The four-month wait for Major League Soccer’s 2020 season to resume has come to an end, paving the way for Sporting Kansas City (2-0-0, 6 points) and Minnesota United FC (2-0-0, 6 points) to square off Sunday in the Group D opener of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Kickoff at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Walt Disney World in Florida is slated for 7 p.m. with national coverage on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, the ESPN app and SiriusXM FC. Listeners can also catch the action locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM, while the new Sporting KC app will provide additional in-game updates.
In a long-awaited clash that will count toward the 2020 regular season standings, Sporting and Minnesota will both look to continue their winning ways after posting a pair of victories to open the 2020 campaign.
Led by manager Peter Vermes, the longest tenured head coach in MLS, Sporting earned a 3-1 triumph at Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Feb. 29 before thrashing the Houston Dynamo 4-0 seven days later at Children’s Mercy Park to take an early lead atop the Supporters’ Shield standings. Minnesota started just as impressively, exploding for eight goals in consecutive away wins over the Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes.
Sporting’s start was punctuated by breakout performances from newcomers Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda.
Pulido, a 29-year-old Mexican striker who arrived from Chivas de Guadalajara on a club-record transfer fee in December, tallied two goals and an assist in his first two appearances for Sporting.
Kinda, a 25-year-old Israeli who signed on loan from Beitar Jerusalem in January, also struck twice from the midfield position.
The home-opening win over Houston on March 7 also saw forward Khiry Shelton bag a goal and an assist, having returned for his second stint with Sporting this winter after spending 2019 at SC Paderborn 07 in Germany.
Under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Adrian Heath, Minnesota reached the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in 2019 thanks to a much-improved backline anchored by Ike Opara, who won MLS Defender of the Year honors with Sporting in 2017 before replicating the feat last year in his first season with the Loons.
Opara will miss the MLS is Back Tournament group stage due to a medical issue, but Minnesota will nonetheless carry confidence into Sunday’s fixture after claiming 3-1 and 5-3 victories to begin the campaign.
Newly acquired Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla scored in both games, while playmaker Kevin Molina (two goals, one assist) and midfielders Jan Gregus (one goal, two assists) and Ethan Finlay (two assists) were also productive in the attacking third.
Group D of the MLS is Back Tournament has assembled four familiar Western Conference foes, with Sporting joined by Minnesota, the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake.
The round-robin format will see each club play three games, with the top two finishers guaranteed a place in the single-elimination knockout rounds.
The best four third-place finishers across the six groups will also advance to the Round of 16. A total of 24 MLS teams are participating in the historic event – six groups of four teams each – after FC Dallas and Nashville SC were withdrawn due to a number of positive COVID-19 tests within both clubs.
Group stage fixtures will count toward the 2020 regular season table, and the tournament winner will receive a berth to the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.
Sporting and Minnesota have squared off 10 times in all competitions since the Loons joined MLS in 2017.
Manager Peter Vermes’ men own a 5-3-2 record in the fixture, with all five wins coming at Children’s Mercy Park. The sides met three times in 2019, with an Open Cup battle followed by two late-season tilts in MLS play.
Minnesota posted a 4-1 victory in the Open Cup Round of 32 last June as well as a 2-1 comeback home win in the regular season on Sept. 25. The lone matchup at Children’s Mercy Park was decided in the 88th minute as forward Erik Hurtado struck to give Sporting a 1-0 triumph.
After playing just two competitive matches in the space of nine months, Sporting will kickstart a stretch of three games in 11 days on Sunday, with the Minnesota matchup followed by fixtures against the Colorado Rapids at 7 p.m. on July 17 and Real Salt Lake at 8 a.m. on July 22. All three of the club’s Group D contests will be shown live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app.
The MLS is Back Tournament kicked off July 8 and will consist of 16 straight days of group stage action through July 23. The Round of 16 will run from July 25-28, followed by the quarterfinals (July 30 – Aug. 1), semifinals (Aug. 5-6) and final on Aug. 11. For more information about the one-of-a-kind competition, visit SportingKC.com/MLSisBack.
In an announcement Saturday, Sporting Kansas City said the club has agreed to transfer defender Botond Barath to his former club, Budapest Honved FC, in his native Hungary. Per club policy, terms of the deal will not be disclosed.
Barath, 28, joined Sporting Kansas City for the 2019 season after previously spending the entirety of his professional career with his hometown club Budapest Honved FC. The Hungarian international made 21 regular season appearances for Sporting a year ago and also featured in three Concacaf Champions League fixtures.
- Information from Sporting KC