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.
In our Feb. 6 edition of the Countdown to Kickoff, we rattled off the biggest reasons Sporting fans should attend all 17 home matches at world-class Children's Mercy Park.
Well, it's time to add to that list.
Over the next seven months in Kansas City, a host of Major League Soccer's most talented players will take the field donning enemy uniforms. Needless to say, Sporting players, coaches and fans alike will do all in their power to see that none of them emerge from Children's Mercy Park with a victory.
However, that doesn't mean these must-see MLS stars should be dismissed. In fact, the crop of players showcased below should give supporters an even stronger nudge to visit SportingKC.com/tickets and snap up tickets for the season ahead.
Without further ado, here are the best opposing players set to visit Children's Mercy Park in 2020.
Saturday, May 9: Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC)
Despite periodic injury struggles throughout his career, Altidore is unquestionably one of the best American strikers of his generation. His physical presence up top is enough to cause headaches for any MLS backline. As for Pozuelo, he lit the league ablaze with 12 goals and 12 assists during an excellent debut campaign, leading the Reds to a 2019 MLS Cup appearance.
Saturday, May 23: Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders FC)
The Sounders boast winning DNA to say the least, and arguably no two players were more responsible for their MLS Cup title last year than Lodeiro and Ruidiaz. Lodeiro has been a premier playmaker since joining the league in 2016, having amassed 48 assists over the last four seasons. Peruvian striker Ruidiaz was an absolute assassin in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, where he recorded four goals and four assists.
Saturday, June 6: Nani (Orlando City SC)
Nani wields a superb career resume with stints at Manchester United and Valencia as well as a UEFA Euro 2016 title with the Portugal national team. He was a true standout in his first season with the Lions, recording 12 goals and 10 assists as one of the lone bright spots in Orlando.
Wednesday, June 17: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Cristian Pavon (LA Galaxy)
Behold, one of the most anticipated arrivals in MLS history. Mexican soccer icon Chicharito has joined a star-studded Galaxy squad that also features Argentine international Cristian Pavon, who notched three goals and eight assists in just 11 appearances after arriving in Los Angeles last August. Together, this dynamic duo figures to pack quite the punch.
Saturday, June 20: Lucas Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Like Sporting's Mexican striker Alan Pulido, Lucas Cavallini arrives to MLS after a strong showing in Liga MX. The Canadian bagged 30 goals for Puebla from 2017-2019 before venturing north to his homeland in December, a week after Pulido signed for Sporting.
Sunday, June 28: Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)
You need only look at Blanco and Valeri's impact in the 2018 Western Conference Championship to see how capable they are of changing a game. The South Americans were instrumental in Portland's defeat of Sporting in that infamous playoff series, and although both are north of 30 years old, they remain among the league's best creators.
Sunday, July 5: Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela (LAFC)
What Carlos Vela achieved in 2019 may not be replicated for years to come. The Mexican forward exploded for 34 goals and 15 assists in the 34-game regular season, running away with MLS MVP honors as LAFC broke league records for points, wins and goals scored. Uruguayan winger Diego Rossi was also spectacular, registering 16 goals and seven assists in the Robin role to Vela's Batman.
Saturday, July 11: Jurgen Locadia (FC Cincinnati)
The 26-year-old Dutchman may not be a household name just yet, but he did make 26 English Premier League appearances for Brighton & Hove Albion during the 2018-19 season. He tallied nine goals for Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven during the latter half of 2017 and arrives in Ohio as probably the most talented player to don an FC Cincinnati jersey.
Saturday, Aug. 29: Lucas Zelarayan (Columbus Crew SC)
Columbus shelled out a club-record transfer fee to acquire the services of Zelarayan, the 27-year-old Argentine playmaker who notched 23 goals and 14 assists during a highly successful spell with Liga MX giants Tigres UANL.
Sunday, Oct. 4: Heber and Maxi Moralez (New York City FC)
New York City FC will enter 2020 as one of the Eastern Conference favorites, and both Heber and Maxi Moralez are a big reason why. The Brazilian Heber put up 15 goals and four assists in just 22 MLS appearances last season, while Moralez finished with a league-best 20 assists to go with seven goals.