"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.
Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City (10-4-3, 33 points) will play for their fourth straight road win on Saturday when they visit the fourth-place Colorado Rapids (8-4-3, 27 points) on Saturday night at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. CT and fans can catch the action live on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com, the Bally Sports app, Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
Sporting earned another statement victory away from home on Wednesday, hammering LAFC by a 4-1 scoreline to supplant Seattle Sounders FC for first place in the West. The Rapids, meanwhile, are fully rested after posting a road victory of their own last Saturday against Austin FC and sit just six points back of Sporting with two games in hand.
As excitement builds toward Saturday's high-stakes clash, we visit five compelling storylines surrounding the matchup in the space below.
1. Road Warriors
Sporting have simply made a habit of winning away from home. Alan Pulido, Luis Martins, Daniel Salloi and Gadi Kinda all found the back of the net in Wednesday's dismantling of LAFC, giving Manager Peter Vermes' men their league-leading fifth road victory of the 2021 campaign. Sporting have won three straight regular season road fixtures, tied for the club's second longest streak since the dawn of Major League Soccer's non-shootout era in 2000.
Even more impressive? Sporting's last three road wins have come against three of the four teams immediately below them in the Western Conference table: second-place Seattle, the third-place Galaxy and fifth-place LAFC. Up next for Sporting, of course, is a trip to fourth-place Colorado.
2. Youngsters Move Abroad
Sporting and Colorado made headlines this week as each club transferred a talented academy product to Europe. Sporting's 19-year-old Gianluca Busio, who helped the United States Men's National Team to the Gold Cup title last weekend, completed his move to Italian Seria A side Venezia FC on Thursday. He recorded eight goals and nine assists in 70 appearances for the club as one of the top teenagers in American soccer.
On the Colorado sideline, left back Sam Vines joined Busio on the U.S. MNT's Gold Cup-winning squad and joined Royal Antwerp in Belgium earlier this week. The 22-year-old has started 49 of 54 MLS appearances since debuting in 2018.
3. Showtime Salloi
Salloi, a freshly minted MLS All-Star, has enjoyed the best season of his young career as one of the league’s most prolific attacking players. Look no further than the fact that Salloi stands alone at the top of the MLS charts in combined goals (10) and primary assists (five).
The Hungary-born winger hit the 10-goal marker on Wednesday in Sporting’s 17th match of the regular season. That’s the fourth quickest run to 10 regular season goals in club history after Dom Dwyer (12 games in 2014), Preki (15 in 1996) and Eddie Johnson (16 in 2007).
With Salloi's contribution to the victory, Sporting KC Academy products have now scored or assisted in a remarkable 12 straight MLS matches dating back to May 16. Sporting’s rich crop of Homegrowns have accounted for 16 of 33 goals and 11 of 29 assists for the highest-scoring attack in MLS this season.
4. Pulido is Back
Pulido missed a month of action due to Mexican national team commitments during the Gold Cup, but the striker announced his return emphatically on Wednesday by firing his team into an early lead that Sporting wouldn't relinquish. Pulido has seven goals and an assist in nine starts this season and the quality he brings to the squad is undeniable.
"I think the world of Alan," Vermes said during a post-match press conference on Wednesday night. "I think he’s a fantastic player and a great pro. He has a great mentality for the game and he’s a humble guy."
Vermes continued: "Alan also knows that (Kansas City) is his home and he’s a part of the family here. We count on him a lot. The players have a lot of respect for his game and they know that he cares about the team. For him to just jump right in today and be as good as he was without playing for us for a month says so much about him. He doesn’t get enough credit."
5. Rapids on the Rise
Rapids head coach Robin Fraser has worked wonders since taking the helm in May 2019. Once a perennial cellar dweller in the West, Colorado returned to the playoffs in 2020 and boasts a 21-12-7 regular season record since Fraser was appointed. The Rapids are 5-0-2 in their last seven home matches at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, scoring 15 goals and conceding five.
Midfielders Jack Price and Michael Barrios are tied for second in MLS with three game-winning assists each, while goalkeeper William Yarbrough ranks second in MLS in shutouts (seven) and goalkeeping wins (eight). Defenders Auston Trusty and Keegan Rosenberry have also been ever-present fixtures for a team that boasts an 8-4-3 record.