For the first time since match play was suspended March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Soccer action will resume July 8 with the historic and unprecedented MLS is Back Tournament. This one-of-a-kind competition will see all 26 clubs descend on ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, marking the emphatic return of men's professional soccer in the United States after a near four-month hiatus.
As the opening match approaches, SportingKC.com is presenting a 20-day preview of the World-Cup style tournament from June 18 through July 7 called Countdown to MLS is Back presented by Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center.
Sporting Kansas City will kick off their Group D campaign on July 12 against rivals Minnesota United FC before facing the Colorado Rapids on July 17 and Real Salt Lake on July 22, with all three games shown live nationally on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/MLSisBack.
Sporting Kansas City’s visit to Disney World for the MLS is Back Tournament will be chock full of unique experiences for players and coaches involved.
Living in a luxurious bubble at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Testing for COVID-19 every other day. Eating all meals as a team in a designated meal room. Adjusting to high humidity with temperatures in the 90s. Playing competitive MLS matches without fans in attendance. Taking the field for an 8 a.m. CT kickoff, by far the earliest start to a game in club history.
To put it plainly, almost everything about the MLS is Back Tournament is—to use a word that has surfaced over and over again during the coronavirus pandemic—unprecedented.
The one-of-a-kind setting for this competition makes it even harder to predict which teams will thrive in the weeks ahead. Sporting Kansas City—and the other 25 MLS clubs, for that matter—have simply never been in this position before.
However, three components of the MLS is Back Tournament aren’t new to Sporting. This previously charted territory consists of (1) neutral-site matches, (2) visiting Florida and (3) playing in tournament-style competitions.
Sporting will be the designated home team for its first two group stage games against Minnesota and Colorado before facing Real Salt Lake as the away side. But for all intents and purposes, these are neutral-site contests.
Incredibly enough, Sporting has played just two true neutral-site matches in the club’s 906-game history across all competitions: the 2000 and 2004 MLS Cups. Kansas City defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0 in MLS Cup 2000 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. prior to falling 3-2 to D.C. United in MLS Cup 2004 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
On June 21, 2009, Kansas City faced Mexican side Atlas in a faux-neutral-site game at Hermann Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The Wizards were technically the home team but chose to play the SuperLiga matchup four hours east of Kansas City to give St. Louis soccer fans the opportunity to catch a game between two top-flight North American clubs.
Playing in Florida
Sporting made frequent trips to the Sunshine State during the early years of MLS when the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion competed in the East. Since both clubs folded at the end of the 2001 season, Sporting has played just three competitive matches in Florida, all against Orlando City SC within the last five years.
Sporting has a 4-11-3 record in Florida across all competitions, with all four wins coming against the Mutiny between 1997 and 2001. Kansas City never beat the Fusion in Miami and has yet to defeat Orlando in three previous trips to Central Florida.
And what about the other three teams in Group D? The Colorado Rapids are 5-13-0 all-time in Florida, most recently prevailing in the 2012 U.S. Open Cup against the second-division Tampa Bay Rowdies. Colorado claimed four road wins over the Mutiny but never won at Miami and have lost all three MLS matches at Orlando.
As for Real Salt Lake and Minnesota, the sample sizes are small. RSL are 0-1-2 in three visits to Florida—all against Orlando in MLS play—while the Loons’ lone trip to the Lions resulted in a 2-1 regular season victory in March 2018.
If we look solely at Group D, Sporting has the richest history of tournament-style success. The club has won a total of six cups—two MLS Cups and four Open Cup titles—including four since 2012.
Real Salt Lake won MLS Cup 2009—their only major cup championship to date—and notably finished as runners-up in the Open Cup and MLS Cup in 2013.
Former second-division sides Orlando and Minnesota are far newer to MLS, with the Loons making their first cup final appearance last fall with an Open Cup defeat to Atlanta United FC. Orlando has yet to reach the MLS postseason in five tries, and their best Open Cup finish came in 2019 when they reached the semifinals before falling to Atlanta.