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 Saturday’s edition of our Countdown to Kickoff, we took a look at the unmistakably international flair on Sporting’s roster. Taking dual nationals into account, the current squad of 28 players represents an incredible 18 different countries and six continents.
This time around, we give career snapshots of every player at all four positions, detailing where in the world they have competed professionally. From Sporting lifers such as Matt Besler and Graham Zusi to well-traveled stars such as Felipe Gutierrez and Alan Pulido, let’s dig in.
Tim Melia: Spent two seasons in the second division with the Rochester Rhinos (2008-2009) before moving to Real Salt Lake (2010-11) and then to Chivas USA (2012-2014). Also went on loan to Charleston Battery (2010) and FC New York (2011) during his time at RSL. Joined Sporting ahead of the 2015 campaign and has served as the club’s starting goalkeeper for the last six seasons.
Richard Sanchez: Signed for FC Dallas as a Homegrown Player in 2011 and spent 2013 on loan with the second-division Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Joined Liga MX giants Tigres UANL in 2014 and was loaned to Mexican side Tampico Madero from 2016-2017. Spent 2017-2019 with Chicago Fire FC prior to his arrival in Kansas City.
Eric Dick: Joined Sporting out of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft and has spent the last two seasons featuring regularly for Sporting KC II. Will spend the 2020 campaign on loan at Phoenix Rising FC in the USL Championship
Botond Barath: Spent the first seven years of his career at hometown club Budapest Honved FC (2012-2019) in the Hungarian capital before arriving in Kansas City in early 2019.
Matt Besler: Has spent the entirety of his 11-year professional career with hometown club Sporting, having joined out of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft.
Amadou Dia: Began his professional career with Sporting KC (2015-2016), played the latter half of 2016 with the Montreal Impact, then spent three seasons with USL Championship side Phoenix Rising FC (2017-2019) before returning to Kansas City this winter.
Andreu Fontas: Turned professional with Spanish club Girona in 2007 before spending time with European powerhouse FC Barcelona and Barcelona B from 2008-2013. Went on loan to Mallorca in 2012 and spent five years with Celta Vigo from 2013-2018 before his arrival in Kansas City.
Jaylin Lindsey: Signed for Sporting as a Homegrown Player in 2017 and has spent significant time competing for Sporting KC II at the USL Championship level.
Luis Martins: Played for Portuguese clubs Benfica (2011-2012) and Gil Vicente (2013-2014) before a stint with Spanish side Granada from 2014-2018. Went on loan to Spanish club Osasuna (2015-2016) and Portuguese team Maritimo (2017-2018), then signed for Chaves in 2018 prior to his arrival in Kansas City in August 2019.
Roberto Puncec: Began his pro career with Croatian side Varazdin (2008-2011), then played for Israeli outfit Maccabi Tel Aviv (2011-2013). Spent a season on loan with Union Berlin in Germany before making his move permanent and embarking on a four-year stint in the German capital. Spent 2017-2019 with HNK Rijeka in Croatia before joining Sporting in December.
Winston Reid: Starred for Danish club Midtjylland (2005-2010) before spending a decade with English Premier League side West Ham United in London (2010-2020).
Graham Smith: Joined Sporting out of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft and has spent significant time with Sporting KC II at the USL Championship level.
Graham Zusi: Has spent the entirety of his 11-year professional career with Sporting, having joined out of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft.
Gianluca Busio: Signed for Sporting as a Homegrown Player in 2017 and has primarily featured for the first team, also logging minutes with Sporting KC II.
Cameron Duke: Signed for Sporting as a Homegrown Player in the summer of 2019 and awaits his professional debut.
Roger Espinoza: Joined Sporting out of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, signed for English club Wigan Athletic in 2013—competing in both the Premier League and second-division Championship—then rejoined Sporting in early 2015.
Felipe Gutierrez: Began his pro career with Chilean side Universidad Catolica (2009-2012), spent four seasons in the Netherlands with FC Twente (2012-2016), then joined Spanish club Real Betis, during which time he was also loaned to Brazilian outfit Internacional in 2017. Signed for Sporting ahead of the 2018 MLS season.
Felipe Hernandez: Signed for Sporting as a Homegrown Player last August after logging three seasons of experience with Sporting KC II.
Gadi Kinda: Starred at hometown club Ashdod FC in Israel (2011-2019) before spending most of 2019 with Israeli outfit Beitar Jerusalem. Signed for Sporting in January.
Ilie Sanchez: Played for FC Barcelona B in Spain (2009-2014) before a two-year stint with 1860 Munich in Germany (2014-2016). Went on loan to Spanish club Elche from 2015-2016 and signed for Sporting ahead of the 2017 MLS season.
Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal: Signed for Sporting as a Homegrown Player in 2018 and has featured regularly for Sporting KC II over the last three seasons.
Gerso Fernandes: Spent seven years in Portugal, competing for Academica and Tourizense (2010-2011), Estoril (2011-2014), Moreirense (2014-2015) and Belenenses (2016-2017) before arriving in Kansas City ahead of the 2017 MLS season.
Tyler Freeman: Signed for Sporting as a Homegrown Player in 2018 and spent most of 2019 with Sporting KC II at the USL Championship level.
Erik Hurtado: Spent six seasons with Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2013-2018) in addition to spending 2015 on loan with Norwegian side Mjondalen. Arrived in Kansas City ahead of the 2019 MLS season.
Alan Pulido: Starred for Liga MX giants Tigres UANL (2010-2014), spent the next two seasons in Greece with Levadiakos (2014-2015) and Olympiacos (2015-2016), then returned to Mexico for a stint with Chivas de Guadalajara from 2016-2019. Signed for Sporting in December.
Johnny Russell: Spent six years with Scottish side Dundee United (2007-2013), during which time he was also loaned to Forfar Athletic (2008-2009) and Raith Rovers (2009-2010). Starred for English club Derby County from 2013-2018 before arriving in Kansas City ahead of the 2018 MLS season.
Daniel Salloi: Signed his first professional contract as a Sporting KC Homegrown Player in January 2016. Went on loan to Hungarian side Gyirmot FC Gyor midway through 2016 and has featured regularly for Sporting since 2017.
Khiry Shelton: Spent three MLS seasons with New York City FC (2015-2017) before joining Sporting ahead of the 2018 MLS campaign. Joined German outfit SC Paderborn 07 for all of 2019 prior to returning to Kansas City in December.