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 (4-7-7, 19 points) will play their second home match in four days when they welcome the Chicago Fire (5-7-7, 22 points) to Children’s Mercy Park at 7:30 p.m. CT on Saturday. Tickets for the contest remain available at SeatGeek.com as a pair of teams below the playoff line get set to battle for three precious points.
Let's jump straight into five things you should know about the matchup.
1. Short Memory
Following a month-long road swing that took Sporting to five different American cities, the club finally returned to the friendly confines of Children’s Mercy Park for Wednesday’s clash with MLS Supporters’ Shield leaders LAFC. The game was ultimately one to forget for the hosts, who suffered a 5-1 defeat, but Saturday presents an opportunity for Sporting to bounce back quickly and climb off the foot of the Western Conference table.
Sporting will play six of their next 10 MLS fixtures on home soil between now and the end of August. This stretch affords Peter Vermes’ men the chance to find their form and make up ground, and the mission starts Saturday in what feels like a must-win encounter.
2. Fire and Ice
Chicago has experienced polarizing results through the first half of 2019. Head coach Veljko Paunovic’s side has largely impressed on home turf, posting a 5-1-4 record at Toyota Park. The Fire burned especially bright on Wednesday in a 5-1 demolition of reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC. Former Sporting forward C.J. Sapong bagged a brace, Argentine playmaker Nicolas Gaitan tallied a goal and three assists, and Atlanta were down 5-0 before the halftime whistle. The hosts coasted through the second half en route to victory, vaulting within a point of the playoff spots in the East.
Chicago occupies eighth place largely due to their dreadful road form. The Fire are 0-6-3 on their travels this year and currently own a 21-game regular season winless run away from home, the longest active draught of any MLS team. Paunovic’s side has gone 0-15-6 on the road since securing their most recent away victory on May 26, 2018 at Orlando City SC.
3. The Good Old Days
The rivalry between Sporting Kansas City and Chicago isn’t what it once was, but there was a time when the battle ranked among the most hotly contested MLS matchups. Animosity entrenched the fixture in 2000, when the Kansas City Wizards edged out Chicago for the MLS Supporters’ Shield by virtue of greater goal differential before sinking the Fire 1-0 in the MLS Cup Final on a goal from folk hero Miklos Molnar. Four years later, the Wizards earned an identical 1-0 triumph in the 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final at Arrowhead Stadium, receiving a golden goal in the 95th minute courtesy of Igor Simutenkov.
4. Melia on the Brink
Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia is on the brink of tying legend Jimmy Nielsen as the winningest goalkeeper in the club’s regular season history. Melia, who joined Sporting in 2015 after briefly serving as a League Pool goalkeeper for the team in 2014, has a 56-41-34 regular season record between the pipes during his stint in Kansas City. Nielsen, the club’s all-time wins leader, went 57-38-32 across four successful seasons from 2010-2013 before retiring with an MLS Cup title in the bag.
5. A Lead into Sunday
Saturday’s match will give Kansas City soccer fans an excellent appetizer leading into Sunday, which figures to be the biggest day on the soccer calendar in 2019. In the space of 12 momentous hours, the U.S. Women’s National Team will play for their second straight FIFA World Cup title and the U.S. Men’s National Team will battle Mexico in the Concacaf Gold Cup Final. Fortunately, fans of all ages can enjoy every moment of the action from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT with free watch parties at KC Live! and No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District. For more information about this unprecedented Soccer Saturday, click here.
Keith + Associates Dental Fact
A fossilized Tyrannosaurus Rex tooth can weigh up to one pound.