"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.
The Friday night lights will shine down on Sporting Kansas City (11-4-7, 40 points) and LAFC (6-9-6, 24 points) when the clubs square off for the third time this season.
Kickoff at Banc of California Stadium is set for 9 p.m. CT with local coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com, the Bally Sports app, ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM. The contest will also air live nationally in Spanish on UniMas and TUDN while streaming in English at @TUDNUSA on Twitter.
In a battle between second-place Sporting and 11th-place LAFC, Friday’s clash pits a pair of teams heading in opposite directions in the Western Conference. We visit five major storylines surrounding the matchup in the space below.
1. The Road is Where the Heart Is
It’s no secret that Sporting have enjoyed tremendous success away from home this season. Their 6-3-2 record, 18 goals scored and plus-eight goal differential are all the second best road marks in MLS. But when they take the field on Friday night, Manager Peter Vermes’ men will be on the precipice of history.
Sporting are 4-0-2 in their last six away games. With a win or a draw against LAFC, they would equal the longest road unbeaten streak in club regular season history. During this six-game stretch, Sporting have outscored opponents 11-2 while posting four shutouts.
2. Steady at the Back
Coinciding with Sporting’s imperious road form has been the club’s penchant for posting shutouts on their travels. Thanks to standout displays from goalkeeper Tim Melia, center back Andreu Fontas, the versatile Ilie Sanchez and outside backs Luis Martins and Graham Zusi, Sporting have collected three straight road shutouts for only the fourth time in team history. Another clean sheet on Friday would see Sporting equal the club record of four straight road shutouts set in 2012.
Melia and Fontas have anchored Sporting’s ever-improving defense. The former ranks third in MLS with a 0.88 goals against average, conceding just 15 goals in his 17 appearances. Fontas, meanwhile, leads MLS in several advanced statistical categories such as goals added, progressive passing distance and successful pressures.
3. LAFC Struggles
The 2019 Supporters’ Shield champions and 2020 Concacaf Champions League runners-up are currently mired in a historic slump. LAFC are winless in eight straight games since mid-July, the longest skid ever for a heavy-spending side that entered MLS in 2018. LAFC have taken a single point from their last five matches, although they did snap a four-game losing streak with a 3-3 home draw against rivals LA Galaxy last Saturday.
While Sporting lead the league with 19 points gained from losing positions in 2021, LAFC have suffered from the opposite narrative: their 19 points dropped from winning positions is the most in MLS.
4. International Absences
Both teams will be forced to exercise their squad depth on Friday night due to international absences. On the Sporting sideline, forward Daniel Salloi is with Hungary and midfielder Gadi Kinda is with Israel. Salloi tops the MLS charts with 18 combined goals (12) and assists (six) this year, while Kinda has added four goals and three assists of his own.
LAFC will be without four players, all of whom play significant roles on the team. Brian Rodriguez, who scored twice last weekend against the Galaxy, has joined Uruguay and Kim Moon-Hwan, who scored in a 2-1 loss to Sporting on June 26, is with South Korea. Ecuador duo Jose Cifuentes and Diego Palacios will also be unavailable for selection.
That’s not to mention the fact that LAFC star forward Diego Rossi has left the club to join Turkish side Fenerbahce at the close of the European transfer window.
5. Sporting Superior
Sporting will be looking to complete a three-game sweep of LAFC on Friday after claiming wins in both previous meetings this year. Salloi and Alan Pulido struck in a 2-1 home win at the end of June as well as a 4-1 victory on Aug. 4, which stands as LAFC’s heaviest defeat ever at Banc of California Stadium. Martins and Kinda also scored in that memorable encounter, which served as the first of four consecutive defeats for LAFC to open the month of August. Only the LA Galaxy (five wins) have more regular season victories against LAFC than Sporting's four.