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 (10-12-7 37 points) and the LA Galaxy (13-13-3, 42 points) enter the weekend as the first two teams below the playoff line in the Western Conference, making their Sunday night showdown at Dignity Health Sports Park all the more crucial as the postseason picture begins to crystalize. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. CT with live coverage on FS1, FOX Deportes, the FOX Sports app, ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
Manager Peter Vermes' men are in dire need of points as they stake a claim for their ninth straight playoff berth. The save can be said of the Galaxy, who are hoping to return to the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2016. With both teams desperate for a victory, let's jump into five things you must know about Sunday's all-important clash in Carson, California.
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1. Back Against the Wall
Indeed, that’s the reality both clubs face heading into the final five matches of the 2019 regular season. Stung from a heartbreaking 2-1 road loss at Portland last weekend, Sporting are six points shy of the seventh and final playoff spot in the West and simply cannot afford to drop many more points if they wish to rally their way upward. The Galaxy are only a point behind seventh-place FC Dallas, but consecutive losses to Seattle and Colorado this month have head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side reeling.
2. Roster Reinforcements
Thankfully for Sporting, squad reinforcements are on the way. The club’s top three scorers missed the Portland match while on international duty, but each is slated to return this weekend. That includes influential midfielder Felipe Gutierrez (10 goals), dynamic winger Johnny Russell (nine goals) and striker Krisztian Nemeth (seven goals). Midfielder Gianluca Busio and defenders Botond Barath and Nico Hasler have also returned from national team obligations, which will give Vermes more lineup flexibility on Sunday.
3. Healthy Record
Sporting have emerged with two wins and a draw in each of their last three road matches against the Galaxy. The stretch began with a 0-0 draw in June 2016 and was followed by a 2-1 triumph in June 2017 and a 2-0 victory in April 2018. Russell and fellow forward Daniel Salloi found the back of the net in Sporting’s most recent trip to Dignity Health Sports Park and will look to replicate that success this time around.
Overall, Sporting are 4-1-4 in their last nine meetings with the Galaxy since October 2015. The lone loss during that stretch came on May 29 of this year when Favio Alvarez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (more on him below) bagged goals to pace LA to a 2-0 win and its first victory in Kansas City since 2007.
4. LA Malaise
The Galaxy had risen as high as second place in the West earlier this summer, but a recent slump has sunk the five-time MLS Cup champions below the playoff line. LA is just 1-5-2 since July 27 despite the recent high-profile signing of Argentine international midfielder Cristian Pavon. The 23-year-old has just one win in six starts, and although he has shown flashes of partnership brilliance alongside Ibrahimovic, his arrival has yet to translate into Galaxy success. LA had palpable momentum as recently as Aug. 25 when they battled rivals LAFC to a pulsating 3-3 draw, but consecutive losses have since followed.
5. The Zlatan Show
This, in effect, has been the theme of LA’s season. Ibrahimovic, who took MLS by storm in 2018, has continued his imperious form with 23 goals in 2019—good for second in the Golden Boot race. He has accounted for a ridiculous 55 percent of LA’s 42 goals this season and, even at the age of 37, remains a dominant attacking force up top. Containing Ibrahimovic will be an obvious priority for Sporting, as no other Galaxy player has more than three goals this year.