Five Things: What to know ahead of Saturday's showdown between Sporting KC and San Jose

Five Things is a weekly series on that highlights the top storylines, players to watch and matchday programming ahead of each game throughout the season.

Sporting Kansas City’s push to the playoffs continues Saturday when the club visits a longtime Western Conference foe in the San Jose Earthquakes. Kickoff is slated for 9:30 p.m. CT, with three hours of live coverage beginning at 9 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO.

Manager Peter Vermes’ men have claimed five shutout wins over their last six games and approach Saturday’s fixture in the thick of an intriguing race for top spot in the West. San Jose, on the other hand, will embrace the spoiler role having become the first team to be mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. We take a look at five of the game’s biggest storylines in the space below.

1. Tight at the Top

The margin for error at the top of the Western Conference is slim. Sporting KC currently resides in second place on 48 points, a point behind leaders FC Dallas and two points ahead of LAFC. Not too far behind the top three are Real Salt Lake and Portland, tied on 44 points, and sixth-place Seattle on 41. The top two teams get Knockout Round byes, while seeds 3 and 4 will host a Knockout Round game on Oct. 31 or Nov. 1.

One of Sporting KC’s priorities this year has been to bring the MLS Cup Playoffs back to Children’s Mercy Park. With seven games left in the regular season, the team is on course to do just that. But a tough remaining schedule puts impetus on the side to take maximum points against San Jose, especially with FC Dallas and LAFC playing at home to Columbus and New England, respectively, on Saturday night.

2. Three’s Company

There’s no doubt that Vermes will have offensive depth at his disposal this weekend. Three forwards—namely Diego Rubio, Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi—have returned to the U.S. after representing their national teams abroad and will be available for selection against the Quakes. The explosive trio has combined for 27 goals and 22 assists this season in all competitions.

Rubio, Russell and Salloi form part of a deep attacking corps that saw Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso Fernandes, Yohan Croizet and Khiry Shelton feature in last Saturday’s home win over Orlando. So who will start in San Jose? It’s a dilemma that Vermes will be happy to have, and strength in numbers should only help the team as it heads into the home stretch.

3. Better Than Advertised

Make no mistake: 2018 has been a season San Jose will want to forget. The Quakes are the first team to officially be axed from playoff contention and languish at the bottom of the West with 20 points through 27 games. They have just two home wins at Avaya Stadium and a single clean sheet for the entire year.

But as Vermes and Sporting KC would attest, head coach Mikael Stahre’s team is better than its record. For starters, San Jose boasts an impressive attacking triumvirate in the explosive Danny Hoesen (10 goals), the creative Vako Qazaishvili (9 goals, 5 assists) and evergreen veteran Chris Wondolowski (8 goals). Together, these three have combined for 24 of the club’s 41 MLS goals in 2018. Throw in the fact that 13 of San Jose’s 15 losses have come by a single goal, and you start to get a more accurate picture about the overall misfortune that has characterized the Earthquakes’ 2018 campaign.

We would also be remiss not to mention that San Jose defeated first-place FC Dallas twice during the month of August — including a 3-1 result on Aug. 4 that condemned FC Dallas to their first home loss of the year. Simply put, the Quakes can beat anyone on their day.

4. History Lessons

Two diverging lines of history paint dissimilar pictures for Sporting KC. Recent results favor the visitors, as Sporting KC is 4-0-1 in its last five MLS matches against San Jose since September 2016. Similarly, Vermes’ side is 4-0-2 in the state of California since June 2016—including 2-0 wins at LA Galaxy and LAFC earlier this season. Sporting KC has relished their trips to the Golden State over the last three years, and they will hope this trend resumes on Saturday.

Looking deeper into the history books, this fixture has been an awfully tricky one for Sporting KC to maneuver. The club has been shut out in six of its last eight trips to San Jose since 2009 and has just one win to show from 20 away games against the Quakes since 2001. Goals have also come at a premium, with Kansas City scoring 21 times in 28 regular-season visits to Silicon Valley.

5. Party at the Pub

Just as Sporting KC continues its quest for a playoff berth, No Other Pub continues to be the club's home away from home. The premier venue in Kansas City's Power & Light District will host the official #SJvSKC watch party on Saturday night, offering $6 Till Vodka cocktails and an all-you-can-eat buffet with bottomless sodas or domestic draft beers. Specials will start at 9 p.m. and last through the final whistle. Watch party guests will also have the opportunity to enter raffles for a team-signed Sporting KC soccer ball, Till Vodka merchandise and No Other Pub gift cards.