After finishing near the top of the Western Conference regular season table, Sporting Kansas City will look to punctuate a thrilling 2021 campaign by winning silverware on Major League Soccer's greatest stage. The Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs will see Sporting take the field with aspirations of hoisting the club's third MLS Cup title.
The first step for third-seeded Sporting is a Round One showdown with the No. 6 seed Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday afternoon at Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, UniMas and TUDN. Tickets for the highly anticipated encounter are available at SeatGeek.com.
In the buildup to Saturday, SportingKC.com will deliver a comprehensive playoff preview presented by Audi, examining the prevalent storylines surrounding Manager Peter Vermes' side and generating excitement for what lies ahead.
Manager Peter Vermes utilized six forwards throughout the regular season, with two Academy products making their MLS debuts.
Sporting scored 58 goals during the regular season, second in MLS and the second-most for a 34-game campaign in team history. The attack was dangerous from all areas, leading MLS in goals from outside the box (10) and placing second in goals from direct free kicks (three). The offense broke with speed, too, with a league-high six goals from fast breaks.
The recap below highlights the key contributions each individual forward had on Sporting’s season.
What a season it has been for Daniel Salloi. It was a bounce-back year for the Sporting KC Academy product as he led the team in goals (16), tied the team-high in assists (eight) and won the club MVP award after playing just 165 minutes during the 2020 season.
Salloi scored in the first match of the season and never cooled down, finding the net in 14 different matches. When Salloi was successful the club was successful, posting an undefeated 11-0-3 record when he scored. His performances turned heads on a national level as he is nominated for the 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP and Comeback Player of the Year. On Oct. 9 he burst onto the international stage, making his first Hungary Men's National Team start in a World Cup qualifier against Albania. Salloi has had an eye for goal all season and will be a key attacker in Sporting’s playoff run.
Since joining Sporting in 2018, Johnny Russell’s play has aged like a fine wine. The 2021 campaign saw Russell earn the title of Sporting Kansas City captain, and the skipper lived up to the expectations of the armband. After a slow start to the season, the Scotsman turned it up an extra notch in the second half of the season. Going on a tear never before seen in club history, Russell scored in eight consecutive games, the longest streak of the MLS season and the longest in club history. The club Offensive Player of the Year set a new career-high with 15 goals, and with the help of his eight assists, a new MLS career-high 23 goal contributions. His 40 career MLS goals are the most in league history by a Scottish-born player. The commander of the ship is set to lead Sporting’s 2021 playoff run.
In his second season with the club, Alan Pulido continued to be an absolute pest to opposing goalkeepers. Scoring a goal in nearly half of his starts, Pulido’s eight goals rank third on the team. He led all Sporting forwards in passing accuracy with 86.1% of his passes ending successfully. Due to a knee surgery in October, the Mexican international has been unavailable for selection in recent matches. Pulido has been rehabbing hard and made it back on the training pitch earlier this month. If he is able to play, Sporting’s lethal attack becomes exponentially scarier to all opponents.
With injury problems springing up randomly this season, Khiry Shelton was a consistent piece in the Sporting KC attack. Making more appearances than any other Sporting forward, Shelton most frequently played a No. 9 role in Vermes’ system. The MLS veteran was able to contribute three goals and six assists, while his strength in holding up play and springing Sporting into the attack was a focal point for one of the best attacks in Sporting’s history. Shelton did anything to help the team in the regular season and will continue to do so in the playoffs.
One of two Sporting Kansas City forwards to make their MLS debuts in 2021, Grayson Barber slid into the lineup as a winger nine times this season. Barber signed a homegrown contract before the season started after three years of college soccer at Clemson University. The Sporting KC Academy product made his MLS debut on Aug. 7, starting as a forward against the Colorado Rapids, and recorded his first senior team assist three days later in the Leagues Cup against Club Leon.
Another Sporting KC Academy product, Wilson Harris made his MLS debut on May 12 in a match against Houston Dynamo FC. He signed a homegrown contract in October 2020 after scoring more goals (12) than any teenager in American professional soccer in 2019. The Los Angeles native was a mainstay on Sporting KC II before making his inaugural first-team start on July 21 against the San Jose Earthquakes.