"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.
As the calendar turns to October, the home stretch of the 2020 MLS regular season is officially upon us. Squarely in the thick of a wild Western Conference race, Sporting Kansas City (6-5-2, 20 points) will begin a pivotal run of matches on Saturday when the club visits rivals Houston Dynamo (3-4-7, 16 points). Kickoff at BBVA Stadium is set for 7 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports GO, ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
Manager Peter Vermes' men will enter the weekend on adequate rest, as last Sunday's contest at the Colorado Rapids was rescheduled to Oct. 21. Houston has also had an entire week to regroup, having settled for a draw with Nashville SC their last time out. As both sides prepare for the fourth head-to-head meeting this year, we examine five prevailing storylines surrounding the battle in the space below.
1. Busy Bees
With Sporting's road match at Colorado rearranged for Oct. 21, the club now faces an ultra-busy slate of MLS action. For the first time in team history, Sporting will play nine regular season matches in a 30-day period, followed by a Decision Day encounter on Nov. 8.
The whirlwind journey begins Saturday and runs through Nov. 1, consisting of five weekend contests and four consecutive Wednesday matches sprinkled in between. Only twice previously has Sporting played nine competitive matches in the space of 30 days, doing so from June to July in both 2011 and 2012.
2. Right the Ship
Saturday's encounter pits a pair of teams looking to improve their recent run of luck. Sporting are 1-4-2 in their last seven games and have only managed to beat Minnesota United FC since returning from the MLS is Back Tournament at the tail end of July. The Dynamo, meanwhile, won three straight from Aug. 25 to Sept. 5—including two victories over Sporting—but have gone 0-2-3 since then to fall below the playoff line.
Needless to say, Saturday's winner will find three points more than welcome as the Western Conference race begins to intensify.
3. Here's Johnny
Winger Johnny Russell made a splash in 2018 and 2019, landing Sporting Kansas City Offensive Player of the Year honors as one of the league's most dynamic attackers. And for anyone who needed a reminder of his quality, the Scottish international has provided exactly that over the last three matches.
Russell has scored each of Sporting's last four goals dating back to Sept. 13, taking his team-leading tally to six on the season. He has become the fourth player in Sporting history to bag four consecutive regular season goals for the club, and his three-game scoring streak is tied for the second-longest in MLS this year. Should Russell find the back of the net on Saturday, he would become only the fifth Kansas City player to strike in four straight regular season fixtures.
4. Meeting No. 4
Saturday will deliver the fourth and final regular season meeting between Sporting and Houston. Vermes' side claimed an emphatic 4-0 win way back on March 7 in the Children's Mercy Park home opener, receiving goals from Alan Pulido, Roger Espinoza, Gadi Kinda and Khiry Shelton in a rampant, wire-to-wire performance.
The Dynamo have since punched back with two wins of their own, including an eye-opening 5-2 decision at Children's Mercy Park on Aug. 25 and a 2-1 home triumph on Sept. 5. Attacking talisman Darwin Quintero has inspired each of the Dynamo's two wins, exploding for two goals and four assists in those matches.
Sporting has faced Houston 35 times in all competitions since 2011, more than any other opponent. This evenly contested stretch includes four showdowns in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and five editions of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
5. Wild West
The Western Conference playoff picture is anything but clear as all 12 clubs prep for a defining run-in. The top eight finishers will progress to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in mid-November, and at this point in time, it's anyone's guess as to which eight will advance. Co-leaders Seattle and Portland and ninth-place Houston are separated my a mere eight points, meaning a two- or three-game winning streak would work wonders for any team in its bid to secure a playoff spot. As of Oct. 1, one thing is certain: no one is safe, and no one is dead and buried. Everything is to play for over the next five weeks.