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.
Fresh off a momentous 3-2 road win over Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City (7-9-7, 28 points) will welcome rivals Real Salt Lake (10-9-4, 34 points) to Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday for a pivotal Western Conference clash at 7:30 p.m. CT.
Tickets for the match are available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting hosts its third annual Sporting Salutes, an immersive military appreciation night for past and present members of the United States Armed Forces. Supporters can also catch Saturday’s action live on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.
Pursuing a club-record ninth straight playoff berth, Sporting have plenty of work to do as a decisive stretch of the 2019 schedule comes to the forefront. Four of the team’s next five matches will take place at Children’s Mercy Park, affording Manager Peter Vermes’ men the opportunity to climb the Western Conference table. With that in mind, here are five things to know about Saturday.
1. No Margin for Error
Let’s jump straight into the playoff picture, shall we? Sporting occupy 10th place in the West with 28 points, five points below FC Dallas for the seventh and final playoff spot. RSL, meanwhile, sit sixth with 34 points. A lot can change over the final 11 games of 2019, but Sporting will view Saturday as a massive chance to close the gap and build momentum for the home stretch. Conversely, a home loss would lift RSL nine points clear of Sporting and deliver a brutal blow in the postseason push.
2. Hurt So Good
After missing four months with a knee injury, Erik Hurtado capitalized on his first MLS start for Sporting on Sunday. The bruising center forward was a constant menace for the Seattle backline, providing a physical presence up top and showcasing a lethal combination of strength and speed with his game-winning strike in the 58th minute. Hurtado offered effective hold-up play in the attacking third and made life miserable on the Sounders backline: his seven fouls committed—all while avoiding a yellow card—were the most by an MLS player this year.
Could Hurtado prove to be the spark Sporting needs over the final few months of 2019? That remains to be seen, but it certainly seems plausible given how Sunday’s match unfolded in Seattle.
3. Fab Felipe
Through all the ups and downs of spring and summer, Felipe Gutierrez has quietly gone about his business as one of the league’s top central midfielders. His first-half brace against the Sounders gave him a team-best 10 MLS goals in 2019, making him the fourth midfielder in club history to hit double-digit goals in a single regular season. Gutierrez also has three multi-goal games this year, tied for the fourth-most in MLS behind superstars Carlos Vela, Josef Martinez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
4. Feeling Salty
Sporting has held the upper hand on Real Salt Lake in winner-take-all matchups, boasting wins over their Utah rivals in the 2013 MLS Cup and 2018 Western Conference Semifinals. However, the regular season has been a different story. Sporting are 1-7-5 in the last 13 regular-season meetings since 2014, and RSL were comfortable 2-0 winners when the sides last met on June 29 at Rio Tinto stadium.
Vermes’ side has also hit a rough patch at home, going 2-4-3 in their last nine league fixtures at Children’s Mercy Park. To put that record into perspective, Sporting boasted a 29-3-13 regular season home record from June 2016 through March 2019.
5. Sporting Salutes
An annual tradition will continue this weekend as the Sporting community tips its hat to military members and their families. This year, Sporting Salutes will welcome 12 Purple Heart recipients to Children’s Mercy Park, all of whom were wounded during wartime. The venerated Purple Heart has been awarded since 1917 and remains a timeless symbol of service to the country. The 12 Purple Heart recipients to be honored before kickoff include local servicemen and servicewomen who were wounded during combat operations spanning from the Korean War to the present.
Fans in attendance can visit SportingStyle locations to purchase a variety of camo merchandise while supplies last, including the limited-edition Sporting Salutes Camo Training Top and Scarf of the Match. In addition to being available on matchday at Children’s Mercy Park, the new Sporting Salutes Camo Training Top and Scarf of the Match can be purchased at SportingStyle.com and picked up at the stadium on Saturday. The training top is also on sale now at MLSstore.com.
Keith + Associates Dental Fact
Sports-related injuries account for approximately five million missing teeth per year.