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.
A pair of MLS charter members will lock horns Saturday night at Gillette Stadium when Supporters' Shield leaders Sporting Kansas City (5-1-2, 17 points) visits the New England Revolution (3-2-2, 11 points). Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT with live coverage beginning at 6 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO. Local radio broadcasts will also air on Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish).
Manager Peter Vermes' men have enjoyed an excellent start to the 2018 campaign and will look to continue their successful ways against a New England side that is always tough to beat on their home turf, where the Revolution are 14-3-4 since the start of 2017. We visit five narratives surrounding the fixture in the space below.
1. Simply Irresistible
When it rains, it pours. Few would have predicted it two months ago, but Sporting KC enters Week 9 as the top-scoring team in MLS with 20 goals. That's exactly half of the club's total from the 2017 regular season. The team was firing on all cylinders last Friday in a record-breaking 6-0 demolition of Vancouver Whitecaps FC that saw Johnny Russell claim Alcatel MLS Player of the Week honors with a hat-trick.
The question going into Saturday is whether Sporting KC can maintain their irresistible attacking form against a Revolution outfit that has shored up its backline in 2018. New England was gouged for 61 goals last season, but under first-year head coach and longtime U.S. international goalkeeper Brad Friedel, the Revs have conceded just eight in seven outings this year. For what it's worth, Saturday also marks the first of four straight road games in which Sporting KC will play on FieldTurf.
2. Teal is the Color
Teal Bunbury spent his first four years in MLS with Sporting KC, where he recorded 19 goals and seven assists while helping the club to a U.S. Open Cup title in 2012 and an MLS Cup in 2013. The forward traded Sporting blue for New England blue in 2014, and has since scored 20 goals in a Revolution uniform. Bunbury enjoyed arguably his best MLS campaign in 2017, bagging a career-high seven goals, and has already struck three times this season while starting all seven matches.
Since moving east four years ago, Bunbury has experienced plenty of success against his former club. He has three goals in five regular season appearances against Sporting KC, including New England's lone tally in a 3-1 loss at Children's Mercy Park last September. Saturday will likely present another reunion with Bunbury, and another opportunity for the 28-year-old to put his former team to the sword.
3. Frenchman's Form
An injury to influential midfielder Felipe Gutierrez has opened the door for Yohan Croizet, who delivered the Audi Player Index Performance of the Week when he opened his MLS scoring account and recorded his first assist against Vancouver last Friday. The Frenchman, who has started three straight matches for Sporting KC in Gutierrez's absence, has steadily improved with each appearance and will aim to continue his uptick at Gillette Stadium.
Whether Croizet or Gutierrez starts on Saturday remains to be seen, but having two high-quality midfielders to choose from — Gutierrez was the MLS Player of the Month for March, in case you forgot — is a good problem to have.
4. New England Newcomers
While newcomers Croizet and Gutierrez have bolstered Sporting KC in the early stages of the season, New England has also reaped the benefits of two fresh faces in midfield. Star playmaker Lee Nguyen has yet to play in 2018, but the Revs have largely fared well without him due to the contributions of Cristian Penilla and Wilfried Zahibo. Penilla, a 26-year-old Ecuadorian, has been involved in six of the team’s 12 goals, scoring twice and adding four assists. Zahibo, a 24-year-old native of France, has one goal and four assists of his own.
5. No Other Party
No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District welcomes all fans of all ages to the official #NEvSKC watch party on Saturday night. Matchday specials will begin at 6 p.m., featuring $4 Bud Light drafts as well as an all-you-can-eat buffet (details below) with endless soda and domestic draft beers. Programming will also include giveaways for Sporting KC tickets and No Other Pub gift cards.
$30 with bottomless domestic drafts, $20 with bottomless soda:
- Mac 'n' cheese
- Shrimp cocktail
- Hamburgers and hot dogs
- Cheese curds
- Pretzels and queso
- Chips and salsa