Courtesy of Sporting KC
Sporting Kansas City will kick off the club’s 27th Major League Soccer season at 2 p.m. CT on Sunday at Atlanta United FC with a nationally-televised cross-conference clash live on FS1 and FOX Deportes.
The earliest regular season match in club history will be played inside a full-capacity Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Sporting Kansas City earned a 2-0 win in 2018 in the team’s only previous trip to the venue. Since opening in 2017, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has hosted MLS Cup, the MLS All-Star Game, Campeones Cup and the U.S. Open Cup Final in addition to the Super Bowl and College Football Playoff National Championship.
Goalkeeper Tim Melia – whose next win will be the 100th of his career in all competitions for the club – made eight saves in for the clean sheet as Sporting became the first team in MLS history to shut out Atlanta in a regular season match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Daniel Salloi provided the game-winning goal in the victory and is coming off a scintillating 2021 season in which he was an MLS MVP finalist with a league-leading 16 non-penalty goals as well as eight assists.
On the opposite wing from Salloi, Sporting captain Johnny Russell ended 2021 in a phenomenal run of form as he contributed a goal or assist in his final 10 regular season appearances. With a goal or assist in his next match, Russell would tie for the third longest streak in league history.
Russell’s 71 combined regular season goals (40) and assists (31) since joining Sporting in 2018 are third most in MLS over that span. Second on the list is Atlanta United FC striker Josef Martinez with an MLS best 70 goals in the past four seasons to go along with 11 assists.
Martinez led Atlanta United FC with 12 goals in 2021, while midfielder Marcelino Moreno recorded nine goals and five assists. No player contributed more goals and assists for Atlanta in 2021 than Ezequiel Barco with seven goals and eight assists, however Barco will spend the 2022 season on loan to River Plate in Argentina.
Atlanta added nine players in the offseason, including former Sporting KC striker Dom Dwyer most recently, but no move was bigger than the record-setting acquisition of Designated Player Thiago Almada for a $16-million transfer fee. As of Wednesday, Almada’s availability for Sunday was questionable according to the club due to the processing of his visa.
Almada is one of four key players questionable for the Week 1 match-up along with Moreno (foot), Brooks Lennon (ankle) and U-22 signing Santiago Sosa (visa). Five additional players are out on the team’s availability report, including Jake Mulraney (leg), Emerson Hyndman (ACL), Franco Ibarra (visa) and Alan Franco (suspension).
Sporting Kansas City will be without Designated Players Alan Pulido (knee) and Gadi Kinda (knee) on Sunday due to injury, while the team also awaits the arrival of Nikola Vujnovic after signing on loan 10 days ago. Vujnovic was one of seven players signed by Sporting ahead of the 2022 campaign, including the U-22 trio of Logan Ndenbe, Robert Voloder and Marinos Tzionis in transfers as well as MLS veterans Ben Sweat, Uri Rosell and Kortne Ford.
Complementing the newcomers is a veteran core led by Graham Zusi, whose 320 regular season games played are not only the most in club history but also rank most among one-club MLS players all-time. Zusi, who is 20 minutes shy of surpassing 30,000 minutes played across all competitions in his career, will also become the first player in league history to play 14 seasons in MLS all with one club, breaking a record first set by C.J. Brown (1998-2010 with Chicago) and now shared by Sporting midfielder Roger Espinoza (2008-2012, 2015-2022).
Like Zusi, Sporting Manager Peter Vermes enters his 14th MLS season all with one club. The longest tenured head coach in MLS and the sixth longest tenured manager in global soccer according to a recent analysis, Vermes has led Sporting to road wins in season openers each of the last two years. In fact, Sporting’s 15 victories in season openers and 10 wins in road openers both are most among all MLS clubs in league history.
Under Vermes, Sporting has established a formidable style of play that has produced playoff berths in 10 of the past 11 seasons. Predicated on possession, Sporting (55.24%) ranked second in the category in Major League Soccer in 2021 – trailing only Atlanta United FC (57.45%), who embark on the club’s first full season with head coach Gonzalo Pineda after his appointment last August.
In addition to the nationally-televised broadcasts on FS1 and FOX Deportes, Sunday’s showdown can also be streamed live in the FOX Sports app or online at FOXSports.com. Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM will carry the match locally for listeners, and fans can also access the Sporting KC mobile app or @SKCMatchday on Twitter for in-game updates.
In conjunction with the season opener, Sporting will host a State Line Block Party presented by Michelob Ultra and adidas on Sunday in the heart of West 39th Street in Kansas City. Festivities are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. CT – including live music, yard games and drink specials – and the watch party will feature a large LED screen for viewing #ATLvSKC at 2 p.m. CT. In addition, Sports Radio 810 WHB will kick off five hours of Sporting KC coverage with a Special Sporting Preview Show at noon on Sunday live from the event.
On Friday, No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District will welcome Sporting Kansas City supporters for a Season Kickoff Party beginning at 6 p.m. CT. The event will feature guest servers Nate Bukaty and Hartzell Gray, as well as free access to all games, a live DJ, a 360 photo booth and a complimentary drink ticket for the first 50 guests wearing Sporting gear.