"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.
Sporting Kansas City's pursuit of first place in the Western Conference will continue Saturday night when Chicago Fire FC visits Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT and tickets for the match are available at SeatGeek.com, including Coca-Cola Family Four Packs consisting of four general admission tickets in the South Stand, four Coca-Cola products and four Domino's pizzas.
Saturday's cross-conference clash will air live on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus and Bally Sports Midwest Plus with three hours of live coverage beginning at 7 p.m. CT. The match will also stream live on BallySports.com and the new Bally Sports app while airing locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
Sporting (11-5-7, 40 points) sit within two points of first place in the West, while Chicago (6-11-5, 23 points) must catch fire over the next several weeks to keep their shaky playoff hopes alive. With plenty at stake on Saturday, we visit five major storylines surrounding the matchup in the space below.
1. Remembering 9/11
Saturday will mark the 20-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States. To commemorate this consequential time in history, military pilots from the 303rd Fighter Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base will perform a Children's Mercy Park stadium flyover at the conclusion of the National Anthem and receive formal recognition during a halftime ceremony. Additionally, all past and present military members attending the game will receive 50% off Sporting's food and beverage value menu, Coca-Cola products and Michelob Ultras.
2. Tight at the Top
As is usually the case, the top of Major League Soccer's Western Conference resembles a logjam. Seattle occupies first place, one point ahead of Colorado, two ahead of Sporting and six ahead of the LA Galaxy. Depending on how results shake out Saturday, Sporting could find themselves back at the summit of the West. To do so, they will need to snap a four-game winless spell by defeating Chicago while also seeing the Sounders and Rapids drop home points to Minnesota and LA, respectively.
Regardless of how the conference contenders fare this weekend, it's safe to say that the battle for top spot in the West will be a tasty one during the stretch run of the regular season.
3. Full Force
Sporting Manager Peter Vermes will have no shortage of options when selecting his starting XI and matchday squad this weekend. Midfielder Roger Espinoza is out through red card suspension, but Hungarian forward Daniel Salloi and Israeli midfielder Gadi Kinda have concluded international duty and returned to Kansas City in time for the match.
Sporting center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, who has missed the last month through injury, could also be set to make his anticipated bounce back to the pitch. Moreover, newly acquired midfielder Jose Mauri, who landed his MLS debut with a start in last Friday's loss at LAFC, will likely log his first appearance at Children's Mercy Park.
4. History Lesson
Chicago Fire FC have played a notable role as a key antagonist in the context of Sporting's illustrious history. Kansas City defeated Chicago by a 1-0 scoreline in the 2000 MLS Cup and 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title while also edging the Fire for the 2000 Supporters' Shield by virtue of greater goal differential.
More recently, Sporting have dominated the head-to-head series with a 4-0-1 record in the last five overall meetings. Vermes' men are also 6-0-2 in their last eight home games against Chicago, with the Fire last winning at Children's Mercy Park in June 2012.
5. Flaming Out?
At 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings and seven points below the playoff line, Chicago will have no choice but to catch fire if they want to return to the postseason for the first time since 2017. Head coach Raphael Wicky's men are led by Serbian attacking midfielder Luka Stojanovic, whose seven goals this year are four more than any other player on the team. Striker Robert Beric finished second in the MLS Golden Boot race in 2020 but has managed just three goals in 22 appearances this season.
Chicago claimed their first road win of 2021 in their most recent outing, a 1-0 result at the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 28. The Fire have a dismal 5-34-15 record in 54 regular season road matches since the start of 2018. Those five away wins are tied with Houston for the fewest in MLS over the last four seasons, excluding recent expansion teams Nashville SC and Austin FC.