Preview: Tied for third in West, Sporting KC and LAFC set for inaugural meeting on Saturday

Sporting Kansas City at Los Angeles Football Club
Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018 | 9:30 p.m. CT
Banc of California Stadium | Los Angeles
2018 MLS Regular Season | Game 23 of 34

Broadcast Schedule:
English TV | FOX Sports Kansas City
English TV | FOX Sports Midwest Plus
English Radio | Sports Radio 810 WHB
Spanish Radio | ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM
Mobile | FOX Sports GO, Sporting KC Uphoria

Uphoria App | By The Numbers | Five Things to Know
Game Notes | Media Guide | MatchCenter | Videos

A pair of teams tied for third place in the Western Conference will lock horns Saturday for the first time as Sporting Kansas City (10-6-6, 36 points) visits expansion side Los Angeles Football Club (10-6-6, 36 points) at 9:30 p.m. CT.

FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus will broadcast the match live from Banc of California Stadium, with pregame coverage starting at 9 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus. The Western Conference clash will also air on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English), ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish) and stream live on FOX Sports GO for viewers within the FOX Sports Midwest footprint. Fans elsewhere across the U.S. can catch the contest on ESPN+.

All supporters are welcome to the official watch party for Saturday’s match at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District (1370 Grand Blvd.). Beginning at 9 p.m. CT, No Other Pub will offer $4 Bud Light drafts and an all-you-can-eat buffet with bottomless soda and domestic draft beers.

Sporting KC vaulted from fifth to third in the West following a 1-0 road victory over the Houston Dynamo last Saturday, snapping a six-game winless drought in all competitions. Diego Rubio came off the bench to score his MLS-leading fourth goal as a substitute off an assist from 16-year-old Sporting KC Academy product Gianluca Busio, who became the third-youngest starter in MLS history and the second-youngest to record an assist.

LAFC will be just three days removed from a heartbreaking Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss to Houston in the same venue Sporting KC visited last weekend. Diego Rossi bagged a hat-trick for the visitors, including a 95th-minute equalizer to force extra time at BBVA Compass Stadium, but the Dynamo prevailed 7-6 on penalties after the score remained tied at 3-3 through 120 minutes. The result pushed LAFC’s winless skid to five games in all competitions and came after Sunday’s 2-1 road loss to the New York Red Bulls.

Both sides enter Saturday with identical 10-6-6 records and sit six points behind Western Conference leaders FC Dallas. Led by manager Peter Vermes, Sporting KC is seeking a club-record eighth straight appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, while LAFC is on course to qualify for the postseason in their debut campaign under head coach Bob Bradley.

The MLS summer transfer window closed on Wednesday, but not before Sporting KC and LAFC added two fresh faces apiece. Forward Krisztian Nemeth swapped the New England Revolution for Sporting KC, returning to the club where he flourished in 2015 with 16 goals and seven assists, and Vermes solidified the backline with the signing of 28-year-old Spanish center back Andreu Fontas. LAFC, meanwhile, traded for former Minnesota United FC striker Christian Ramirez and signed attacker Josh Perez from Italian Serie A side Fiorentina.

Recent trends paint a mixed picture for Sporting KC heading into Saturday. Vermes’ men are an impressive 3-0-2 in their last five visits to the state of California since the start of 2016, going 2-0-1 against LA Galaxy at StubHub Center and 1-0-1 against the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium. Kansas City also boasts an 8-3-3 record in their inaugural meetings with expansion sides since 2005, the start of the MLS expansion era. Conversely, LAFC has never lost in its short history at Banc of California Stadium. The club is 8-0-5 at home in all competitions, including a 5-0-5 mark in MLS and three victories in Open Cup play.

Creative midfielder Benny Feilhaber and diminutive forward Latif Blessing will don LAFC uniforms on Saturday, facing their former employers for the first time. Feilhaber was a center figure for Sporting KC from 2013-2017, helping the team win an MLS Cup and two Open Cups, while Blessing scored in last season’s Open Cup Final at Children’s Mercy Park. Both players have contributed valuably during their first year in Southern California: Feilhaber (three goals, four assists) is the only field player to start all 22 MLS matches for LAFC this season, while Blessing (five goals, six assists) is the team’s only other field player to appear in every league game.

The LAFC injury report includes two notable names, with leading scorer Adama Diomande listed as questionable after straining his hamstring on Sunday and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye set to miss four to six months after breaking his ankle in a 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy on July 26. On the opposite sideline, Sporting KC will remain without long-term absentees Brad Evans (calf), Jimmy Medranda (knee) and Khiry Shelton (knee).