Preview: Sporting to Face Philly in MLS Is Back Quarterfinals
The MLS is Back Tournament Knockout Stage presented by Audi will continue Thursday with a marquee quarterfinal clash between Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World. The winner of the contest will advance to next week's semifinals and move one step closer to the 2021 Concacaf Champions League berth that awaits the champion of the historic and unprecedented competition.
Thursday's showdown is slated for 7 p.m. CT with national telecasts on ESPN and ESPN Deportes and a live stream via the ESPN app. Listeners can also catch the action locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM, with 810 WHB airing The Final Whistle postgame show immediately afterward. Additionally, Sporting KC Live presented by Michelob Ultra will provide 60 minutes of pregame coverage and a 30-minute postgame show on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports GO.
To celebrate the match, supporters of all ages are welcome to join Sporting's Virtual Watch Party presented by Continental Tire or visit the Kansas City Live! Block in the Kansas City Power & Light District for a free, socially distanced outdoor viewing party hosted by No Other Pub.
Sporting reached the quarterfinals behind a dramatic 3-1 shootout victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC following a scoreless draw on Sunday night in the Round of 16. A club-record 36 shot attempts from Sporting weren't enough to breach Vancouver's resolute defense, but goalkeeper Tim Melia starred in the shootout with two decisive penalty saves to complement successful spot kicks from Alan Pulido, Ilie Sanchez and Gianluca Busio. One day earlier, the Union punched their quarterfinal ticket by defeating the New England Revolution 1-0 on a 63rd-minute strike from Brazilian forward Sergio Santos.
Since conceding twice in second-half stoppage time to fall 2-1 to Minnesota United FC in the club's tournament opener, Sporting has rediscovered its impressive early-season form. Manager Peter Vermes' men dispatched the Colorado Rapids in a 3-2 thriller on July 17 and beat Real Salt Lake 2-0 on July 22 before eliminating the Whitecaps on Sunday. Forwards Alan Pulido, Khiry Shelton, Johnny Russell and Gerso Fernandes have all found the back of the net in Florida, while Melia and center backs Graham Smith and Roberto Puncec have helped engineer back-to-back shutouts.
Philadelphia has yet to lose during the MLS is Back Tournament, posting three wins and a draw under seventh-year head coach Jim Curtin. The Union finished second Group A, ousting New York City FC and Inter Miami CF before splitting the points with group winner Orlando City SC. Philadelphia's eight goals this year have come from seven different players, while standout goalkeeper Andre Blake has an MLS-best 27 saves in the regular season. Mainstay defenders Ray Gaddis and Mark McKenzie have also anchored a backline that has conceded just twice in four tournament matches.
Unlike group stage fixtures in the MLS is Back Tournament, knockout round matches do not count toward the 2020 regular season standings. As Sporting experienced on Sunday, knockout round battles will go straight to penalty kicks if teams are tied after 90 minutes of regulation. Additionally, players will not be suspended for caution accumulation during the tournament.
With the possibility of a shootout looming on Thursday, even greater light will shine on two of the league's premier goalkeepers. Melia owns a perfect 5-0 record in shootouts throughout his 13-year professional career and currently boasts a 406-minute shutout streak dating back to Feb. 29. Blake has been tabbed an early candidate for tournament MVP by racking up 21 saves and two clean sheets in the competition.
Sporting holds a narrow edge in the head-to-head series with a 7-6-6 record in all competitions, which includes a 6-6-5 mark in regular season play. The sides haven't met since March 10, 2019, when an Ilie Sanchez penalty kick and a late own goal gave Sporting a 2-0 triumph at Children's Mercy Park. Since then, both teams have faced every other MLS club except 2020 expansion teams Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC.
Vermes' side has emerged victorious in both tournament-style meetings against the Union, taking a 2-0 win in the 2012 U.S. Open Cup semifinals and prevailing 7-6 on penalties following a 1-1 tie in the epic 2015 U.S. Open Cup Final at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. Melia notably made two decisive penalty stops in the championship game for his first of two Open Cup titles to date. Sporting has won seven championships in club history -- two MLS Cups, four Open Cups and a Supporters' Shield -- while the Union are seeking their first major honor.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Philadelphia Union
MLS is Back Tournament Knockout Stage | Quarterfinals
Thursday, July 30, 2020 | 7 p.m. CT
ESPN Wide World of Sports | Walt Disney World in Florida
English TV | ESPN
Spanish TV | ESPN Deportes
English Radio | Sports Radio 810 WHB
Spanish Radio | La Grande 1340 AM
Streaming | ESPN app
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