Sporting KC II (7-8-2, 23 points) faces another tough road test in North Texas SC (9-5-3, 31 points) as the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro regular season starts to wrap up. SKC II and North Texas have already done battle at Rock Chalk Park twice earlier this season and Sunday will be the final matchup in 2022 regular season play.
In the first meeting, North Texas left town with three points after a 2-0 win on May 1. Almost two months later, on July 2, SKC II exacted revenge on the FC Dallas affiliates, thumping the visitors 4-2 off four goals from forward Rauf Salifu. Thanks to the MLS NEXT Pro no draws rule, the rubber match on Sunday will decide the winner of the 2022 series between the two.
In their last outing, SKC II suffered a 3-0 defeat at Swope Soccer Village to the Western Conference-leading Tacoma Defiance. SKC II have been dominant away from home this season, posting a 5-2-1 road record and picking up big wins at Houston, Minnesota and San Jose. Their four-match road win streak came to a close in their last outing as the visiting club, slipping to a 1-0 stoppage time defeat to Real Monarchs. Sunday presents the opportunity for SKC II to get back to their winning ways as the away team.
Head Coach Benny Feilhaber and SKC II's win streak was sparked by a well-balanced attack and stout defending. Salifu's four-goal performance at home against North Texas SC gave him a team-high six goals on the campaign. Joining him in the attacking third has been Julian Vazquez who has accumulated four goals and three assists in 2022, and received multiple call-ups on short-term loans to the first team.
The middle third of the field has been headlined by SKC II's skipper Collin Fernandez who leads the team in matches played (17), minutes played (1402) and assists (four). The 25-year-old has donned the captain's armband in all but two matches this season and is the only player to appear in every SKC II match. He has paired nicely in the midfield with Jahon Rad who ranks second on the team with 1241 minutes played. Rad leads the team in accurate passes (588) and accurate long balls (57).
The centerback position has been solidified by Esai Easley and Cole McLagan. Easley, the 2022 MLS SuperDraft First Round selection of Sporting Kansas City has turned in a solid rookie campaign, earning 10 starts, and tallying a goal and an assist. McLagan has found the back of the net twice, both being match-winning goals.
The outside back spots have seen more turnover with a bevy of players contributing solid minutes. SKC Academy products Mikey Lenis and Coby Jones have slid in well on the right and left sides of the defense respectively. Rookie Spencer Glass has also proven a versatile defender, playing both centrally and out wide. He has been used as a substitute in three straight matches, often times being placed in the midfield as well.
Midseason addition Kian Alberto made his return to the pitch last Friday against Tacoma. Alberto assisted on one of SKC II's goals against San Jose in May but was sidelined with an injury. Last week he entered the contest as a halftime sub, completed 13 passes and launched SKC II's best chance of the second half. Another midseason signing Nati Clarke made his home debut after signing an Academy Contract a week prior.
North Texas enters the match on a bit of a skid, going winless in their last four matches. Thanks to a hot start they remain two points above the playoff line. Whitecaps FC 2 is just two points back, nipping at their heels. The leading scorers in the Frontier Division, the North Texas attack is led by forward Bernard Kamungo who has nine goals and three assists this season. He has been assisted by fellow forward Hope Avayevu who has tallied six assists, tied for second in MLS NEXT Pro.
Pa-Modou Kah's squad hosts SKC II looking to increase their hold on that fourth and final Western Conference playoff spot while SKC II is looking to get recapture that magic on the road. Fans can catch all of the MLS NEXT Pro action for free at MLSNEXTPro.com.
MLS NEXT Pro: Match 18
Date: Sunday, July 31
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. CT
Location: Choctaw Stadium (Arlington, TX)
Live Stream: mlsnextpro.com
Sporting Kansas City II: 7-9-2, 23 points
North Texas SC: 9-5-3, 31 points
Match-specific hashtag:r #NTXvSKC