"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.
A marquee Western Conference matchup awaits on Saturday as Sporting Kansas City (5-2-2, 17 points) travels west to battle the Portland Timbers (3-4-0, 9 points) at picturesque Providence Park. Kickoff is slated for 9:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest, BallySports.com and the new Bally Sports app as well as Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
Riding a four-game unbeaten run, Sporting has climbed within a point of first place in the early Supporters’ Shield race. The Timbers, meanwhile, have endured an up-and-down start to the 2021 campaign and will look to steady the ship in this compelling summer showdown. With plenty to be excited about on Saturday night, we examine five major storylines surrounding the contest in the space below.
1. Reel in the Reinforcements
Sporting dominated from beginning to end in last weekend’s 1-1 home draw against Austin FC. Impressively enough, they did so without two of their best attacking players. Mexican striker Alan Pulido and Israeli midfielder Gadi Kinda have spent the last fortnight with their respective national teams. They will be back and available for selection on Saturday, boosting a potent Sporting offense that leads MLS with 16 goals this season.
2. Salloi Streaking
After totaling one goal and one assist in 2019 and 2020 combined, academy product Daniel Salloi now ranks third in MLS this year with six combined goals (four) and assists (two). The Hungarian’s impressive bounce-back campaign is one of the reasons that Sporting is within touching distance of first place in the West. With Pulido, Kinda and Salloi enjoying strong runs of form, Sporting are the only MLS club to have three players with at least three goals in 2021.
3. Buy Stock
Saturday’s meeting will feature two of the best emerging midfielders in Major League Soccer. On Sporting’s sideline, 19-year-old midfielder Gianluca Busio has started all nine matches this season and scored two goals. His dynamic performances in multiple midfield positions have generated discussion about a possible call-up to the United States Men’s National Team in the near future.
Portland, on the other hand, have relied heavily on 24-year-old Eryk Williamson dating back to last season. Like Busio, Williamson was a U.S. youth international whose recent displays have put him on the immediate periphery of the U.S. MNT. He had three goals and five assists during a breakout season in 2020 and has a goal and two assists this year.
4. Success at Providence Park
Sporting owns a respectable 4-3-2 regular season record at Providence Park, posting five shutouts in nine trips to the stadium. Goalkeeper Tim Melia has been particularly effective in road matches against Portland, earning clean sheets in four of five regular season appearances at Providence Park.
On the flipside, Portland boasts a postseason feather in its cap. The Timbers defeated Sporting on penalty kicks in the 2015 Western Conference Knockout Round—a game widely considered to be the best in Portland’s 11-year MLS history.
5. Party at the Pub
No Other Pub, a premier restaurant and sports entertainment venue located at 1370 Grand Blvd. in the Kansas City Power & Light District, will host the official watch party for Saturday’s match. The watch party will begin at 9 p.m. CT with all the action on No Other Pub's 150-square-foot cinema screen and surrounding TVs. Better yet, No Other Pub will offer multiple food and drink specials—$2 off appetizers and $4 Michelob Ultras, Corona bottles and select call cocktails—and lucky fans in attendance will win a selection of prizes, including a signed and game-worn Sporting jersey, an autographed soccer ball and tickets to a future home match at Children's Mercy Park.