MLS is Back: Group D Preview – The most even group

MLS, Minnesota United, Adrian Heath (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
MLS, Minnesota United, Adrian Heath (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /
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MLS, Sporting KC, Alan Pulido
MLS, Sporting KC, Alan Pulido (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

Sporting Kansas City

2019 Record: 11th in Western Conference

2020 Results: 3-1 win vs Vancouver Whitecaps; 4-0 win vs Houston Dynamo

Head Coach:  Peter Vermes

Projected Starters: Tm Melia; Luis Martins, Matt Besler, Roberto Puncec, Graham Zusi; Gadi Kinda, Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza; Khiry Shelton, Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell

Notable Absentees: Felipe Gutierrez — Underwent successful surgery to repair a cartilage defect in his knee which will keep him out until 2021.

After a devastatingly bad 2019 campaign, Sporting Kansas City were eager to right their wrongs with the signing of Mexican superstar Alan Pulido. In the opening two wins of the season, Pulido proved that he is more than willing to work twice as hard defensively to secure a result. It helps that he has two goals and an assist already, too.

With the lack of defensive consistency in 2019, Peter Vermes also brought in Croatian center-back Roberto Puncec in the winter, who was quietly consistent in their opening two matches. This tournament will certainly offer SKC their first real test after their first two wins came against the Houston Dynamo and Vancouver Whitecaps, two rather uncertain teams.

Vermes’ side have a bit of a rivalry with all three of these teams, with Real Salt Lake being the closest to a heated derby, although the loss of Benny Feilhaber and Nick Rimando will force the teams to look upon new faces to reignite what was once a decent feud between the 2013 MLS Cup finalists. Minnesota United and SKC always seem to matchup in the U.S. Open Cup, but this time it’s another chance for MLS to try to market the worst rivalry in sports, seemingly a placeholder rivalry until St. Louis enters the league in 2022.

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The biggest worry is the depth in central midfield. With Felipe Gutierrez ruled out for the year, SKC have just four obvious options. The predicted starting midfield trio seems pretty set without Gutierrez as Gadi Kinda, Ilie Sanchez, and Roger Espinoza all seem to have a firm grip in the starting XI. That leaves only Gianluca Busio in the squad. The front and back lines have good depth, but the midfield is a massive question mark as SKC enter the heat of Orlando.