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Second-place Sporting Kansas City (13-6-7, 46 points) will look to bounce back from Sunday's loss to Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday when they hit the road to face FC Dallas (6-12-9, 27 points) at Toyota Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app as well as Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
Manager Peter Vermes' men suffered a 2-1 setback at the hands of Seattle this weekend, but an opportunity to bounce back and reclaim first place will present itself in a compelling midweek matchup against an FC Dallas side that is staring down the barrel of a winless September.
With plenty at stake on Wednesday, we visit five major narratives surrounding the matchup in the space below.
1. Tight at the Top
Sporting finished atop the Western Conference standings in 2018 and 2020 and will be looking to replicate the feat once more in 2021. Sunday's loss to Seattle saw the Sounders take a two-point lead in the division, with Sporting one point ahead of the third-place Colorado Rapids. With six weeks left in the regular season, it appears likely that one of those three clubs will claim the No. 1 seed in the West for the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. Remember, the first-place finishers in both conferences will earn a first-round postseason bye, cementing a spot in the conference semifinals and clinching homefield advantage until MLS Cup.
2. The Captain is Cooking
Captain Johnny Russell’s rich vein of form continued as he found the back of the net in the second half of Sunday's match against Seattle. The Scottish winger struck in the 60th minute to make the score 2-1, becoming just the fifth Sporting player in club history to bag goals in four consecutive regular season home appearances. Russell is the second player on Sporting’s current roster to manage the feat, as fellow forward Daniel Salloi struck in four straight home games from June 12 to July 21 of this year.
Russell has hit full stride since the turn of July, notching seven goals and four assists in his last dozen league appearances to become just the second MLS player since the start of 2018 to hit 30 goals and 30 assists in the regular season. In 2021 specifically, Russell is one of only five MLS players with seven goals and seven assists.
PLAYERS WITH SEVEN GOALS + SEVEN ASSISTS
(2021 MLS REGULAR SEASON)
- Valentin Castellanos | New York City FC | 13 goals, 7 assists
- Hany Mukhtar | Nashville SC | 12 goals, 9 assists
- Nani | Orlando City SC | 9 goals, 7 assists
- Albert Rusnak | Real Salt Lake | 7 goals, 9 assists
- Johnny Russell | Sporting KC | 7 goals, 7 assists
3. Homegrown Stars
Wednesday's battle will likely feature the two top-scoring Homegrown forwards in Major League Soccer, both of whom landed MLS All-Star recognition this summer.
Sporting's Daniel Salloi is in the midst of a career year, ranking third in the Golden Boot race with 13 goals and placing fourth with 19 total goal contributions (including six assists). His stat line is remarkably similar to that of 18-year-old Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi, who punctuated his jump into the United States Men's National Team last month with a goal and two assists against Honduras on Sept. 8. Pepi has 12 goals and three assists on the year, having played one more game than Salloi in 2021.
4. A New Direction
Dallas are stuck in 11th place in the West, nine points below the playoff line, and haven't won since Aug. 29. Their struggles over the course of the season prompted a head coaching change on Sept. 19, as Luchi Gonzalez was relieved of his duties and technical director Marco Ferruzzi took the helm on an interim basis.
The root of Dallas' recent struggles has stemmed from a leaky defense that has conceded 16 goals in the last seven games. The Texas club has allowed three goals in four of those seven matches and has just two points to show from five league games in September.
5. Backline Changes
Vermes is guaranteed to make at least one change to the Sporting backline on Sunday, as veteran right back Graham Zusi will serve a one-game suspension for caution accumulation. With his team playing three times in the space of a week, Vermes will also have a decision to make in central defense. Spaniards Andreu Fontas and Ilie Sanchez have partnered over the last several matches, but with Frenchman Nicolas Isimat-Mirin back at full fitness—and with Ilie capable of moving into midfield—Sporting have a number of backline options at their disposal.
By and large, Sporting have excelled defensively in recent weeks. Goalkeeper Tim Melia has five shutouts in his last nine appearances, including clean sheets in three of the club's last four away games.