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 (7-10-7, 28 points) will hit the road this week to face the club’s final Eastern Conference opponent of the 2019 regular season. Wednesday’s battle against Orlando City SC (8-11-6, 30 points) at Exploria Stadium will kick off at 6:30 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.
A bitter 2-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday delivered Sporting an untimely blow in its push for a club-record ninth straight playoff berth. Wednesday offers Peter Vermes’ men the opportunity to bounce back quickly, and they’ll look to do just that versus an up-and-down Lions side that has the second-most home losses in MLS this season.
With that in mind, let’s jump into five things to know about Wednesday.
1. Staying Alive
Both clubs are on the wrong side of the playoff line heading into the stretch run. Eight points separate Sporting from the seventh and final playoff spot in the West, while Orlando trail the seventh-place Montreal Impact by three points in the East. This complexion makes the stakes for Wednesday’s contest extremely high, and despite the fact that these teams compete in separate conferences, it would be fair to expect a playoff-like intensity at Exploria Stadium.
2. Decisions to Make
With Daniel Salloi serving a red-card suspension and Gerso Fernandes (ankle) and Krisztian Nemeth (abdomen) likely to miss out through injury, Vermes has a few lineup decisions to make in attack. Erik Hurtado and Johnny Russell are safe bets to retain their starting spots up top, but the remaining spot on the wing could go to any number of contenders.
Question marks also exist in the midfield. Benny Feilhaber was suspended for Saturday’s loss to RSL but becomes available for selection once more. Between him, Roger Espinoza and Felipe Gutierrez, Vermes has some flexibility in the advanced midfield positions. Keep in mind, Sporting face a quick turnaround with a home game Saturday against San Jose, which could prompt the manager to rotate his squad.
3. DP Debut?
Uruguayan playmaker Mauricio Pereyra signed a Designated Player contact with Orlando at the end of July and could be lined up for his MLS debut against Sporting. The 29-year-old most recently played in Russia for FC Krasnodar, where he appeared in 201 games and recorded 29 goals and 33 assists across all competitions. He has also featured for Club Nacional in Uruguay and Lanus in Argentina.
4. Nani Diaries
Orlando have labored offensively throughout the summer, mustering just 11 goals in their last 10 games and ranking 19th in MLS with 1.32 goals per match. That’s no fault of Portuguese star Nani, the World Cup veteran who boasts a team-best eight goals and eight assists in his first MLS season. A former UEFA Champions League winner with Manchester United who later moved to Valencia and Lazio, Nani is one of the league’s most dangerous attackers and will represent Sporting’s biggest threat on Wednesday night.
Among Orlando's other offensive options is Dom Dwyer, who amassed 67 goals for Sporting in all competitions from 2012-2017 before joining the Lions in a high-profile trade two summers ago. With two goals in his last 14 appearances, the English striker has yet to catch fire in 2019.
5. Party at the Pub
With Sporting back on the road, supporters across the Kansas City region are invited to Wednesday watch parties at any of the club's official pub partners. Among them is No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District, serving as the flagship hub for Sporting in the heart of downtown. From 6 p.m. CT until the final whistle, No Other Pub will offer an all-inclusive buffet with bottomless domestic draft beers and sodas plus $4 specials on Bud Light drafts, Corona bottles, Captain Morgan and select call cocktails. No Other Pub will also conduct ticket giveaways for a future Sporting KC home match at Children's Mercy Park.
Keith + Associates Dental Fact
In the 1800s, blacksmiths and barbers also served as dentists.