Sporting KC opens 2017 campaign at D.C. United

USMNT member Graham Zusi is part of an experienced Sporting KC core.
Gary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports

Two clubs who have faced each other in season-openers seven times in history open the 2017 season as Sporting Kansas City travels to play D.C. United at RFK Stadium. Sporting KC hopes to continue recent history, as SKC has won each of the last five (2003, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012). No MLS team has more season-opening wins than Sporting KC (13-5-3).

SKC has reached the postseason in each of the last six seasons, but they’ve gone down in the knockout round in each of the last three years. Trying to upgrade its postseason record, Sporting manager Peter Vermes welcomes 10 new players after saying goodbye to 13 players from last year’s roster.

The core still consists of USMNT members Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber and Honduran national team midfielder Roger Espinoza. Forward Dom Dwyer led SKC in goals with 16, more than double the next-highest player (Feilhaber with seven). The SKC newcomers include 20-year-old Latif Blessing, who was named the 2016 Ghana Premier League player of the year after leading the top flight with 17 goals in his first season on the senior team. Barcelona-born midfielder Ilie Sanchez brings almost a decade of experience from Europe.

D.C. United owns four MLS Cups, the last of which came in 2004 against Sporting Kansas City. Manager Ben Olsen guided the Black and Reds to a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season before falling to Montreal Impact in the Knockout Round. The idea of D.C. United being in the playoffs looked unlikely at midseason. But after the mid-summer acquisition of Patrick Mullins, D.C. lost just two of its final 13 matches while averaging 2.54 goals per game during the torrid stretch.

Unlike Sporting, D.C. United was relatively quiet in the offseason. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid will be protected by a back four of Taylor Kemp, Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum and Nick DeLeon, all of whom started at least 27 games in 2016. Mullins scored eight goals during the latter half of last season and Boca Juniors import Luciano Acosta pulled the midfield strings to the tune of a team-best 11 assists. Elsewhere, Lloyd Sam and Patrick Nyarko add pace and width going forward.

The sides last met on May 27, 2016 at Children’s Mercy Park. Alhaji Kamara scored just 33 seconds into his MLS debut, beating goalkeeper Tim Melia in the 86th minute to give D.C. the 1-0 road win. Sporting KC has just one loss in its last six visits to RFK Stadium since 2011, having conceded just three goals during that stretch. D.C. United holds a 21-20-12 advantage in the all-time regular season series.