Sporting KC Opens 2021 MLS Season Saturday at New York Red Bulls


(April 16, 2021) — A pair of MLS charter members will raise the curtains on a highly anticipated and long-awaited 2021 season Saturday night when Sporting Kansas City visits the New York Red Bulls for a 7 p.m. CT showdown at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

Saturday’s inter-conference clash will be shown live on Bally Sports Kansas City and Bally Sports Midwest in Mid-Missouri and Iowa with three hours of live coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT. The match will be joined in progress on Bally Sports Midwest Plus in the St. Louis area following St. Louis Blues hockey.

Fans within the Bally Sports Midwest footprint can also stream the action live on FOX Sports GO, while supporters elsewhere across the U.S. can watch on ESPN Plus. Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM will air local radio broadcasts and the official Sporting KC app will provide additional in-game updates.

In conjunction with Saturday’s opener, Sporting fans are invited to attend an outdoor watch party at Children’s Mercy Park when the club hosts its Season Kickoff presented by Michelob Ultra. Supporters can secure their free ticket to the Season Kickoff at or the SeatGeek app, with stadium gates opening at 5:30 p.m. CT and select concessions and SportingStyle locations open to guests. The watch party will utilize distanced outdoor seating in the stadium bowl with the match shown on the north and south videoboards. Face coverings will be mandatory for all in attendance.

The Season Kickoff presented by Michelob Ultra will also serve as the first opportunity for Season Ticket Members to pick up their STM gift packages, which includes a copy of the commemorative hardback book “One Club: The First 25 Years of Major League Soccer in Kansas City.”

Led by 13th-year manager Peter Vermes, the longest-tenured head coach in MLS history, Sporting finished atop the Western Conference last season with a 12-6-3 record and a club-record 1.86 points per game. Newly designated captain Johnny Russell, striker Alan Pulido and midfielder Gadi Kinda bagged six goals apiece in the regular season, while the likes of 18-year-old Gianluca Busio, fellow Academy product Jaylin Lindsey and winger Khiry Shelton enjoyed their best MLS campaigns to date.

Sporting returns a veteran core this year — including heralded goalkeeper Tim Melia and defender Graham Zusi, who in his 13th season has become the longest-tenured active player with a single club in MLS. Vermes has added a crop of high-profile newcomers, namely center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and midfielder Remi Walter from France, while also promoting from within. Sporting has an MLS-high 12 Homegrown Players on its current roster, five of whom have signed within the last six months.

Vermes will utilize his squad’s depth in Week 1, as five Sporting players will miss Saturday’s contest through injury: Zusi, defender Amadou Dia and goalkeepers Melia, Kendall McIntosh and Brooks Thompson. Pulido, Russell and Walter will be available for selection after working back from their own preseason injuries. In Melia’s absence, 19-year-old John Pulskamp is slated to make his MLS debut and become the youngest goalkeeper to feature for Sporting in an MLS match.

On the opposite sideline, the Red Bulls have won three Supporters’ Shield titles over the last eight seasons and own an 11-year playoff streak, the second-longest active run in MLS. New York endured an up-and-down campaign in 2020, parting ways with head coach Chris Armas in September before appointing Austrian manager Gerhard Struber and placing sixth in the East with a 9-9-5 record. Struber and New York fell to eventual MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew SC in the first round of the 2020 postseason.

Known for their signature high-pressing style of play — the Red Bulls have led MLS in duels won for six straight seasons — New York enters the weekend with a clean bill of health. The club’s roster is highlighted by U.S. international center back Aaron Long, dynamic outside back Kyle Duncan, Austrian winger Daniel Royer and newly acquired No. 9 Fabio, a talented 23-year-old on loan from Brazilian side Oeste.

Both teams will be encouraged by past history in season-opening encounters. Sporting’s 14 season-opening wins and nine victories in road openers are the most in MLS history. Conversely, the Red Bulls boast a league-high 16 home-opening wins, including a 16-4-5 record in their first home matches of the season.

The series between Sporting and New York dates back to the inaugural 1996 MLS campaign and has seen the clubs take 21 wins and 13 draws apiece in regular season play. The most recent meeting took place in April 2019 when Russell and Busio tallied goals in an entertaining 2-2 draw at Children’s Mercy Park. Russell has scored in both career appearances against New York, including a 3-2 setback in July 2018 when Sporting last visited Red Bull Arena.

Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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