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.
Another breakneck run of matches begins for Sporting Kansas City on Saturday when the team welcomes the Montreal Impact to Children’s Mercy Park. Manager Peter Vermes’ men were off last weekend as FIFA’s international window took center stage, but club soccer is set to resume with MLS regular season action and the Concacaf Champions League on a busy docket for Sporting.
Saturday’s cross-conference clash will kick off at 2 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM. The new Sporting KC app will provide additional in-game updates and exclusive offers, including a digital coupon for free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at Price Chopper.
Intrigue abounds ahead of Saturday as Sporting aims to secure three huge points before shifting their attention to CF Monterrey in next week’s Concacaf Champions League Semifinals. With tickets to the match still available at SeatGeek.com, let’s jump into the five biggest storylines surrounding the contest.
1. Don’t Look Ahead
It would be easy for Sporting to have one eye on next Thursday’s trip to Monterrey for the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Semifinals. This is, after all, the biggest series in the club’s international history. But to overlook the Impact on Saturday would be unwise to say the least. Sporting are off to a 1-1-1 start in the MLS regular season, and with a crowded slate of matches on the horizon, Vermes’ men need all the points they can get.
A winnable matchup with Montreal gives Sporting the opportunity to build momentum heading into a definitive stretch that includes the Monterrey series, a road trip to upstart FC Cincinnati and a home tilt with reigning Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls.
2. Trending Up
Montreal have missed the playoffs in two straight seasons and haven’t exactly set a standard of excellence since joining MLS in 2012. But make no mistake: manager Remi Garde has his side trending in the right direction. The Impact are 12-6-4 since June 13, 2018, an impressive spell that includes a 2-0 home win over Sporting last summer.
Perhaps more impressively, Montreal has already won two away games this season. Garde’s men will open 2019 with six straight road matches but have shown no signs of wilting thus far. They began the year with a 2-1 win at San Jose, suffered a narrow loss at Houston, then breezed past Orlando City SC by a 3-1 scoreline a fortnight ago.
3. No Nacho?
Few MLS players have been as dominant over the last four seasons as Montreal attacking midfielder Ignacio “Nacho” Piatti. The talismanic Argentine scored twice in Orlando on March 16, becoming the ninth-fastest player in league history to amass 100 combined goals (66) and assists (34), doing so in just 127 appearances. Piatti is also accustomed to putting Sporting to the sword, having scored in three of the last four meetings between the sides.
But here’s the bad news for Montreal: Piatti is doubtful for Saturday with an undisclosed injury. If he is unable to feature at Children’s Mercy Park, extra playmaking responsibility will lie on the shoulders of Saphir Taider, who had seven goals and eight assists in 2018 and has already scored twice this year.
4. Pick Your Center Back
With games coming thick and fast, Vermes will like the fact that he has multiple lineup options in central defense. Matt Besler and Andreu Fontas started the first three matches of the season together before the latter suffered a hip injury. Botond Barath has filled in admirably alongside Besler since then, but Fontas has now returned to full fitness. Who will Vermes go with on Saturday, and will it be the same pairing that starts in Monterrey five days later? We shall see.
5. Back from Break
Five Sporting players have returned to Kansas City after representing their countries during the international break. Barath helped Hungary to a huge win over Croatia while his countryman and club teammate Krisztian Nemeth was an unused substitute, Johnny Russell scored his first goal for Scotland, Abdul Rwatubyaye started for Rwanda against the Ivory Coast, and Jaylin Lindsey helped the U.S. U-20s to a draw and a win against France and Japan, respectively.
On the opposite sideline, Montreal will welcome back U.S. international Daniel Lovitz—who featured in Tuesday’s 1-1 friendly draw against Chile—as well as Canadian duo Samuel Piette and Zachary Brault-Guillard. Making even further return trips from abroad are African duo Taider (Algeria) and Orji Okwonkwo (Nigeria).
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