning helpless defenders inside out on the wing with that captain's armband wrapped around his bicep. Game after game, month after month, and into the MLS Cup Playoffs. Teams win championships but, sometimes, gifted players win games. Pulido and Russell check that box.
2. Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Remi Walter provide excellent ROI
In the offseason, Vermes plucked two players from a country whose collection of soccer talent is deeper than the Mariana Trench. Center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and midfielder Remi Walter arrive from France with no shortage of European pedigree, but they also meet positions of need. Sporting had to upgrade in both areas during the offseason and did so in the form of "Isi" and Walter. If both of them enjoy standout debut seasons in MLS, Sporting will love their chances of competing at a high level.
3. Tim Melia stands on his head, saves penalties and defies logic
Arguably the most consistent goalkeeper in MLS turns 35 next month, but let's be real: Tim Melia has shown no signs of slowing down. In the game's biggest moments, goalkeepers are often called upon to bail their teams out. Melia has shown that ability time and time again, as evidenced by his two Open Cup titles and five playoff appearances with Sporting. We'd be remiss, however, not to mention the fact that Melia is a ridiculous 6-0 in penalty shootouts throughout his professional career and is, without question, one of the greatest PK stoppers this league has ever seen. That penalty-saving penchant could come in handy when the playoffs arrive.
4. As the new No. 10, Gianluca Busio is a jaw-dropping revelation
Sporting's 18-year-old wunderkind certainly hasn't shied away from the increased expectations that surround him in 2021. He's actually done the opposite, taking the heralded No. 10 jersey and embracing the responsibility that comes with the number. The talented Sporting KC Academy product could also be playing with a chip on his shoulder, as he was omitted from the United States U-23 team that competed in the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship last month. If Busio makes the next major step in his development, Sporting could have a bona fide star on its hands.