Happy New Year, SKC Nation!
First, a quick reflection on 2018. Sporting Kansas City’s most recent campaign delivered thrills from beginning to end, packing entertainment, emotion and drama on a weekly basis as Manager Peter Vermes’ side ascended to the top of the Western Conference and brought the MLS Cup Playoffs back to Children’s Mercy Park.
A few new faces will join the club’s veteran core in 2019, with Sporting KC contesting for a quartet of major trophies over the next several months. Throw in an expansion team, new stadiums, highly anticipated rematches, and a series of marquee events at the international level, and there are more than a few reasons to believe this year will be even more special.
In the space below, SportingKC.com rattles off 19 things that Kansas City soccer fans should be licking their lips about in 2019.
1. The Concacaf Champions League
It’s the biggest club tournament in North America, and Sporting KC has the opportunity to prove their mettle in the Round of 16 when they face Mexican side Deportivo Toluca FC. Tickets for the first leg on Feb. 21 at Children’s Mercy Park are now available via SeatGeek.
If Sporting KC can make a sustained run in the competition, this two-leg, aggregate goal format in the Champions League will inject playoff-like vibes into the months of February, March and April. Sign us up for that.
2. Four trophies up for grabs
The biggest bummer about 2018? Sporting KC walked away without a trophy. They’ll have four separate shots at one in 2019—namely the Concacaf Champions League, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, MLS Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, which will be contested on Sunday, Nov. 10.
3. Core group returning from 2018
All 11 players who started at least half of Sporting KC’s regular season matches in 2018 are coming back this season. With the veteran additions of Rodney Wallace, Kelyn Rowe, Erik Hurtado and Hungarian international Botond Barath—plus a solid stable of promising youngsters—Sporting KC appears to have the requisite depth to put their best foot forward in all competitions over the course of eight to nine months.
4. A new primary jersey
That’s right—Sporting KC is due for a new primary jersey that will drop in the coming weeks. Biased take from this author: our kits are always among the best, if not the very best, in MLS.
5. An inaugural trip to Allianz Field
Minnesota United FC is finally ready to open its impressive new stadium in 2019. Luckily for Kansas Citians, it’s a manageable six-hour drive north on I-35. This consequently makes the away fixture in Minnesota a can’t-miss Roaddron in 2019.
6. An inaugural trip to Audi Field
D.C. United opened their new home last season and experienced a similar campaign as Sporting KC did in 2011, using Audi Field as a catalyst for a late-season surge up the standings. Led by English superstar Wayne Rooney and midfield talisman Luciano Acosta, D.C. will be a tough test when Sporting KC make their inaugural visit to the capital stadium this year.
7. Facing new expansion side FC Cincinnati
Major League Soccer’s 24th club begins action in the near future after a dominant USL campaign in 2018. FC Cincinnati slots into the Eastern Conference, meaning Sporting KC will face the Ohio club just once in 2019. We’ll see whether it’s a home game a road fixture when the MLS schedule drops very, very soon.
8. Hosting the MLS Cup champions
Sporting KC knocked off the 2018 MLS Cup champions by a 2-0 scoreline last May at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and would have relished a rematch with the Five Stripes in last month’s MLS Cup. Nevertheless, Atlanta United FC will visit Children’s Mercy Park this time around, serving up one of the premier battles of the regular season.
9. (At least) two more meetings with RSL
There were one, two, three, four, five gritty meetings between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake in 2018. Their showdown in the Western Conference Semifinals rekindled one of the league’s best under-the-radar rivalries, and the fact that these two will tango at least twice more in 2019 gives reason for excitement.
10. The FIFA Women’s World Cup
The U.S. Women’s National Team will contend for their second straight World Cup title this summer in France, facing Thailand (June 11), Chile (June 16) and Sweden (June 20) in the group stage. FOX and FS1 will provide live television coverage throughout the tournament, which culminates with the final on July 7—the same day, remarkably, that the Concacaf Gold Cup and Copa America champions will be crowned.
11. The U.S. MNT returning to Kansas City
Under the guidance of new head coach Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. Men’s National Team will visit Children’s Mercy Park on June 26 for their Concacaf Gold Cup group stage finale against a team to be determined. Tickets for that match will go on sale to the general public later this month.
12. Full seasons for Fontas and Nemeth
Defender Andreu Fontas and forward Krisztian Nemeth arrived at Sporting KC just days apart in early August, providing depth for a side that was on its way to a first-place finish in the West. Heading into 2019, Fontas and Nemeth will have full preseasons under their belts and could be poised to shoulder greater responsibilities as first-team contributors.
13. Another step forward for the Homegrowns
Sporting KC’s homegrown quintet—Gianluca Busio, Tyler Freeman, Jaylin Lindsey, Daniel Salloi and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal—all made noticeable strides in 2018. If each youngster can take another big leap forward in the months to come, Sporting KC’s future will shine even brighter.
14. The FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups
Speaking of those homegrown Sporting KC Academy products, a few of them will probably compete in a FIFA World Cup this year. Lindsey is likely to join the USA for the U-20 World Cup in Poland from May to June, while Busio is a strong candidate to join the Americans for the U-17 World Cup in Peru in October.
15. Season Four for the Rangers
Led by second-year head coach Paulo Nagamura, the Swope Park Rangers will enter 2019 with hopes of remaining one the USL Championship’s better teams while continuing to foster the development of promising pros. SPR will open their 2019 campaign at New York Red Bulls II on March 9 before playing their first of 17 home games at Children’s Mercy Park on March 23 against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
16. A changed playoff format
In case you missed it, MLS has revamped its postseason format for the 2019 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. A single-elimination bracket will see 14 teams—seven in each conference—battle for the 2019 MLS Cup, which takes place Nov. 10. The playoffs will run between the October and November FIFA windows, making for an uninterrupted sprint to the league title. The No. 1 seed in each conference will get a first-round bye, with 2v7, 3v6 and 4v5 squaring off in the opening round on Oct. 19-20.
17. More star power in MLS
Sebastian Giovinco, Miguel Almiron, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney are among the mega-talents who have bolstered Major League Soccer in recent seasons. In the coming weeks, a fresh crop of international talent will descend on the U.S. and Canada for their respective debuts in MLS.
18. Field renovations at Children’s Mercy Park
World-class Children’s Mercy Park will boast an even better playing surface in 2019 thanks to the renovations taking place during the offseason.
19. An upgraded Sporting KC mobile app
Without giving too much away, Sporting KC’s mobile app will be better than ever in 2019. With new, personalized offers and discounts on the horizon, supporters will want to make sure they have it downloaded by the start of the season.