Starting XI is a biweekly series that highlights 11 of the biggest storylines and news updates from Sporting Kansas City, MLS and soccer around the globe. Click here to visit the Starting XI archive.
1. Off to Arizona
Sporting Kansas City has announced the club's six-game schedule for the 2020 preseason, presented by Children's Mercy. In addition to competing in the three-game Visit Tucson Sun Cup, Sporting will play three additional friendlies in the state of Arizona as the club prepares for the 2020 MLS campaign.
The first leg of Sporting's preseason will run from Jan. 19 to Feb. 1, highlighted by Saturday contests versus Phoenix Rising FC Trialists (Jan. 25) and fellow MLS outfit FC Cincinnati (Feb. 1). The second leg will span Feb. 8-23, with the Visit Tucson Sun Cup (Feb. 15-22) preceded by a friendly against a to-be-determined opponent on Feb. 12.
2. Taco Republic
Sporting Kansas City has announced a new partnership with Taco Republic, continuing a major concessions refresh at Children’s Mercy Park ahead of the 2020 season. Taco Republic, a Kansas City-based taqueria acclaimed for its “street-style” tacos, will operate out of its signature food truck on the south concourse of Children’s Mercy Park. Taco Republic will serve a plethora of popular items at every Sporting home match, including select tacos, chips, salsa, guacamole and margaritas.
BODYARMOR Sports Drink on Wednesday announced a multi-year partnership with Sporting Kansas City, establishing the brand as the team’s “Official Sports Drink” starting this upcoming 2020 Major League Soccer season. BODYARMOR originally announced a partnership with Major League Soccer in September 2019 to become the league’s Official Sports Drink partner in the U.S. commencing in 2020.
4. College Seniors
Sporting Kansas City selected two college seniors in the third and fourth rounds of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft on Monday, taking University of Washington midfielder Jaret Townsend with the No. 58 overall pick and Virginia Tech University defender James Kasak at No. 84 overall. Townsend and Kasak comprise Sporting’s 2020 draft class after the club had zero picks in the first two rounds, which took place last Thursday. The duo will now join Sporting for the team’s 2020 preseason, presented by Children’s Mercy.
Sporting captain Matt Besler's standout performances at his hometown club translated into a golden opportunity with the United States Men's National Team—an opportunity Besler took full advantage of from 2013-2017. During that time period, the center back logged 47 appearances at the senior international level, highlighted by four starts at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and two Concacaf Gold Cup titles. In a feature story published today on USsoccer.com, Besler looks back on his first experience with the U.S. MNT at the 2013 January Camp. The article comes as the current crop of American players, led by head coach Gregg Berhalter, kick off January Camp seven years later.
6. Dia Returns
Sporting announced last week that the club has signed 26-year-old defender Amadou Dia. The left back has been added to Sporting’s roster for the 2020 season with contract options through 2022.
Dia began his professional career with Sporting as the 20th overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft out of Clemson University. He made 37 appearances for the club in all competitions during a two-year stint highlighted by a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title and consecutive playoff appearances. Dia has spent the last three seasons with perennial USL Championship contender Phoenix Rising FC, where he was named the team’s Defender of the Year in both 2018 and 2019.
7. Tickets Available
Sporting will kick off the 2020 MLS regular season on Feb. 29 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC before hosting the Houston Dynamo on March 7 in the club's highly anticipated home opener at Children's Mercy Park.
The best way to guarantee tickets for 2020 home matches at Children’s Mercy Park is to join the Sporting Kansas City family and become a Season Ticket Member. Several multi-game ticket packages for the 2020 season are also on sale now at SportingKC.com, including the limited-time Home Opener Pack that bundles the game on March 7 with two flex matches. Single-game tickets for the first half of Sporting’s home schedule will go on sale to the general public in the near future.
8. Hear from Pulido
Sporting Kansas City hosted a press conference with newly acquired striker Alan Pulido and Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes today inside the Interview Room at Children's Mercy Park. Their full remarks are transcribed here, with Pulido’s quotes provided by a Spanish interpreter.
9. Vermes Verbatim
As for how Alan Pulido will fit into the side, Sporting Manager Peter Vermes envisions him being able to do everything asked of a No. 9 in his system. “When you have a player in that position, it’s hard to get a guy that has all those qualities,” Vermes said during Tuesday's press conference. “It’s hard to get a guy that scores goals. It’s hard to get a guy that can play with others, or that you can play through, so then he’s part of the buildup.”
But Vermes is also excited about what Pulido brings to the table against the ball. Sporting’s press and defensive shape has always been a hallmark of the club’s play since Vermes took over. The last two seasons, it began to go by the wayside. In 2019 they conceded 67 goals. While that can’t entirely be blamed on the striker, it’s an important part of the way Sporting play that Vermes just can’t ignore.
10. Save the Dates
The celebration of a new year—and a new decade—means that soccer season is just around the corner. With schedules released and several other high-profile events on tap, Sporting Kansas City fans can whip out their 2020 calendars and start scribbling in the dates. Supporters have already learned details for the club’s MLS opener and first home game, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. SportingKC.com has listed the calendar highlights of 2020 at this link, complete with all of the important dates you need to know.
11. The 25th Season Celebration
Major League Soccer last week unveiled plans for its historic 25th Season Celebration in 2020. The Celebration will feature unique experiences, marquee events, robust content, innovative programming, and the special 25th Season commemorative design integrated throughout MLS and partner initiatives. The season will celebrate the League’s past, while expanding on the foundation it has built over an extensive period of explosive growth. In addition, MLS will welcome new clubs in Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC for the 2020 season.