"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 colossal Western Conference clash beckons Saturday as second-place Sporting Kansas City (15-7-7, 52 points) travels to face first-place Seattle Sounders FC (17-6-7, 58 points) at Lumen Field. Kickoff is slated for 2:50 p.m. CT with coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT on Bally Sports Kansas City and Bally Sports Midwest as well as Univision, TUDN and @MLS on Twitter.
Sporting can punch their ticket to the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs with a win or a draw on Saturday, but Manager Peter Vermes' men have their eyes on an even bigger objective: keeping pace with Seattle at the top of the West as the stretch run of the regular season intensifies.
With tons to play for this weekend, we visit five major storylines surrounding the match in our newest edition of Five Things, presented by Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center.
1. How the West is Won
If Sporting want to finish atop the Western Conference table for the third time in four seasons, beating Seattle would be a really good start. The Sounders boast a six-point lead atop the West and have pole position for the first-round playoff bye that comes with the No. 1 seed. If Manager Peter Vermes' men can emerge victorious, however, that gap will shrink to three points and Sporting will have one game in hand heading into the final fortnight of the regular season campaign.
While the Sounders reside above Sporting, the Colorado Rapids are nipping at their heels in third place. Sporting and Colorado are level on points but Vermes' side has a game in hand plus the head-to-head tiebreaker based on wins. A few hours after Sporting and Seattle square off, the Rapids will host fourth-place Portland on Saturday night.
2. Familiar Foes
Saturday will mark the third head-to-head meeting between Sporting and Seattle this year. The visitors will be encouraged by the fact that the away team has won on both previous occasions. Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi and Cam Duke scored in a 3-1 victory at Seattle on July 25, while the Sounders returned the favor with a 2-1 triumph of their own on Sept. 26 at Children's Mercy Park.
Sporting have gone 7-3-3 in the last 13 regular season games against Seattle since 2015, including victories in each of their last two visits to Lumen Field. In addition to taking three road points over the Sounders in July, Sporting took a 3-2 win in August 2019 against a Seattle side that lifted the MLS Cup three months later.
3. Captain Marvel
Sporting's 2-1 loss at Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sunday saw one of the league's hottest attacking players etch his name into the Kansas City history books. With 43 minutes on the clock, Russell received a pass from Salloi and sent a fantastic curler in off the post to cut his team's deficit in half. By doing so, the Scottish captain became the first player in Sporting history to score in six consecutive MLS regular season matches.
With goals in his last six appearances, Russell is now tied with Ola Kamara of D.C. United for the longest scoring streak in MLS this season.
LONGEST REGULAR SEASON GOAL SCORING STREAKS
(2021 MLS REGULAR SEASON)
- 6 matches | Johnny Russell | Sporting Kansas City | Sept. 11 to Oct. 17
- 6 matches | Ola Kamara | D.C. United | July 3 to Aug. 15
- 5 matches | Damir Kreilach | Real Salt Lake | Sept. 18 to Oct. 16
- 5 matches | Gustavo Bou | New England Revolution | May 22 to July 3
- 5 matches | Cristian Arango | LAFC | Aug. 28 to Sept. 19
4. Sound the Alarm
Led by sixth-year head coach Brian Schmetzer, the Sounders have shone as a model MLS franchise since joining the league in 2009. Seattle has secured 13 consecutive playoff appearances and hoisted the Western Conference crown in four of the last five seasons, adding MLS Cup titles in 2016 and 2019. And make no mistake: this year's iteration of Seattle appears perfectly capable of adding to the trophy cabinet.
The likes of star striker Raul Ruidiaz (16 goals), U.S. international midfielder Cristian Roldan (six goals, five assists), playmaker Joao Paulo (three goals, 10 assists), defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade and goalkeeper Stefan Frei have kept Seattle punching among the heavyweights, while former Sporting utility men Jimmy Medranda and Kelyn Rowe have also contributed valuably to a team that wields a league-low 0.87 goals against average.
5. Best in Class
Beyond the context of the 2021 campaign, Sporting and Seattle have earned the right to call themselves two of the best MLS clubs over the last 10 seasons. Each team boasts four major cup titles since 2011 and the sides have combined for 19 of a possible 20 playoff appearances over the previous decade. Sporting, of course, hoisted the 2013 MLS Cup as well as Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles in 2012, 2015 and 2017. Seattle has a pair of each, winning MLS Cup in 2016 and 2019 and the Open Cup in 2011 and 2014.
As for top-two finishes in their respective conference since 2011, Seattle has six and Sporting has five. First-place finishes in their conference? Sporting has four and Seattle has one.