Sporting and Minnesota prepped for difficult challenges ahead of Sunday's battle for first place

After a scintillating start to the season, Sporting KC's momentum has slowed amid injuries and dips in form since the club returned from the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.

Sporting are now four games without a win, having last taken all three points against Minnesota United on August 21. The Loons, meanwhile, have bounced back from their own poor run of results by winning back-to-back games and will travel to Children's Mercy Park on Sunday. Minnesota are hoping to keep their good times rolling against their friendly rivals.

“It’s never easy there, we’ve never done particularly well at SKC," Loons head coach Adrian Heath told reporters on a virtual press conference Friday. "I’ve got incredible respect for [Sporting manager Peter Vermes] and his coaching staff for what they do. … We know it’s going to be difficult. I know what Peter’s like, he won’t like the fact they haven’t won in four games. We’re going in there on the back of two wins, so there’s confidence in our group."

Sporting's task will be made all the more difficult as they'll likely be without three key players Alan PulidoIlie and Roger Espinoza due to injury.

“Those three guys will probably not be available this weekend," Vermes said. "That’s the prognosis as of today.”

Ilie hasn't appeared for Sporting since the MLS is Back Tournament while Pulido and Espinoza have missed the club's last two games. Sporting have won just the one game against Minnesota since returning from Orlando. 

Minnesota will be without 2019 MLS All-Star Romain Metanire, who will serve a suspension for his red card against FC Dallas on Wednesday. Heath stands by his initial reaction that he feels the red card was undeserved, but the club have ultimately decided against appealing the decision. 

The Loons will, however, be able count on new star signing Emanuel Reynoso, who started and grabbed an assist in each of Minnesota's last two games, both wins. Vermes is already impressed with the former Boca man, saying his first 164 minutes in MLS are exactly what Heath forecasted it'd be. The two managers spoke a bit after Minnesota's 2-1 loss to Sporting last month and Heath told Vermes the deal for Reynoso was done, then talked about what kind of player he is.

“He’s a good addition for them," Vermes said. "How do you slow guys like that down? It’s difficult. You try to limit the amount of times they’re on the ball but he has experience and ambition in his game, he plays to win.”