Peter Vermes is looking forward to welcome back Sporting Kansas City fans this week against Orlando City, but is more excited for a full stadium later in the year.
Sporting KC will have 6,500 supporters at Children's Mercy Park for their 2021 MLS home opener. The ground usually holds more than 18,000 spectators, but Friday's match is a sell-out due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
Coach Vermes hopes Sporting KC can benefit, although he was already looking ahead to the stadium being "wide open".
"Last year it was incredibly artificial for everyone - for the players, for the staff, when you're watching on TV," he said. "The fans create the ambiance. They create the environment.
"I also think that if you've ever thought how important fans are to a game, it amazes me - the results around the world, in places that were at one time very difficult to play. Now you see Liverpool lose six or seven in a row at home. So much is the pressure, the intimidation of the fans - whether on the other team or on the home team to make sure that they play. I think it's everything to the game. Any percentage is better than zero, obviously, but I'm looking forward to when we're back wide open with a full stadium."
Sporting KC will not have to get to grips with Alexandre Pato, who suffered an apparent knee injury on his Orlando debut.
"Pato has been better," coach Oscar Pareja said. "We would like to be careful, but so far, he is recovering. We are analysing the right time to bring him back into the competition."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sporting Kansas City – Gianluca Busio
This week brought news of further Serie A interest in teenager Busio, with Fiorentina, Sassuolo and Parma said to be negotiating over a potential move. In the meantime, Sporting KC's creative star will hope to prove his worth. He started in a new 'false nine' role in the opener.
Orlando City – Silvester van der Water
Last weekend did not go to plan for Pato, although initial fears he might require surgery quickly subsided. But his spell on the sidelines should give an opportunity to Van der Water, who replaced the Brazilian and was also signed this offseason.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Orlando City have won three of six all-time meetings with Sporting Kansas City (D1 L2). The only other teams the Lions have played six or more times and have more wins than losses against are Colorado (W4 D1 L1) and New York City FC (W6 D6 L5).
- Sporting KC won their final three regular season home matches in 2020. The last visiting team to take a regular season point in Kansas City were Orlando, who won 2-1 on September 23.
- Orlando, who opened the season with a scoreless draw against Atlanta United, have not gone two straight games without scoring since August 2019, while they have not kept consecutive clean sheets since May and June 2017, which is the only time they have done so in club history.
- Sporting KC averaged 28.3 touches in their opponents' box last season, second-most in MLS (Los Angeles FC – 31.6). They averaged 32.6 touches in their opponents' box in their nine regular season matches at home, also second only to LAFC (35.2).
- Orlando scored just three times in their final five away matches last season, with two from Daryl Dike and a Nani penalty. The last Orlando player other than Dike to score from open play in an away match was Benji Michel on September 23 at Sporting KC.