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Winners of two straight matches, Sporting Kansas City (8-5-2, 26 points) will look to keep pace in the Western Conference on Sunday when they face expansion side Nashville SC (4-5-6, 18 points) at Children’s Mercy Park. The inter-conference clash will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT with tickets available on SeatGeek.com and live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports GO, ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
A recent uptick has strengthened Sporting’s hold of third place in the ultra-competitive West, and Sunday presents an opportunity for Manager Peter Vermes’ men to continue their winning ways against a tough Nashville SC outfit that currently occupies the 10th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As Sporting and Nashville prepare for their inaugural battle on Sunday, we take a look at five compelling narratives surrounding the contest in the space below.
1. Two Wins on the Trot
Sporting endured a tough month of September, taking one win in the space of seven matches to relinquish their perch atop the West. As the calendar flipped to October, so too did a switch for Vermes’ side.
Alan Pulido struck twice on a pair of Gianluca Busio assists in a 2-1 road victory over the Houston Dynamo last Saturday. Fast-forward to Wednesday, and it was a pair of defensive stalwarts who stole the show. Goalkeeper Tim Melia saved yet another penalty kick—his penalty-saving percentage is the best in MLS history—and center back Winston Reid punctuated a masterful backline performance with a game-winning goal in the 67th minute of a 1-0 result against Chicago Fire FC.
Sitting on 26 points from 15 matches, Sporting are one point behind second-place Portland and four behind leaders Seattle. As a reminder, the top eight teams in the West will advanced to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs beginning in mid-November.
2. Reid the Game
Just how good was New Zealand international Winston Reid in Wednesday’s defeat of the Fire. The MLS Team of the Week honoree led all players in Week 16 with seven interceptions and became just the third Sporting player since the dawn of the Opta era in 2010 to score a goal and eclipse seven interceptions in a regular season match.
An even further dive into Reid's game log on Wednesday illustrates just how influential his backline presence was throughout the night. During the Opta era, he is the second MLS player to amass the following stat line: one game-winning goal, seven interceptions, four clearances, three duels won, three recoveries and 25 successful passes in a shutout victory. The first to do so was Vancouver's Kendall Waston in a 1-0 win over Colorado on Oct. 25, 2014.
3. Roster Rotation
Sporting is presently in the midst of an unprecedented stretch of nine regular season matches in 30 days. The historic stretch began Saturday and runs through Nov. 1, followed thereafter by Decision Day on Nov. 8. With games coming thick and fast, Vermes will have no choice but to exercise the depth at his disposal.
Right back Graham Zusi, an uber-versatile weapon for Sporting, exited Wednesday’s match in the first half through injury. That setback could open the door for 20-year-old Homegrown defender Jaylin Lindsey, who played the final 69 minutes versus Chicago and has made five starts this season. Striker Alan Pulido will also miss the next few games while on international duty with Mexico, meaning the likes of Erik Hurtado and Daniel Salloi could be set for increased roles alongside fellow forwards Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton.
4. Tough to Crack
Navigating their first MLS campaign, Nashville SC are unbeaten in four straight games thanks to a resolute defensive record. Head coach Gary Smith’s team has conceded just 14 goals in 15 matches this season, with grizzled veterans such as Walker Zimmerman, Dax McCarty, Daniel Lovitz and Anibal Godoy making Nashville a tough nut to crack. Goalkeeper Joe Willis is also tied for the MLS lead with seven shutouts.
On the flipside, the Tennessee club has found scoring hard to come by. Their 11 goals are the second-fewest in MLS, and the team has taken part in a league-high four goalless draws this year—including each of their last two outings against the New England Revolution and Minnesota United FC.
5. First Dance
Sunday will mark the first-ever meeting between Sporting and Nashville. Since the dawn of the MLS expansion era in 2005, Kansas City boasts a 9-3-4 record in their inaugural regular season meeting versus expansion teams.