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Longtime foes Red Bulls, Sporting KC meet in opener

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It’s almost like a recipe for a favorite holiday cookie: A little bit of this, mixed with a pinch of that.

The New York Red Bulls will host Sporting Kansas City in a 2021 season-opening battle of original MLS clubs Saturday night at Red Bull Arena and both teams have some new ingredients to blend in. Both also will be looking to get rid of the sour aftertaste from 2020.

The clubs have faced each other 56 times, with each club holding a 21-21-14 mark.

The Red Bulls lost 3-2 in the opening round of the MLS Cup playoffs last season to the eventual champion Columbus Crew. New York was in its 11th straight MLS Cup playoffs, and 21st in the 25-year history of the league, but the club has yet to win the title. They have reached the final only once, despite winning the Supporters’ Shield three times.

The Red Bulls return 10 starters to go along with 10 new additions for new head coach Gerhard Struber. Caden Clark, a 17-year old who scored two goals last season, is one of the promising youngsters expecting to provide key minutes, while the experience of veterans like midfielder Florian Valot is key.

“Flo’s a top player on the team … so I’m just trying to pick his brain a little bit and ask questions that I can add to my game,” Clark said. “He has a really good skill set, and I’m just trying to learn off of what he does.”

Sporting KC earned the top spot in the Western Conference in 2020, only to lose at home to Minnesota United in the conference semifinals. Head coach Peter Vermes will look to blend young talent into a talented roster that will be without longtime captain Matt Besler for the first time since 2008.

The first challenge is at the goalkeeper spot, where Tim Melia is injured. Vermes will turn to a 19-year-old California native who will make his MLS debut.

“It’s simple; John Pulskamp is our keeper,” Vermes said on Zoom. “Tim is progressing very quickly, so over the next few weeks he has a chance to be back.”

–Field Level Media

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