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With a dominant home win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the rearview, third-place Sporting Kansas City (3-2-1, 10 points) is now on a collision course with the fifth-place San Jose Earthquakes (3-3-0, 9 points) in a compelling Western Conference showdown on Saturday night at PayPal Park.
Kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. CT with three hours of live coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. CT on Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app. Listeners can also follow the action live locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM, while the Sporting KC app will provide additional in-game updates.
1. Playoff Rematch
The last time these clubs met, Children’s Mercy Park was the setting for one of the wildest postseason matches in league history. Goalkeeper Tim Melia saved all three penalty kicks in a decisive shootout as top-seeded Sporting defeated eighth-seeded San Jose Earthquakes 3-0 on penalties following an unforgettable 3-3 draw in round one of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Roger Espinoza gave Sporting an early 1-0 cushion before the Earthquakes surged ahead through Carlos Fierro and Shea Salinas. After Ilie Sanchez pulled Sporting level in the opening moments of the second half, 18-year-old Gianluca Busio became the youngest MLS player to record a goal and an assist in a playoff match by firing the hosts into a 3-2 lead on 91 minutes. Not to be outdone, all-time MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski salvaged a last-gasp equalizer for San Jose to force extra time.
After a goalless extra time session, Melia delivered the heroics by saving spot kicks from San Jose’s Osvaldo Alanis, Jackson Yueill and Cristian Espinoza to improve to 6-0 in penalty shootouts throughout his career. Sporting’s Johnny Russell, Ilie Sanchez and Khiry Shelton all converted their attempts to vault Manager Peter Vermes’ men into the next round.
2. Stars of Tomorrow
Saturday’s matchup will feature two of the brightest rising stars in Major League Soccer. On Sporting’s sideline, 18-year-old Gianluca Busio has started all six matches and has developed into one of the most important contributors on the team. Capable of playing as an attacking midfielder, holding midfielder or winger, the Sporting KC Academy product boasts tremendous versatility, technical ability and tactical nous for his age.
San Jose, meanwhile, has seen 17-year-old forward Cade Cowell blossom into a game-changing player seemingly overnight. The U.S. youth international already has two goals and three assists to his name this season, wielding speed and physicality beyond his years. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Busio and Cowell end up being regular U.S. MNT teammates well into the future.
3. Catching Fire
Sporting are hot off their best performance of the season, having swept aside the Whitecaps on Sunday afternoon at Children’s Mercy Park. Forward Alan Pulido bagged a brace, winger Daniel Salloi struck early, Melia earned a clean sheet in his 2021 debut after a return from injury and Sporting finished the game with an astounding 91.6% passing accuracy, the fourth highest in MLS history against a full-strength opponent that didn’t receive a red card.
The sample size is small of course, but Sporting will be especially encouraged by the recent productivity of Pulido and Salloi. Pulido leads MLS since the start of 2020 with 0.92 goals and primary assists per 90 minutes, while Salloi already has two goals and an assist this year after managing just one of each over the previous two seasons combined.
4. Wondo Watch
Although he has yet to start a match for San Jose this season, 38-year-old forward Chris Wondolowski remains one of the most watchable players in MLS. The league’s all-time leading goal scorer offered a prompt reminder of his quality by scoring two late goals in a 2-1 San Jose road win over Real Salt Lake on May 7 and has 11 goals in 20 career MLS appearances against Sporting. With the likes of Cowell, U.S. international Jackson Yueill, Cristian Espinoza and Carlos Fierro around him, the Quakes are perfectly capable of putting any opponent to the sword in their signature man-marking, high-pressure system.
5. Party at NOP
No Other Pub, a premier restaurant and sports entertainment venue in downtown Kansas City, will celebrate its highly anticipated reopening by hosting the official watch party for Saturday's match. From 8:30 p.m. CT until the full-time whistle, No Other Pub will offer multiple food and drink specials including $2 off appetizers, $4 Michelob Ultras and $4 select call cocktails. Sporting will also conduct ticket giveaways for the club's home match on May 29 against Houston Dynamo FC.