For the first time in the 25-year history of Major League Soccer, the month of February will mark the start of regular season play. On Feb. 29, clubs across the United States and Canada will step between the white lines with hopes of collecting three points to begin 2020.
A delectable opening day of MLS action will see Sporting Kansas City visit Vancouver Whitecaps FC at 9:30 p.m. CT, giving supporters their first real look at Manager Peter Vermes’ side since last October.
As the anticipated date approaches, SportingKC.com is rolling out a 28-day countdown to first kick, offering a comprehensive preview of the season ahead. From key storylines and positional breakdowns to new fan initiatives and perks at Children’s Mercy Park, our Countdown to Kickoff series highlights the many reasons to be pumped for Sporting’s 2020 campaign. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/countdown.
Saturday’s edition of the Countdown to Kickoff served up a preview of the Sporting Kansas City forwards. Next stop? The players who patrol the middle of the park—ranging from the high-potential Academy products to the seasoned veterans.
2019 Recap: Scored in three straight games from March 30 to April 14 and started 10 of 26 matches in all competitions, also adding a goal in five appearances for Sporting KC II.
2020 Forecast: The 17-year-old Homegrown is among the brightest prospects in American soccer. If he takes another huge step forward like he did last year, his stock as an attacking midfielder will continue to rise.
2019 Recap: Signed as a Homegrown Player last July and has yet to make his professional debut.
2020 Forecast: Duke has a tireless engine and will be a useful piece as either a central midfielder or outside back. His first professional minutes might come at the USL Championship level with Sporting KC II.
2019 Recap: Recorded a goal and four assists while starting 21 of 22 appearances in all competitions.
2020 Forecast: An integral member of Sporting’s veteran core and a two-time World Cup veteran, Espinoza has entered the twilight of his career. Another solid season with Sporting would merely cement his status as an all-time great.
2019 Recap: Scored a team-best 12 goals and added four assists, starting 37 of 38 matches in all competitions as the club’s Most Valuable Player.
2020 Forecast: Gutierrez has switched his jersey to No. 10, an appropriate tag for the Chilean as he looks to pull the playmaking strings and replicate a massively productive 2019 campaign.
2019 Recap: Started one of two first-team appearances and earned Sporting KC II Most Valuable Player honors, amassing eight goals and five assists as a regular starter in the USL Championship.
2020 Forecast: Now that he has shown his quality in the second division—picture a diminutive version of Roger Espinoza—Hernandez will aim to earn first-team minutes in his first full MLS season. With age still on the 21-year-old’s side, he may also continue to get looks with Sporting KC II.
2019 Recap: Started 30 of 31 appearances for Beitar Jerusalem over the course of 2019, tallying eight goals as one of the Israeli Premier League’s best players.
2020 Forecast: One of Sporting’s most compelling acquisitions of the offseason, Kinda will use the preseason to adjust to life in MLS. Once settled, the box-to-box midfielder could become an invaluable contributor in the center of the pitch. His crispness on the ball and craftiness in tight spaces were on display in his preseason debut last month against FC Cincinnati.
2019 Recap: Started 34 of 39 appearances in all competitions, notching four goals and five assists.
2020 Forecast: Ilie has been an ever-present fixture at the defensive midfield spot since arriving in Kansas City three years ago. As one of the best No. 6’s in MLS, he functions an all-important conduit between Sporting’s backline and attack, sharp in possession and disciplined in his positioning.
2019 Recap: Started 22 of 25 USL Championship appearances for Sporting KC II, adding a goal and two assists.
2020 Forecast: The 21-year-old is usually deployed as a holding midfielder, but that hasn’t prevented him from landing the moniker of “Malaysian Messi.” Like Hernandez, Kuzain has showcased his strengths—technical ability, distribution and free kicks from distance—with Sporting KC II for the last few seasons.