Five Things, presented by Keith + Associates Dentistry, 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.
Sporting Kansas City (2-4-5, 11 points) faces a pivotal and challenging test on Sunday as second-place Seattle Sounders FC (7-1-5, 26 points) visits Children's Mercy Park for a Memorial Day Weekend showdown in the Heartland. Tickets for the Western Conference tilt are on sale at SeatGeek.com with kickoff slated for 5 p.m. CT on FS1, FOX Deportes, Sports Radio 810 WHB, SiriusXM FC and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.
Sunday marks the start of a crucial stretch in which Sporting will play three times in seven days. Manager Peter Vermes' men will use the busy window as an opportunity to climb the standings, where they currently occupy 11th place but have games in hand on their conference counterparts. With that in mind, let's jump into five things you must know about Sunday.
1. Pre-Match in Hollywood
Two hours before Sunday's match kicks off, fans are invited to Hollywood Casino for a pregame celebration that sets the table for a festive afternoon.
Sporting play-by-play announcer Nate Bukaty and analyst Carter Augustine will be live from Hollywood Casino beginning at 3 p.m. CT, streaming the Sporting KC Pre-Match Show on the Sporting KC Facebook page. Midfielder Roger Espinoza will also be in attendance, joining the show and holding a meet and greet with visiting supporters.
Hollywood Casino will offer food and drink specials at the Turn 2 Lounge, gameplay all day long, free parking and a shuttle that transports supporters between the casino and Children's Mercy Park before and after the match.
2. Ins and Outs
It's no secret that injuries have mounted for Sporting, throwing another wrench in what was already a difficult start to the season with Concacaf Champions League matches on the docket. Last weekend, Sporting received a boost in the form of captain Matt Besler, who bounced back from a hamstring issue and delivered a stellar performance in a 1-1 draw with Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
This weekend, reinforcement comes via Gianluca Busio. The 16-year-old wunderkind scored in three straight MLS fixtures from March 30 to April 14 and has been unavailable for the last fortnight while starring at the Concacaf U-17 Championship. Busio is back in the mix for Sunday, and his addition comes at an opportune time. Krisztian Nemeth, the club's leading scorer with seven MLS goals and 11 tallies in all competitions, received a red card against Vancouver and will serve a one-game suspension this weekend.
3. History Lesson
Sporting and Seattle share a hot-blooded and intense head-to-head history. The two largest flashbulb moments in the series came in the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final—Sporting won on penalties, you might remember—and in the 2016 Western Conference Knockout Round when Seattle prevailed 1-0 in a game shrouded in controversy.
The regular season series has ebbed and flowed, with Seattle going 7-1-1 in the first nine meetings from 2009-2014. Sporting went 4-0-2 over the next six, including three straight wins at Children's Mercy Park from 2015-2017. The Sounders have taken two wins and a draw in the last three, including a 3-1 home triumph in the most recent battle last September.
4. The Sound of a Contender
Aside from LAFC, arguably no MLS team has been more impressive this season than the Sounders. Seattle has lost just once in 13 matches and occupies second place in the push for the Supporters' Shield. Midfield talisman Nicolas Lodeiro leads the league with seven assists, while a balanced scoring attack has seen Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz, Cristian Roldan and Kelvin Leerdam all bag three or more goals. Leerdam, Kim Kee-hee, Brad Smith and goalkeeper Stefan Frei have been defensive mainstays for a side that owns five clean sheets.
All in all, head coach Brian Schmetzer appears to have a team capable of becoming Western Conference champions for the third time in four years. Expect the Sounders to be a tough customer Sunday at Children's Mercy Park.
5. Get Your Glasses
Don't forget: additional in-game updates and exclusive offers will be available on the new Sporting KC app, including a limited-time offer for $50 off a pair of glasses at any Vision Source Eyecare location in the Kansas City area. This is the perfect addition to any fan's summer attire for matches at Children's Mercy Park. The Sporting KC app is downloadable for free on the App Store and Google Play.
Keith + Associates Dental Fact
The stone-faced farmer in artist Grant Wood's famous "American Gothic" painting was actually the artist's dentist.