"Five Things" is a season-long series presented by the Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center that highlights the top storylines and players to watch ahead of each match. To visit the series archive, click here.
A demanding month of October continues for Sporting Kansas City (9-6-2, 29 points) with a Saturday visit to Chicago Fire FC (5-8-4, 19 points) at Soldier Field. The cross-conference clash is slated for 2:30 p.m. CT with live coverage locally on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO as well as nationally broadcasts in Spanish on Univision and TUDN. Supporters can also listen to the action on ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
Manager Peter Vermes’ men were aggrieved on Wednesday, seeing a late Johnny Russell equalizer controversially disallowed in a 1-0 setback at FC Dallas, but Sporting nonetheless sits just a point out of first place in the Western Conference. Chicago, meanwhile, hover just below the playoff line in the East and will enter the weekend on full rest after their midweek match at Minnesota United FC was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.
We examine five prevailing storylines surrounding Saturday’s contest in the space below.
1. No Rest for the Weary
After stringing together three straight wins from Oct. 3-11 and falling to Dallas on Wednesday, Sporting will now prepare for their fifth game in a grueling 15-day stretch. Vermes has consistently rotated his squad during the busy period—notably starting four Homegrown Players and giving defender Andreu Fontas his first appearance of the season against Dallas—and will likely usher more changes to the lineup on Saturday.
On the opposite sideline, first-year Chicago head coach Raphael Wicky will have the benefit of picking a team that hasn’t played since Sunday’s 2-1 home defeat of D.C. United. The Fire were scheduled to play at Minnesota on Wednesday and even traveled to Allianz Field for the match, but a last-minute postponement means the Fire will have fresh legs come Saturday afternoon.
2. Pushing for the Playoffs
As mentioned above, Sporting trail Western Conference co-leaders Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers by a single point. A victory over Chicago on Saturday would give Vermes’ side a provisional hold of first place and represent another major step toward the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, which will consist of the top eight finishers in the West and the top 10 finishers in the East.
Chicago will be equally hungry for points this weekend, as they are currently tied with Atlanta United FC for the 10th and final playoff spot in the East. The 23-game MLS regular season is scheduled to conclude with Decision Day on Nov. 8, which means the decisive home stretch is well and truly here.
3. One-Sided Series
Chicago leads the all-time regular season series with a 26-18-11 record. However, recent results have belonged to Sporting, who have won six of the last seven meetings and each of the last four dating back to 2017. The sides last met on Oct. 7, when goalkeeper Tim Melia saved a penalty kick and center back Winston Reid buried a second-half header to seal Sporting’s 1-0 triumph.
4. Return to Soldier Field
The Fire spent their first seven MLS seasons at storied Soldier Field in downtown Chicago before moving to SeatGeek Stadium in the Bridgeview suburbs in 2006. The club returned to Soldier Field this year and owns a 4-1-1 home record, including wins in each of their last three.
Saturday marks Sporting’s first match at Soldier Field since Aug. 10, 2005, when the Wizards claimed their first-ever win at the stadium in a 3-2 thriller. Kansas City is 1-7-1 all-time at Soldier Field and will look to improve upon that clip this weekend.
5. A Special Anniversary
As fate would have it, this week marks the 20-year anniversary of Kansas City’s 1-0 victory over Chicago in MLS Cup 2000 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
On Oct. 15, 2000, the Wizards received an early goal from Miklos Molnar and 10 saves from goalkeeper Tony Meola to oust the Fire in a championship match for the ages. Vermes, who played the full 90 minutes in central defense to help Kansas City to its first MLS Cup title exactly two decades ago, will man the sidelines this time around as the longest-tenured head coach in the league.