Preview: Sporting KC looks to seal playoff spot Saturday at Minnesota United FC

Sporting Kansas City at Minnesota United FC
Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 — 7 p.m. CT
TCF Bank Stadium | Minneapolis, Minnesota
2017 MLS Regular Season | Game 31 of 34

Broadcast Schedule:
English TV | FOX Sports Kansas City
English TV | FOX Sports Midwest
Spanish Radio | La Grande 1340 AM
Mobile | FOX Sports GO, Sporting KC Uphoria

MatchDay Central | Uphoria App | Social Media | By The Numbers
Game Notes | Media Guide | MatchCenter | Videos

Sporting Kansas City enters Saturday’s match at Minnesota United FC knowing a victory would result in a club-record seventh straight appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The newest chapter of the regional rivalry will kick off at 7 p.m. CT inside TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, with three hours of live coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO. Additional live updates and exclusive offers will be available on the Sporting KC Uphoria app.

Postseason implications abound for both clubs as the amorphous Western Conference playoff picture begins to take shape. Sporting KC (12-7-11, 47 points) is in a three-way tie for second place alongside Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC, although the club has two games in hand on their Pacific Northwest rivals. Minnesota (10-16-5, 35 points) sits in a less enviable position, seven points below the playoff line, and anything less than a victory in their home finale would all but dash the Loons’ postseason dreams.

Manager Peter Vermes’ men will try to rebound from a 1-0 defeat to first-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC last weekend — the team’s first loss at Children’s Mercy Park in 2017. Saturday’s contest marks the beginning of an all-important stretch that will see Sporting KC play three of its last four games on the road. The side has claimed two away wins this season, and a victory at TCF Bank Stadium would go a long way in Sporting KC’s push for a top-two finish and the Knockout Round bye that comes with it.

Led by head coach Adrian Heath, Minnesota is currently enjoying the best spell of its inaugural MLS campaign. The Loons have won three of their last four matches — including a wild 3-2 comeback win at high-flying Atlanta United FC on Tuesday — and boast a 5-4-1 record since July 29 after starting the year 5-12-4. Minnesota received goals from its top three goal scorers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as Abu Danladi struck in the 48th minute before Christian Ramirez equalized on 90 minutes and Kevin Molino bagged the dramatic winner in the sixth minute of added time.

Ramirez leads the Loons with 14 goals in his first MLS season, while rookie Danladi has added eight of his own. Molino has struck seven times to go along with a team-best nine assists, but the midfielder will be one of several players unavailable Saturday due to national team commitments.

If Minnesota’s strong suit lies in its attack, their Achilles heel has been a defense that has leaked 63 goals in 2017 — the most in MLS. In stark contrast, Sporting KC has conceded just 24 goals and wields a 0.80 goals against average that would be second-lowest in a 34-game regular season in MLS history. Tim Melia and Ike Opara have played pivotal roles for the league’s best backline, becoming strong candidates for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and Defender of the Year, respectively.

A relevant subplot surrounding the game centers on international duty. Sporting KC will be without U.S. Men’s National Team trio Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi, while the absences of James Musa (New Zealand), Kevin Oliveira (Cape Verde) and Soony Saad (Lebanon) reduce the depth Vermes has at his disposal.

Minnesota faces a similar challenge, as regular starters Molino (Trinidad & Tobago) and Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica) join Michael Boxall (New Zealand), Johan Venegas (Costa Rica) and Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica) for World Cup qualifiers or friendlies abroad. Calvo has made 25 starts as the Loons’ defensive anchor throughout 2017.

Sporting KC and Minnesota United FC are poised to battle for the fourth time in all competitions this season. The sides first met in Minneapolis on May 7 as Danladi and Ramirez scored first-half goals in a 2-0 win. The most recent regular season meeting came on June 3 at Children's Mercy Park, when Sporting KC used goals from Opara, Jimmy Medranda and Saad Abdul-Salaam to run away 3-0 winners.

Opara scored again in a 4-0 defeat of Minnesota on June 14 in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 32. Gerso and Daniel Salloi also found the back of the net as Sporting KC began its run to the tournament title.