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.
For the second time in three weeks, Sporting Kansas City (7-2-4, 25 points) and Minnesota United FC (5-7-1, 16 points) will lock horns as Week 14 of the MLS regular season comes to a close Sunday night at Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT on FS1, ESPN 94.5 FM (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish), and tickets for the Local Night showdown remain available at SeatGeek.com.
Without further ado, let's jump into five compelling storylines surrounding the Western Conference clash.
1. Familiar Foes
It wasn't too long ago when Sporting KC and Minnesota scrapped to a 1-1 stalemate on the TCF Bank Stadium turf in Minneapolis. Sunday's rematch comes 14 days after the first fixture between the sides in which Khiry Shelton and Darwin Quintero traded goals within the first 20 minutes. And although the match ended in a draw, Sporting KC dominated for extended periods with a 24-6 edge in shots and 61 percent of possession while forcing goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth to make a career-high nine saves.
Manager Peter Vermes' men will hope to convert their dominance into three points this time around, having smashed the Loons on each of their visits to Children's Mercy Park last season. Minnesota's first regular season trip to Kansas City coincidentally occurred on June 3, 2017, a one-sided affair that resulted in a 3-0 win for the hosts. Eleven days later, Sporting KC defeated the Loons 4-0 in the U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round en route to lifting the tournament title.
2. Miserly Melia
In Sunday's 0-0 draw against Columbus Crew SC, Tim Melia gave a prompt reminder of why he was the 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of Year. Melia stoned Gyasi Zardes from the penalty spot, made a slew of other pivotal saves and collected his sixth shutout in his last nine games.
Indeed, aside from a Columbus outfit that boasts five straight clean sheets, no team is in better defensive form at the moment than Sporting KC. Vermes' side has allowed just four goals over nine games since March 31, the fewest in MLS during that stretch.
3. Tight at the Top
Sporting KC might be riding a four-game unbeaten run, but draws in their last two outings have seen their lead atop the Western Conference shrink to two points. And it's distinctly possible that by the time Sporting KC takes the field on Sunday night, their spot at the summit could be wrestled away by FC Dallas. Sporting KC owns a two-point lead on their Texas counterparts, who host LAFC in a mouthwatering matchup on Saturday night. Should FC Dallas prevail, they will go one point clear of Sporting KC ahead of Sunday's game at Children's Mercy Park.
This only creates a greater sense of urgency for Sporting KC to bounce back into the victory column, especially with a daunting two-game road trip beckoning the following week at Real Salt Lake (hello, Open Cup!) and the red-hot Portland Timbers.
4. Matt's Milestone
Sporting KC's captain continues to rewrite the history books. Matt Besler is one shy of his 240th career regular season appearance for the club, which would tie the team record currently held by Davy Arnaud. A regular staple of Sporting KC's backline since joining out of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, Besler is already the club's leader in regular season starts and minutes played. The center back is likely to add another feather to his cap Sunday night.
5. Get Your Gear
Have tickets to Sunday's game? Head to SportingStyle.com to skip the merchandise lines and place your gameday pre-order. New gear debuting this weekend includes the new men’s retro tee, the women’s retro tank and the KC Scout Scarf of the Match. Pick-up will start Sunday at 5:30 p.m. CT on the Toyota Plaza.