Match Preview - Aug. 21, 2021

Sporting Kansas City at Minnesota United FC
2021 MLS Regular Season | Match 21
Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021 | 2:30 p.m. CT
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota

Broadcast Schedule:
English TV
Spanish TV | ESPN Deportes
Streaming | ESPN app
English Radio | Sports Radio 810 WHB
Spanish Radio | La Grande 1340 AM

The race for first place in the Western Conference will resume Saturday afternoon when Sporting Kansas City (11-4-5, 38 points) visits Minnesota United FC (7-6-6, 27 points) in a compelling Heineken Rivalry Week showdown at Allianz Field.

Saturday’s clash is slated for 2:30 p.m. CT with national television coverage on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. Supporters can also stream the action live on the ESPN app and catch local radio calls on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM, with The Final Whistle postgame show immediately following on 810 WHB. The Sporting KC app will provide additional in-game updates and fans are welcome to the official watch party for the match at Bar K, a one-of-a-kind destination featuring a restaurant, bar and coffeehouse surrounded by a two-acre dog park (501 Berkley Pkwy, Kansas City, MO).

One point behind first-place Seattle in the West, Sporting will conclude a daunting run of seven competitive matches in 22 days on Saturday against a Minnesota side that owns a 6-1-1 record in its last eight home games at Allianz Field. Sporting faces a quick turnaround this weekend, as Saturday’s fixture comes less than 72 hours after a 1-1 home draw against the Portland Timbers at Children’s Mercy Park.

MLS MVP contender Daniel Salloi continued his phenomenal 2021 campaign on Wednesday with a 92nd-minute equalizer, firing inside the near post from the left corner of the penalty area, en route to MLS Team of the Week honors. The Sporting KC Academy product and MLS All-Star leads the league with 18 combined goals and assists and has scored or assisted in six straight appearances, two shy of tying the club record set by Diego Rubio in 2018.

Fellow forward Alan Pulido assisted Salloi’s strike against Portland to continue his run of four straight starts with a goal or an assist. The prolific Mexican leads MLS since the start of 2020 with 0.97 goals and assists per 90 minutes, contributing valuably to a Sporting attack that ranks second in MLS with 36 goals this season. Spurred by a high-octane offense, Sporting's 38 points through 20 matches equals the best mark at this stage of a season in club history. The eventual 2000 MLS Cup champions also went 11-4-5 in their first 20 league games.

Despite facing Minnesota on limited rest, Sporting will enter Saturday high on confidence thanks to the club’s red-hot road form. Manager Peter Vermes' men are tied for the league lead with six away wins this year and their 11-5-3 regular season road record since the start of 2020 is best in MLS. More recently, Sporting have pieced together a five-game road unbeaten run that includes defeats of the LA Galaxy, LAFC, Seattle and FC Dallas. The 4-0-1 stretch has seen Vermes' side outscore its opponents 11-2 and collect three shutouts. Kansas City’s club record for longest road unbeaten run in a single regular season is six matches, set in 2000, 2004, 2011 and 2012. The team can equal that record with a win or a draw on Saturday.

Led by fifth-year head coach Adrian Heath, Minnesota reached new heights in 2020 by reaching the Western Conference finals before losing to Seattle. The postseason run included an Emanuel Reynoso-inspired 3-0 win over Sporting at Children's Mercy Park in the conference semifinals last December.

The Loons consequently had high expectations entering 2021 but opened with four consecutive losses, casting doubt on the new campaign. Since then, Minnesota's uptick has coincided with goalkeeper Tyler Miller's return after a long-term injury. The Loons are 7-2-6 over the last 15 matches, vaulting from 13th to sixth in the conference table. Reynoso ranks second in MLS in chances created, Robin Lod has scored in four of his last five appearances and Miller ranks second in MLS with a 0.87 goals against average, not to mention five shutouts at Allianz Field.

Sporting and Minnesota have been familiar foes since the Loons entered MLS as an expansion team in 2017. Kansas City holds a 7-5-2 record in the series, including a 6-3-2 mark in the regular season. The clubs met four times during the 2021 campaign, with Sporting taking wins in two of three regular season meetings before the Loons prevailed in the playoffs. Sporting visited Allianz Field once in 2020, coming away with a 2-1 victory exactly one year ago on Aug. 21. An early Gadi Kinda strike and a second-half own goal proved to be the difference in one of the first MLS matches back in home markets following the MLS is Back Tournament last summer.

On the injury front, Sporting defenders Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Jaylin Lindsey will remain sidelined with hamstring ailments. Homegrown midfielder Felipe Hernandez will also miss out for personal reasons. Minnesota faces multiple injury worries as well, as Lod, midfielder Jacori Hayes and forwards Franco Fragapane and Niko Hansen were absent in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at the San Jose Earthquakes. Lynchpin center back Michael Boxall has also missed the last seven weeks with a thigh issue, but the New Zealand native returned to the substitutes bench in the midweek trip to San Jose.