Preview: Sporting Opens MLS Season Sunday at LAFC
Two of the premier teams in Major League Soccer's Western Conference from a year ago will lock horns in a high-profile 2019 curtain raiser on Sunday night at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.
Hot off an emphatic defeat of Deportivo Toluca FC in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16, Sporting Kansas City visits Los Angeles Football Club for a 7:30 p.m. CT kickoff on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.
The MLS season opener for both clubs is the final fixture of a mouthwatering Week 1 slate as Sporting and LAFC look to build upon their respective achievements of 2018. Supporters are welcome to watch parties for the match at any of Sporting's newly announced pub partner locations-including No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District-while fans can also utilize the new Sporting KC app for in-game updates and exclusive offers.
Sunday's marquee matchup features a pair of teams that challenged for top spot in the West last season. Led by 11th-year Manager Peter Vermes, Sporting finished at the summit with an 18-8-8 record and set all-time club bests for goals (65), assists (69), goal difference (plus-25) and shots (583). LAFC placed third, going 16-9-9 to become the fifth MLS expansion side to reach the playoffs in their inaugural campaign. Both clubs suffered narrow defeats in the postseason, Sporting falling to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Championship and LAFC losing to Real Salt Lake in the Knockout Round.
As the script flips to 2019, Sporting enter the first weekend of March riding a wave of momentum. Vermes' men earned a dominant 5-0 aggregate win over Toluca in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16-setting a 57-year tournament record for largest aggregate win by an MLS club over a Liga MX outfit-and travel from Central Mexico to Southern California with hopes of continuing their winning ways. Forwards Gerso Fernandes and Krisztian Nemeth scored in both matches against Toluca, while a backline anchored by center backs Matt Besler and Andreu Fontas limited the Red Devils to zero shots on target in Thursday's second leg at Estadio Nemesio Diez.
High confidence may be what buoys Sporting this weekend, but the team's mettle will be tested by an immensely demanding travel schedule. Vermes' side flew from Toluca to Los Angeles on Friday and will take a 3,000-mile flight from Los Angeles to Panama City on Monday ahead of next week's Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Independiente in La Chorrera, Panama. Sporting's depth will likely be on display as the squad copes with the demands of three away games in three different time zones in three separate countries-all in the space of a single week.
LAFC have lofty expectations of their own after a successful 2018 debut. Their 57 points last season were the most ever by an expansion team as three different attackers-Carlos Vela, Adama Diomande and Diego Rossi-hit double-digit regular season goals. The prolific triumvirate paced LAFC to a conference-best and expansion-team record 68 goals behind the leadership of head coach and former U.S. Men's National Team manager Bob Bradley.
Vela, an ultra-talented Mexican international, led the way with 14 goals and 13 assists in his first MLS campaign, but the LAFC roster boasts a wealth of additional threats. Playmaker Lee Nguyen and forward Christian Ramirez join the aforementioned Diomande and Rossi up top, while MLS veterans Walker Zimmerman, Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey patrol a defense that will aim to improve from last year's lukewarm showing.
Sporting swept the 2018 series between the clubs and were the only team to defeat LAFC twice. This included a 2-0 win at Banc of California Stadium in Aug. 11, 2018, which remains LAFC's only regular-season home loss to date. Fernandes and midfielder Ilie Sanchez scored in the victory as Sporting extended its impressive run in the state of California: Vermes' men are 5-0-2 in the Golden State since June of 2016, scoring 13 goals while allowing only three.
The return fixture at Children's Mercy Park took place on Decision Day last fall. In a pivotal regular-season finale on Oct. 28, 10-man Sporting struck through Roger Espinoza and Daniel Salloi to overcome Vela's second-half penalty kick and prevail 2-1 to secure a first-place finish in the West.
Sunday's primetime battle pits two of the most successful coaches in league history. Bradley (140) and Vermes (133) rank first and second, respectively, among active coaches in all-time regular season coaching wins. They place fourth and fifth on the all-time charts, with Vermes' 11-year reign making him the longest-tenured manager in MLS.
Kickoff in Los Angeles set for 7:30 p.m. CT on ESPN, ESPN Deportes,
Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM
Sporting Kansas City at Los Angeles Football Club
Sunday, March 3, 2019 | 7:30 p.m. CT
Banc of California Stadium | Los Angeles, California
2019 MLS Regular Season | Match 1 of 34
English TV | ESPN
Spanish TV | ESPN Deportes
English Radio | Sports Radio 810 WHB
Spanish Radio | ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM
Mobile | Sporting KC App, ESPN App
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