Sporting KC II (8-10-2, 26 points) heads to the Pacific Northwest for an MLS NEXT Pro regular season matchup against the Western Conference-leading Tacoma Defiance (142-4-4, 43 points) at Starfire Stadium on Saturday night. The two sides met about a month prior on July 22 with the Defiance taking all three points following a 3-0 victory. Sunday will be SKC II's penultimate road match of the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season as the campaign begins to wind down.
In their most recent outing, SKC II defeated Tacoma's Cascadian comrades, Timbers2 by way of a 2-0 win at Swope Soccer Village. Bakary Bagayoko and Josh Coan both scored their first SKC II goals and Coan picked up his second assist of the season. Goalkeeper Ethan Bandre earned both his first professional win and clean sheet, with his backline ensuring no shots wound up on target.
Head coach Benny Feilhaber has been rotating the squad lately, giving many fresh faces the opportunity to shine late in the season. Bagayoko and Coan's goals sparked the win for SKC II last Sunday and snapped a four-match losing streak. Josip Hmura made his first start as a member of SKC II 10 days after he signed with the club.
Sporting KC Academy products have also found their footing in the SKC II lineup. Guy Michaeli leads all Academy players in goal contributions, tallying one goal and two assists in 10 appearances. Jahon Rad ranks second on the team in minutes played, with 1421 minutes in 16 starts.
The offense has been headlined by two MLS NEXT Pro contracted players, Rauf Salifu and Julian Vazquez. Both forwards have accumulated seven goal contributions. Salifu leads the team in goals with six and has added one assist. Vazquez has accumulated four goals and three assists.
The midfield has been highlighted by team captain Collin Fernandez who has a goal and four assists in a team-high 1463 minutes. Lately, Edgar Bazan has burst onto the scene, appearing in three consecutive matches, and earning a start in the first-ever MLS NEXT All-Star Game in Minnesota. Bazan was a vital piece in the West's successful first half, earning 45 minutes and generating the turnover that led to the first goal of the match.
SKC II's defense has been bolstered by Esai Easley in his first year of professional soccer after being selected in the first round of the 2022 MLS SuperDraft by Sporting Kansas City. He leads all defenders with 18 appearances and has added a goal and an assist. Mikey Lenis and Coby Jones are two SKC Academy Products who signed pro contracts with the club this season. Lenis has 12 appearances and one goal while Jones has started five of 13 appearances.
SKC II have been road warriors this season, posting a 5-4-1 record away from home. They have suffered three straight road defeats after winning four consecutive road matches. Tacoma has an impressive 8-1-1 record at home this season and is looking to wrap up a spot in the playoffs with a win and Earhtqaukes II loss or draw. SKC II is fighting for their postseason lives as they will be eliminated from contention with a loss or North Texas result.
Tacoma's impressive season has been spearheaded by midfielder Marlon Vargas who has 12 goals and six assists. He is one of four MLS NEXT Pro players to appear in 20 matches this season alongside fellow Tacoma midfielder Juan Alvarez. The Defiance offense has been scary, racking up 55 goals, a league-high. Their plus-33 goal differential also paces MLS NEXT Pro.
With just four matches left in the season, the consequences of each match grow and grow. Saturday presents Tacoma with the chance to wrap up the division and punch their ticket to the playoffs while SKC II is fighting for their postseason hopes. Fans can stream the match in its entirety for free at MLSNEXTPro.com with kickoff set for 9 p.m. CT.
MLS NEXT Pro: Match 21
Date: Saturday, August 20, 2022
Kickoff: 9 p.m. CT
Location: Starfire Stadium (Tukwila, WA)
Live Stream: mlsnextpro.com
Sporting Kansas City II: 8-10-2, 26 points
Timbers2: 12-4-4, 43 points
Match-specific hashtag:r #TACvSKC