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.
Children's Mercy Park will host its first match in three weeks on Saturday when Sporting Kansas City (10-13-7, 37 points) welcomes the Colorado Rapids (10-15-6, 36 points) for a pivotal Western Conference encounter at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets remain available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting and The Victory Project celebrate Kick Childhood Cancer Night with several initiatives aimed to increase pediatric cancer awareness.
FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO will carry three hours of live coverage beginning at 7 p.m. CT, while listeners can catch the action live on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM. With that in mind, let's jump straight into five things you must know about Saturday's clash.
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It takes 43 muscles for a human to frown. It only takes 17 to smile.
Sporting and The Victory Project have championed numerous initiatives during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and that will be more evident than ever on Saturday. At the forefront, the new Kick Childhood Cancer training top and scarf of the match will be available to purchase at all SportingStyle locations inside the stadium. During pregame, Sporting players will wear the gold training tops in warmups before The Victory Project honors more than 50 families affected by pediatric cancer in a special ceremony on the field. Upon kickoff, each player’s match jersey will feature custom-designed numbers featuring the childhood cancer awareness ribbon.
To amplify the #KickChildhoodCancer theme, Sporting will unveil superhero starting lineup and videoboard graphics throughout the evening. Additionally, The Victory Project tent will distribute free Kick Childhood Cancer superhero posters before kickoff while supplies last.
Supporters watching from home will have the opportunity to participate in The Victory Project's online auction, which will launch Saturday in conjunction with the match broadcast on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus. The auction will remain open through Sept. 27 with a variety of autographed Sporting merchandise, framed memorabilia and VIP experiences up for bidding.
Saturday's match will also be part of MLS WORKS’ league-wide Kick Childhood Cancer campaign featuring special gameday elements such as the Gold adidas Nativo Questra match ball plus gold corner flags, goal nets, armbands and commemorative jersey patches.
Lastly, fans are encouraged to support the league-wide #KickChildhoodCancer campaign on social media. For each post that includes the hashtag, MLS will donate $1 to Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research.
2. Living on the Edge
Sporting and Colorado will enter the weekend desperate to collect all three points. Failure to do so, coupled with wins for FC Dallas, San Jose and LA Galaxy, would eliminate both clubs from postseason contention. Sporting have reached the MLS Cup Playoffs in each of the last eight seasons, reaching the pinnacle with an MLS Cup triumph in 2013, while the Rapids have made just three postseason trips since winning the 2010 MLS Cup.
3. Fab Felipe
No player has made a better argument for team MVP honors in recent weeks than Sporting midfielder Felipe Gutierrez. The Chilean struck twice in last weekend's loss to the Galaxy, taking his club-leading total to 12 goals on the season. In addition to becoming the fourth Kansas City midfielder to hit double-digit goals in a single regular season, he is now the first MLS player during the Opta era (2010-present) to record at least 10 goals and win at least 50 tackles in a single regular season.
4. Rapids Rising
The Rapids suffered through a historically miserable start to 2019, going 0-9-2 through 11 games. The dismissal of manager Anthony Hudson and the subsequent appointment of interim boss Conor Casey prompted the ship to steady in Colorado, and now head coach Robin Fraser has the side playing at an undeniably high level. The Rapids won three straight matches from Aug. 31 to Sept. 11 before taking a narrow 3-2 loss at Toronto FC last Sunday, and their record since mid-May is nothing to frown about: 10 wins, six losses and four draws with a plus-seven goal difference.
In attack, Colorado is led by a pair of former Sporting forwards who have combined for 20 goals this season. Kei Kamara (11 goals) and Diego Rubio (nine goals) have shouldered the scoring load for a side that has 51 goals in 2019, good for the second most in club history.
5. Milestone Markers
Two fan favorites are in contention to reach major career milestones on Saturday night. Sporting captain Matt Besler is one shy of his 300th MLS appearance for the club, including playoffs. Goalkeeper Tim Melia, meanwhile, is one shutout shy of passing Jimmy Nielsen for the most in club regular season history at 46.