Five Things is a weekly series on SportingKC.com that highlights the top storylines, players to watch and matchday programming ahead of each game throughout the season.
Riding a three-game unbeaten streak and sitting atop the Western Conference table, Sporting Kansas City (2-1-1 7 points) returns to Children's Mercy Park on Saturday to host D.C. United (0-2-2, 2 points) at 7:30 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, ESPN 94.5 FM and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.
Tickets for the interconference clash are available via SeatGeek.com as a pair of MLS originals go head-to-head for the first time in more than a year. The first 10,000 fans in attendance will get their hands on a very special free giveaway — more on that below — as Manager Peter Vermes' men look to keep hold of first place on the final day of March. Without further ado, here are five things to know about Saturday's matchup.
1. Goals Galore
Sporting KC has taken part in three straight high-scoring affairs this month, and on paper, Saturday's contest has the makings of another shootout. Vermes' side leads MLS with nine goals, having reached that total in half as many games this year as it did in 2017. On the opposite sideline, D.C. United enters the fixture with nine goals allowed, tied for most in the league with — you guessed it — Sporting KC.
Take a look at Sporting KC's most recent results — a 4-3 win, a 3-2 win and a 2-2 draw — and it's easy to see a goal-heavy trend. D.C. United, meanwhile, has leaked multiple goals in three consecutive games, including a 3-1 setback at Columbus Crew SC last weekend. Both clubs will want to shore up defensively, but the task may be easier said than done. The likes of Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi are in excellent early-season form, while United's Darren Mattocks, Yamil Asad, Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola make a formidable front four for 10th-year head coach Ben Olsen.
2. Man of March
Felipe Gutierrez has the opportunity to cement his case for MLS Player of the Month on Saturday. At the forefront, the 27-year-old has he become the second midfielder in MLS history to score four goals in his first four regular season appearances. That includes a pair of game-winners against the Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes, respectively. But the numbers go far beyond Gutierrez's league-leading goal total.
Consider this: Gutierrez also leads MLS in shots on target (nine) and tackles won (16) while ranking fourth in duels won (36) and sixth among field players in recoveries (36). Simply put, the Chilean international has been a supremely effective two-way player for Sporting KC throughout the month of March. With two MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week honors already under his belt, a bigger award could await Gutierrez if he delivers another stellar performance against D.C.
3. D.C. Doldrums
D.C. fell on hard times last year, losing a league-high 20 games after posting three straight winning seasons from 2014-2016. Nevertheless, this is a team that will have Sporting KC's full attention. That's because United has owned the recent head-to-head series, going 3-0-3 while conceding just one goal over the last six meetings. Sporting KC last beat D.C. with a 1-0 home win on Oct. 18, 2013, but United has emerged victorious in each of their last two visits to Children's Mercy Park.
The hosts will look to snap this skid on Saturday, facing a D.C. outfit that will play 12 of its first 14 regular season matches on the road while the finishing touches to its new home stadium, Audi Field, are completed in the nation's capital.
4. The Bobblehead is Back
As mentioned above, the first 10,000 supporters to arrive at Children's Mercy Park on Saturday will receive an Ike Opara bobblehead doll. This limited-edition giveaway item is a can't-miss for supporters of all ages, crafted to mimic his epic bicycle kick goal in a win over LA Galaxy last summer. For fans who arrive to the stadium late, don't fret just yet. All individuals who spend at least $50 at any SportingStyle location in the stadium will receive an Opara bobblehead with their purchase.
5. A Perfect Craft
For fans seeking a cost-friendly, all-inclusive matchday experience on Saturday, here's a deal for you. In partnership with Anheuiser-Busch, Sporting KC is set to present its first-ever Craft Beer Tasting Night. For $36, fans will receive one South Stand ticket, a wristband for entry into Sporting KC’s tailgate tent, a six-beer flight of Anheuser-Busch’s craft offerings, and a limited-edition 16-oz tasting glass that can be taken into the stadium.