"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.
Hot off an impressive 3-1 road win over FC Dallas on Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City (14-6-7, 49 points) will continue their pursuit of first place in the Western Conference on Sunday afternoon when they welcome rivals Houston Dynamo FC (5-11-12, 27 points) to Children's Mercy Park.
The match will kick off at exactly 3 p.m. CT and tickets remain available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting hosts its final home fixture until Oct. 27. Kansas City NWSL goalkeeper Adrianna Franch will be in attendance to lead the "I Believe" chant and match sponsor UMKC will distribute Sporting KC tote bags for fans at the conclusion of the game.
For supporters watching from home, Sunday's contest will air live regionally on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus and Bally Sports Midwest Plus with three hours of live coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT. Spanish broadcasts will also be shown nationally on UniMas and TUDN and an English stream will run on Twitter at @TUDNUSA. Local radio broadcasts will air on ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
With plenty at stake on Sunday, we visit five major narratives surrounding the matchup in the space below.
1. Race for First
The battle for the top spot in the Western Conference appears to be a three-horse race. Seattle Sounders FC sit at the summit on 51 points, two ahead of Sporting and three ahead of the Colorado Rapids. Interestingly enough, Seattle will host Colorado on Sunday night, four hours after Sporting's game against Houston concludes.
Needless to say, the outcome of Sunday's fixtures could go a long way in deciding the conference's final playoff picture. It's worth noting that the top team in the division will earn a first-round by in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, advancing directly to the conference semifinals.
2. Salloi for MVP?
Just when Major League Soccer pundits began dismissing Daniel Salloi as a legitimate MVP candidate, the Sporting Kansas City winger delivered perhaps his greatest performance of an already phenomenal 2021 campaign to date. Salloi bagged two brilliant goals to pace a comprehensive 3-1 road victory over FC Dallas on Wednesday night at Toyota Stadium, offering a prompt reminder of his MLS All-Star quality.
Salloi’s irresistible attacking form has translated first and foremost into goals. His 15 strikes are tied for the fourth-most in a single season in club history—a testament to just how consistent the Sporting KC Academy product has been over the course of 2021. But he has also chipped in a half-dozen assists, with his 21 total goal contributions ranking one behind the league lead. Only Ola Kamara of D.C. United and Hany Mukhtar of Nashville SC have been involved in more goals this season.
3. Here's Johnny
Salloi landed MLS Player of the Week honors for his unplayable display on Wednesday, but another Sporting Kansas City winger etched his name into the history books, as well. After Khiry Shelton galloped into the penalty area and was toppled from behind by Bryan Acosta—who received a straight red card for his transgression—captain Johnny Russell stepped to the penalty spot and picked out the right corner for his eighth goal of the year in the 52nd minute.
In doing so, Sporting’s 31-year-old captain became only the fifth player in Sporting history to score in four consecutive regular season matches. If Russell manages to score again versus Houston on Sunday, he would join Preki as the only Kansas City players to score in five straight.
4. Familiar Foes
Sporting and Houston most recently met on May 29 when Manager Peter Vermes' men posted a wild 3-2 win in the first game back at full capacity at Children's Mercy Park. Gianluca Busio, Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda scored for Sporting, while Houston received goals from Matias Vera and Maxi Urruti. The Dynamo won the first meeting between the clubs this season by a 1-0 scoreline at BBVA Stadium, taking all three points on a 56th-minute goal from Urruti.
Sporting have faced Houston 38 times in all competitions since 2011, more than any other opponent over the last decade, and posted a 15-13-10 record during that stretch. During that time, the clubs have met in four editions of the MLS Cup Playoffs (2011, 2012, 2013, 2017) and five editions of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (2011, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018).
Under the guidance of head coach Tab Ramos, who played alongside Vermes on the U.S. Men's National Team and at the club level in the 1990s, Houston enters the weekend languishing in 12th place in the West. The Dynamo are 10 points below the playoff line and remain the only MLS team without a road win in 2021, going 0-8-6 on their travels.
5. PV Closing In
If Sporting collects all three points on Sunday, Vermes would move into a tie for fourth place on Major League Soccer’s all-time list for coaching wins. Only Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, Dominic Kinnear and the late Sigi Schmid have more regular season wins as an MLS head coach than Vermes, who in his 13th season at the helm is the longest tenured manager in league history.
WINNINGEST COACHES IN MLS REGULAR SEASON HISTORY
- 240 wins | Sigi Schmid | 1999-2004, 2006-2018
- 238 wins | Bruce Arena | 1996-1998, 2006-2016, 2019-present
- 179 wins | Bob Bradley | 1998-2006, 2018-present
- 170 wins | Dominic Kinnear | 2004-2018, 2020
- 169 wins | Peter Vermes | 2009-present