"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.
Arguably the biggest MLS regular season match at Children's Mercy Park since Decision Day in 2018 will take place Sunday when first-place Sporting Kansas City (13-5-7, 46 points) hosts second-place Seattle Sounders FC (13-5-6, 45 points) in a titanic Western Conference showdown presented by Sun Solar. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT and tickets remain available at SeatGeek.com as a pair of MLS Cup contenders continue their battle for top spot in the West.
Sunday's contest will be shown live nationally on FS1 and the FOX Sports app with John Strong and Stu Holden on the call, while FOX Deportes will carry a Spanish broadcast of the action. Listeners can follow the match locally on ESPN 94.5 FM (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish) and all fans can access the Sporting KC app for additional in-game updates and exclusive offers.
Over the last decade, Sporting and Seattle have proven to be two of the most successful MLS clubs and will meet again Sunday in a series that is evenly split with seven wins apiece in 19 meetings across all competitions since 2011. As anticipation builds toward the league's biggest game of the weekend, we highlight five compelling storylines surrounding the fixture in the space below.
1. The Best in the West
The top of the Western Conference table tells you everything you need to know. Sporting sit a point ahead of Seattle at the summit, having played one game more than their Pacific Northwest counterparts. A win for either side this weekend could go a long way in deciding which team claims the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs later this fall.
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.
2. Kick Childhood Cancer
The occasion on the field is massive, but the cause away from the pitch is even greater.
Sunday will see Sporting and The Victory Project celebrate Kick Childhood Cancer Night, featuring an Honoree Homecoming with a VIP experience for previous Victory Project Honorees and their families. In a fundraising effort tied to the game, up to $5,000 will be donated to Children’s Mercy Hospital through $250 donations for each Sporting Kansas City shot attempt.
In conjunction with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Sporting is also raising funds for The Victory Project throughout September via the weekly Argyle Ace raffle and an online auction that launched last week. Additionally, patients at Children’s Mercy will receive Sporting pajamas in partnership with Continental Tire and children at the hospital had the opportunity to interact with Sporting players on Tuesday during a customized game of Hollywood Squares.
3. Star Wars
As two of the league's heavy hitters, Sporting and Seattle boast some serious star power. For the Sounders, that term should be taken literally. Head coach Brian Schmetzer's side had six MLS All-Stars participate in the MLS All-Star Game on Aug. 25 in Los Angeles—namely forward Raul Ruidiaz, midfielders Cristian Roldan and Joao Paulo, and defensive trio Yemar Gomez Andrade, Alex Roldan and Nouhou Tolo.
Sporting, meanwhile, had red-hot winger Daniel Salloi represent Kansas City at the summer showcase against the LIGA MX All-Stars. That's not to say that Manager Peter Vermes doesn't have a variety of other weapons to call upon, as the likes of captain Johnny Russell, striker Alan Pulido, midfielder Gadi Kinda, center back Andreu Fontas and goalkeeper Tim Melia have all impressed throughout the year.
Sunday's matchup is particularly mouthwatering for the fact that two of the league's most prolific attackers and stingiest goalkeepers lock horns. Ruidiaz and Salloi rank second and third, respectively in the MLS Golden Boot race, while Melia and Seattle's Stefan Frei have established themselves as elite keepers in North America.
4. Silencing the Sounders
Sporting won the first meeting between the clubs this season in convincing fashion, posting a 3-1 road win over Seattle on July 25 with a stunning free kick from Russell, an excellent strike from Salloi on the counter-attack and a first career MLS goal from Academy product Cam Duke.
The eye-catching result has typified the series in recent years. Sporting have gone 7-2-3 in the last 12 regular season games against Seattle since 2015, including a 4-0-2 record in the last six matches at Children's Mercy Park. The Sounders haven't won in Kansas City since May 8, 2013.
Sporting have won three straight meetings overall, including a pair of 3-2 wins during the 2019 regular season. The last five regular season fixtures between the clubs have produced 22 goals, a lofty clip of 4.4 goals per game.
Melia, it should be noted, has relished the occasion by posting a 7-2-2 regular season record against Seattle with five shutouts and a 1.00 goals against average.
5. Here's Johnny
Sporting's captain is catching fire at just the right time. Russell has scored in each of his last three home appearances at Children's Mercy Park and has six goals and four assists since the start of July. The Scottish winger is one of just two MLS players to record 30 goals and 30 assists since the start of 2018, the year he joined Sporting after a stint with English club Derby County.
Russell began the 2021 campaign slowly, tabbing three assists in his first 11 appearances, but the 31-year-old appears to be hitting full stride as Sporting enters the stretch run of the season.