"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.
Second-place Sporting Kansas City (11-4-6, 39 points) will return to world-class Children's Mercy Park on Saturday for a pivotal Western Conference clash against the third-place Colorado Rapids (11-4-4, 37 points) at 8 p.m. CT.
Tickets for the marquee matchup are available at SeatGeek.com as two red-hot MLS originals lock horns in the heartland. Sporting have lost just twice in their last 16 matches, while the ever-improving Rapids have rattled off three consecutive wins to turn soccer heads across the country.
With tons at stake on Saturday, we visit five compelling storylines surrounding the fixture in the space below.
1. Retro Night
Saturday just might be the biggest day of Sporting's 2021 season thus far. On the field, Manager Peter Vermes' men will look to keep pace near the top of the West against the surging Rapids. In the stands, meanwhile, supporters will be invited to participate in a Retro Night celebration like none other.
At the forefront of Retro Night, SportingStyle is treating fans to a variety of throwback merchandise featuring the vintage Wiz logo and rainbow look that Kansas City’s MLS team boasted throughout the late 1990s.
Supporters in attendance will have the opportunity to visit each SportingStyle location to shop several glorious items, including the entire Since ’96 Retro Collection designed by Mitchell & Ness. The limited-edition series consists of a retro KC Wiz jersey, T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, jacket and headwear. Furthermore, SportingStyle will launch an additional set of new Retro items including a T-shirt, a hoodie and a flag—each donning the signature Wiz and rainbow elements.
All Retro items will be available Saturday while supplies last, but ticket holders can secure their merchandise today by placing mobile orders via SportingStyle.com and picking up their gear at Children’s Mercy Park on matchday.
Oh, and we haven't even mentioned free vintage posters to the first 10,000 fans in attendance, a pre-match concert with The Crossroads Sound or the post-match party in the Budweiser Brew House. For your full Retro Night rundown, click here.
2. Second Versus Third
Saturday's battle could go a long way in shaping the Western Conference playoff picture. Second-place Sporting have 39 points from 21 matches, their exact total from the truncated 2020 regular season. Just two points behind them are the Rapids, whose 37 points are tied for the most in club history through 19 games. Seattle resides at the summit on 42 points.
All of these numbers paint a simple picture: this game is about as big as they come in the regular season. The Rapids may trail Sporting by two points, but they have two matches in hand. That puts the impetus on Sporting to secure a victory in front of their home fans.
3. Tightening the Grip
Much has been said (and rightfully so) about Sporting's potent attack throughout the year, with the likes of Daniel Salloi, Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell and Gadi Kinda scoring and creating goals at prolific rates.
On the opposite end of the pitch, however, Sporting have gradually strung together a series of excellent defensive performances. Goalkeeper Tim Melia has shutouts in three of his last four appearances, while center backs Andreu Fontas and Ilie Sanchez have excelled in anchoring a backline that also features dynamic full backs Graham Zusi and Luis Martins.
At the end of the day, the numbers don't lie. Sporting's 21 goals allowed are the third fewest in the Western Conference, while Melia's 0.88 goals against average is third lowest in MLS. If Vermes' men can continue to tighten their grip defensively, the sky is the limit.
4. Rapids Rising
The Rapids have delivered one of the league's best success stories in 2021, outperforming all expectations under third-year boss Robin Fraser. The head coach owns a 24-12-8 regular season record since taking the helm in August 2019 and last year took Colorado back to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
With consistency in defense, impressive midfield balance and a scoring-by-committee approach going forward, Colorado are 4-0-1 in their last five matches and 6-1-3 in their last 10. Perhaps most remarkably, the Rapids have won three consecutive road matches for the first time since 2000.
Colorado may lack star power, but they have no shortage of high-performing players capable of making differences. Goalkeeper William Yarbrough is tied for the MLS lead in wins (11) and shutouts (eight), defenders Auston Trusty and Keegan Rosenberry have started every game this year, midfielders Michael Barrios (five goals, four assists) and Jack Price (seven assists) serve as strong complements to Kellyn Acosta and Mark-Anthony Kaye, and forwards Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki have four goals apiece.
5. Familiar Foes
Sporting and Colorado have squared off 83 times in all competitions, making the Rapids the most frequent opponent in Kansas City history. In 33 regular season home games against Colorado, Sporting are 22-6-5 with 71 goals scored and 34 conceded.
Another favorable trend in recent history? Sporting are 3-0-2 against Colorado over the last two seasons, including a 3-1 home win on June 23 and a 0-0 road draw on Aug. 7. Salloi had two goals and an assist in the 3-1 home win two months ago, while Sporting posted their first of three consecutive road shutouts in the scoreless stalemate at Dick's Sporting Goods Park three weeks ago.