Match Preview - Aug. 18, 2021

Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers
2021 MLS Regular Season | Match 20
Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021 | 7:30 p.m. CT
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas

Broadcast Schedule:
English TV
| Bally Sports Kansas City Plus
English TV | Bally Sports Midwest Plus
Streaming | BallySports.com and Bally Sports app
English Radio | Sports Radio 810 WHB
Spanish Radio | La Grande 1340 AM

The race for first place will resume Wednesday night when Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City (11-4-4, 37 points) look to continue their winning ways against the Portland Timbers (7-9-2, 23 points) in a compelling showdown at world-class Children’s Mercy Park.

Wednesday’s contest is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT and tickets are available at SeatGeek.com, with the first 5,000 fans through the stadium gates receiving a free felt pennant courtesy of match sponsor Academy Sports + Outdoors. Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app will provide three hours of live coverage beginning at 7 p.m. CT, while listeners can follow the action locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish). The Sporting KC app will treat users to additional in-game updates and exclusive offers, including a digital coupon redeemable at any Kansas City area Price Chopper location.

Under the guidance of 13th-year manager Peter Vermes, Sporting are in hot pursuit of their third first-place finish in the West since 2018. Saturday’s momentous 2-0 win at FC Dallas vaulted Sporting to the top of the division—one point ahead of Seattle Sounders FC and two ahead of the LA Galaxy—as forwards Alan Pulido and Daniel Salloi scored on either side of halftime. Sporting boast an impressive 4-0-1 record in their last five away fixtures, with each of their last four league victories since the start of July coming on the road.

Pulido and Salloi dazzled over the weekend, showcasing their quality with a goal and an assist each. Since joining the club at the start of 2020, Pulido’s 0.97 goals and assists per 90 minutes are the most in MLS among players with at least 1,000 minutes. The 30-year-old Mexican has eight goals and two assists in 10 starts this year and Sporting are 11-1-0 over the last two seasons when he scores. Salloi, meanwhile, has built a legitimate MLS MVP case with a league-leading 17 combined goals (11) and assists (six). The 25-year-old Sporting KC Academy product sits atop the MLS charts with five game-winning goals and is tied for second with three game-winning assists. He has also become just the second player in club history, alongside Sporting Legend Preki, to record 11 goals and six assists in two regular seasons after finishing with that exact total in 2018.

Sporting’s potent attack has garnered headlines throughout the year—and fairly so, as the team ranks second in MLS with 35 goals—but a steadily improving defense has tightened its grip in recent weeks. Spanish center back Andreu Fontas was named to the MLS Team of the Week on Monday for his role in the shutout win over Dallas, while goalkeeper Tim Melia has collected two straight clean sheets and places third in MLS with a 0.93 goals against average. Left back Luis Martins has showcased consistency by appearing in all 19 league matches this season, while right back Graham Zusi—who will celebrate his 35th birthday on Wednesday—has tallied four assists in the last five games.

Zusi’s birthday could coincide with a major milestone for the World Cup veteran and former U.S. international. On Wednesday, he will likely become the all-time leader in most regular season appearances among one-club players in MLS history. His 306 games with Sporting are currently tied with LA Galaxy legend Cobi Jones, who plied his trade for the club from 1996-2007.

On the opposite touchline, fourth-year head coach Giovanni Savarese will be tasked with rallying a Portland outfit that suffered a brutal 6-2 home loss to archrival Seattle on Sunday night. String-pulling talisman Sebastian Blanco and midfielder George Fochive scored first-half goals and the match was tied 2-2 at halftime, but the Sounders exploded for four unanswered goals in the final 45 minutes to hand Portland their third loss in five games.

Sunday’s result was emblematic of Portland’s defensive frailties in 2021. The club has conceded 35 goals, surpassed only by Toronto FC’s 40, and their three shutouts are third fewest in the league. The Timbers have allowed 15 goals in their last five matches, during which time they have taken only four points.

Despite their recent blip, Portland wields a wealth of MLS experience and undeniable attacking prowess. Blanco and Diego Valeri, who put Sporting to the sword in the 2018 Western Conference Championship, remain a formidable playmaking duo and forward Felipe Mora has quietly chipped in 13 goals and five assists with starts in 22 of 33 appearances since the start of 2020. Brothers Diego and Yimmi Chara add bite to the midfield and Dairon Asprilla is second on the team with four goals.

Sporting and Portland will meet for the second time this season after the Timbers emerged with a 2-1 home win on June 19. Asprilla and Marvin Loria scored for the hosts, overcoming a first-half strike from Sporting’s Jaylin Lindsey. Vermes’ men lead the all-time regular season series with a 7-5-5 record and a 3-1-3 mark at Children's Mercy Park, where Portland’s lone victory came in April 2013. In 10 regular season appearances against Portland, Melia notably has five shutouts, a 5-2-3 record and a goals against average of 0.7.

Graham Zusi table - Aug. 16, 2021

On the injury front, hamstring ailments will sideline Sporting defenders Lindsey and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin on Wednesday. Forward Khiry Shelton is day-to-day as he recovers from an abdomen issue and midfielder Felipe Hernandez remains out for personal reasons. Conversely, Portland has two important players listed as questionable. U.S. international midfielder Eryk Williamson is observing health and safety protocols and Polish forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda made his 2021 debut with a late substitute appearance on Sunday after recovering from ACL surgery. Niezgoda bagged seven goals in just 600 minutes for Portland in 2020.

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