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World-class Children's Mercy Park will raise its curtains on the 2021 MLS season on Friday when Sporting Kansas City (1-0-0, 3 points) hosts Orlando City SC (0-0-1, 1 point) in a highly anticipated and long-awaited home opener at 6:30 p.m. CT. The marquee inter-conference clash will be shown nationally on FS1, FOX Deportes and the FOX Sports app in addition to airing live locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
With plenty of buzz surrounding Sporting's first home match of the campaign, we examine five major narratives surrounding the matchup in the space below.
1. Welcome Back
For the first time in four and a half months, Children's Mercy Park is set to host an MLS match. The stadium will welcome a sold-out crowd of approximately 6,500 fans on Friday for the 26th home opener in Sporting history. Kansas City owns a formidable 15-3-7 all-time record in home openers, including a 4-1-5 mark at Children's Mercy Park, and has enjoyed one of the best home-field advantages in MLS over the last decade thanks to a fervent fan base that creates an electric atmosphere game after game.
As an added perk on Friday night, the first 4,500 supporters in attendance will receive a Sporting KC rally towel and all guests will get a schedule magnet upon exiting the stadium after the game.
2. Wild Week 1
Week 1 certainly didn't lack for entertainment. Midfielder Gadi Kinda and forward Daniel Salloi scored in back-to-back minutes near the hour mark as Sporting secured a 2-1 comeback victory over the New York Red Bulls in an exciting battle on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena. After New York took a 1-0 lead three minutes into the second half through 17-year-old Caden Clark, Kinda converted a 59th-minute penalty kick and Salloi slotted home in the 60th minute to give Sporting their MLS-record 15th season-opening win.
With Tim Melia out injured, 19-year-old John Pulskamp became the youngest Sporting goalkeeper to play in an MLS match and the youngest MLS goalkeeper to win a game since 2010. Pulskamp was one of three Sporting debutants in the starting lineup, joining a pair of Frenchmen in center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and holding midfielder Remi Walter.
3. The Lion's Roar
Orlando may have been held to a scoreless draw against rivals Atlanta United FC in their season opener last Saturday, but the Lions enter 2021 with greater expectations than ever. Head coach Oscar Pareja steered Orlando to its first playoff appearance last fall, posting an impressive 11-4-8 regular season record in addition to reaching the finals of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Commanding goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, Portuguese winger Nani, dynamic attacker Chris Mueller and playmaker Mauricio Pereyra figure to play integral roles for a Lions side that emerged from Children's Mercy Park with a 2-1 victory last September. Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel found the back of the net for Orlando in the first half of that contest, while Sporting grabbed a goal back through Johnny Russell after halftime.
We’re ready to have you back at Children’s Mercy Park 🥰— Children's Mercy Park (@cmpark) April 20, 2021
If you need a refresher on how we make it possible to have supporters in the stands, here ya go! ⤵️https://t.co/AzcIdCj8xE
4. Depth on Display
Despite missing Melia, veteran defender Graham Zusi and outside back Amadou Dia—and despite star forwards Russell and Alan Pulido not being fit enough to start last weekend—Sporting still found a way to come out on top at Red Bull Arena. The result was an encouraging sign of the depth Manager Peter Vermes has at his disposal, and with Sporting's injury situation improving day by day, the springtime outlook is looking bright in Kansas City.
Post matchday mood 🎉 pic.twitter.com/VPb6Cb9AwL— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) April 18, 2021
5. Milestone Man
By the time Friday night rolls around, the longest-tenured head coach in MLS history will reach another major milestone in his decorated career. Now in his 13th season at the managerial helm, Vermes will participate in his 600th MLS match as a player or a head coach (including playoffs) when Sporting and Orlando square off at 6:30 p.m. CT. Only one other person—longtime player and coach Jason Kreis—has been involved in more MLS matches as a player or a manager.
Most MLS matches as a player or coach (including playoffs)
|Person||Matches||As player||As coach|