Less than three weeks from now, Sporting Kansas City will make its long-awaited return to Children’s Mercy Park.
In a major announcement on Saturday, Sporting released the schedule for its next six MLS regular season matches through mid-September and provided details on a plan for reduced-capacity home games at Children’s Mercy Park.
Currently sitting atop the Western Conference standings with 12 points and a 4-1-0 record, Sporting will continue the 2020 campaign on Aug. 21 at second-place Minnesota United FC before hosting the Houston Dynamo four days later in the first MLS match at Children’s Mercy Park since March 7, which also happened to be against the Dynamo. Sporting’s next three home games will have a reduced capacity of 14% with socially distanced seating and mandatory mask wearing, not to mention several other safety procedures.
Among the primary challenges facing MLS as it prepares to resume regular season play is one of safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on sports across the globe, and as all 26 MLS clubs return to home markets for competitive matches, adherence to stringent health protocols will be essential.
“Our time spent in the bubble presented each team and the league ideas to be used back in your market as we are now,” Sporting Manager Peter Vermes said, referring to the club’s recent month-long stay in Florida for the MLS is Back Tournament. “Our team had been very disciplined prior to going to Orlando, and we’ve been disciplined since we’ve left. The key is understanding that everybody has their own little bubble—each of the players and each of the staff members staying in and amongst their family…and you have to keep that bubble really tight.”
MLS plans for all clubs to play an additional 18 matches between now and Decision Day on Nov. 8 to round out the 23-game regular season. The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will begin Nov. 20 and culminate with the 25th MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
“Now that we have come back to our own markets, the players and staff members want to get as close to what our regular schedule looks like—play in our stadium with fans there any everything else,” Vermes said. “Everybody’s excited for that opportunity and we’re looking forward to our next game.”
Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia echoed Vermes’ sentiments during Saturday’s training session at Compass Minerals National Performance Center. The 34-year-old veteran boasts a 3-0-0 record in regular season play this year as well as a 316-minute shutout streak dating back to Feb. 29—the longest active run in MLS.
After Sporting fell in the MLS is Back Tournament quarterfinals to the Philadelphia Union on July 30, Melia was especially glad to see MLS launch the continuation of its 2020 campaign.
“It was kind of up in the air; we didn’t know if there would be more games, but we’re very happy there will be games moving forward,” Melia said. “We just have to adapt to everything right now. Of course I wish we had a normal schedule in front of all of our fans, but right now this is what we have and we need to make the best of it.”
The MLS is Back Tournament may not have ended the way Sporting planned, but the club has nevertheless pieced together one of its best five-game starts to a regular season in team history. Sporting’s 13 goals and plus-8 goal differential are both all-time bests through the first five matches of a season, and they sit just a point behind Columbus Crew SC in the Supporters’ Shield race.
“We should feel confident, but it’s very, very early,” Melia said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, so we just need to make sure we’re getting better each game.”
Sporting endured its fair share of adversity during the MLS is Back Tournament, playing as early as 9 a.m. and as late at 11 p.m. local time while also receiving a positive COVID-19 case early in the competition.
Forward Gerso Fernandes, who scored in a 2-0 group stage win over Real Salt Lake on July 22 in Orlando, believes Sporting will be better off for those testing experiences and all the more appreciative to compete at Children’s Mercy Park once more.
“We’re glad to be able to play at home in our stadium. There’s a lot of excitement for us to play in better conditions and at normal game times,” Gerso said. “The team is looking good, especially since coming back and being able to be with our families. Our families give us some extra energy when we’re out on the field practicing.”
Tickets for the next three home matches will be available exclusively to Sporting Kansas City Season Ticket Members via lotteries and no single-game tickets will be sold by the club on SeatGeek.com or at the stadium box office. For more information, Season Ticket Members can contact their Membership Service Executives.