"Five Things" is a season-long series presented by the Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center that highlights the top storylines and players to watch ahead of each match. To visit the series archive, click here.
The race for first place in the Western Conference will continue in earnest on Saturday afternoon when MLS originals Sporting Kansas City (6-3-2, 20 points) and FC Dallas (4-2-4, 16 points) lock horns at world-class Children's Mercy Park at 2:30 p.m. CT with widespread live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, Univision and TUDN as well as live streams on FOX Sports GO and @TUDNUSA on Twitter. Supporters can also catch the action locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
Coming off a pivotal 1-0 home win over Minnesota United FC last weekend, Manager Peter Vermes' men will look to continue their winning ways against an FC Dallas side that has avoided defeat in each of its last three visits to Children's Mercy Park. With a high-stakes clash on the horizon, we examine five compelling narratives surrounding the fixture in the space below.
1. Fighting for First
Sunday's defeat of Minnesota restored Sporting's perch atop the Western Conference table, but a logjam in the 12-team division means things can change fast. The Loons, Seattle Sounders FC and both Los Angeles clubs are within striking distance as Vermes' side enters the second half of the 23-game regular season.
MLS announced last week that the top eight teams in the West and the top 10 teams in the East will make up the 18-team field for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs beginning in November. The Western Conference side of the bracket will feature a straightforward, single-elimination format with the higher seed playing host. A higher seed for Sporting means more playoff action at Children's Mercy Park.
2. Big Week Ahead
Saturday will mark the start of a busy week-long stretch for Sporting. After battling FC Dallas on Saturday, the club will host Orlando City SC next Wednesday and travel to the Colorado Rapids on Sept. 27. Vermes has made full use of the deep squad at his disposal, constantly rotating lines in defense, midfield and attack amidst an abbreviated and condensed fixture list. Outcomes of the next three games could go a long way in setting the tone for what will be a definitive final month of regular season action.
Dallas approaches the weekend with confidence, having won back-to-back matches for the first time this season. Midfielder Santiago Mosquera was the star of the show in Wednesday's 4-1 home win over the Colorado Rapids, netting a hat-trick as the rampant hosts enjoyed their best night of the season. Head coach Luchi Gonzalez's side has scored 12 goals in its last five games, having scored just four in its first five.
3. Limited Tickets Available
A limited number of tickets for Sporting's next two home matches—Saturday against FC Dallas and Wednesday versus Eastern Conference contenders Orlando City SC—will be available to the general public at SeatGeek.com while supplies last. Both games at Children's Mercy Park will be held at reduced capacities of 18%.
For each of the club's two remaining home dates in September, fans in attendance will have the opportunity to shop from a variety of Kick Childhood Cancer merchandise at SportingStyle, including limited-edition beanies and scarves. For every beanie sold, Sporting and The Victory Project will donate a beanie to Children's Mercy.
4. Eternal Youth
Sporting's breakthrough goal on Sunday featured a pair of grizzled veterans linking up, as Graham Zusi picked out Johnny Russell with an inch-perfect long ball over the top in the 80th minute. However, it's hard to ignore the increasing role embraced by a talented crop of Sporting KC Academy products and Homegrown Players.
Right back Jaylin Lindsey and midfield trio Gianluca Busio, Cam Duke and Felipe Hernandez have logged significant minutes in recent weeks, holding their own and punching above their proverbial weight while improving day by day.
“The position that we’re in says a lot about our team as a whole with the culture that we have,” captain Matt Besler told Sports Radio 810 WHB on Wednesday. “It’s also credit to the guys who have been playing. Those young guys have taken more responsibility and they’ve run with it. They deserve a lot of credit given the situation. It’s amazing to take a step back and really think about what’s going on right now with our team. There’s teenagers playing in the middle of the field in Major League Soccer.
“The middle of the field is where the game is won or lost a lot of times. That’s where you want your experienced guys and your veterans. For these young guys to come in and control the game at times, to win balls, to have the composure to dictate the passing game, it’s so impressive to watch."
5. Major Milestones
Saturday's showdown will be punctuated by multiple major milestones. Vermes is on the brink of his 150th regular season win as Sporting's head coach, having taken the helm in 2009. He would become the fifth head coach to reach that mark, following in the footsteps of legends Sigi Schmid (240), Bruce Arena (213), Dominic Kinnear (169) and Bob Bradley (165).
Additionally, Saturday will be Sporting's 200th match at Children's Mercy Park (including friendlies), and a win would give the club 250 all-time home victories across all competitions.