Five Things - Sept. 15, 2021

"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 Wednesday night when regional rivals Minnesota United FC visit Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT and tickets for the match are available at SeatGeek.com.

Wednesday's pivotal showdown 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 (12-5-7, 43 points) are within two points of first place in the West and can jump to the summit with a win against the Loons (8-7-7, 31 points), who sit a single point above the playoff line. With plenty at stake on Wednesday, we outline five prevailing narratives around the matchup in the space below.

1. First Place Up for Grabs

Three points against Minnesota would vault Sporting to the top of the Western Conference table. That fact alone should underscore the importance of Wednesday's battle against the Loons. Having finished at the summit of the West in 2018 and 2020, Manager Peter Vermes' side has no shortage of experience navigating the pivotal stretch run of the regular season.

Minnesota, meanwhile, are equally desperate for points. The Loons occupy sixth place after taking a narrow 1-0 road loss to conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday afternoon. They now have the task of slowing down a Sporting outfit brimming with confidence after a 2-0 home win over Chicago Fire FC last weekend at Children's Mercy Park.

2. The Nicest Rivalry in Sports

Sporting and Minnesota have forged precisely that since the Loons joined MLS as an expansion team in 2017. However, the friendly moniker has not always matched what has transpired on the field. Take, for example, the scoreless draw on Aug. 21 at Allianz Field. Sporting midfielder Remi Walter was controversially sent off with a first-half red card and the rest of the game was marred by chippy confrontations between players on both sides.

The Midwestern rivalry has seen Sporting and Minnesota square off 15 times in all competitions over the last five seasons, and that number will grow to at least 17 by the end of the year. In addition to locking horns on Wednesday, Sporting will travel to Minnesota once more on Oct. 31 in the penultimate weekend of the regular season.

3. History Lesson

Sporting own a 7-5-3 record against the Loons in all competitions, including a perfect 5-0-0 regular season home record versus head coach Adrian Heath's men. In those five games, Sporting has posted four shutouts and outscored the Loons by a combined 11-1.

Minnesota exorcised their Children's Mercy Park demons in emphatic fashion by claiming a 3-0 road win over Sporting in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs last December. Loons talisman Emanuel Reynoso assisted all three goals in the match as Minnesota built an unassailable 3-0 halftime advantage.

Needless to say, Wednesday presents Sporting with an opportunity at revenge.

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4. Strong Suits

Sporting's success in 2021 has been predicated on a balanced attack and an ever-improving defense. Going forward, MLS All-Star Daniel Salloi is tied for second in MLS with 18 combined goals (12) and assists (six), Alan Pulido has amassed eight goals and three assists, and in-form captain Johnny Russell has five goals and five assists.

Along the backline, center back Andreu Fontas has built a legitimate MLS Defender of the Year resume with timely interventions and pinpoint distribution. Goalkeeper Tim Melia has remained consistently solid between the posts, tying an MLS record by hitting 10 wins for the seventh consecutive regular season.

The Loons have yet to click on all cylinders offensively, but its defense has been excellent ever since goalkeeper Tyler Miller returned from injury in mid-May. Minnesota has posted an 8-3-7 record and a 0.83 goals against average since then, the lowest in MLS during that time.

5. Broadcast Auction

In conjunction with Wednesday's match, The Victory Project will host its annual broadcast auction as Bally Sports Kansas City Plus and Bally Sports Midwest Plus promote a premier fundraiser for Sporting Kansas City's charitable foundation dedicated to helping children faced with all of life's challenges. By visiting VictoryKC.org/auction, supporters at the match and watching from home will have the opportunity to bid on a variety of signed Sporting gear and limited-edition items. All proceeds from the auction will go directly to The Victory Project.

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