"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.
On a full week of rest for the first time all month, Sporting Kansas City (9-6-3, 30 points) will continue their playoff pursuit Saturday when the Colorado Rapids (5-4-4, 19 points) visits Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT with tickets available at 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.
One point out of first place in the West, Sporting will look to keep pressure on co-leaders Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers with a win against a Colorado Rapids side that hasn’t played in a month but will nevertheless pose a few unique challenges for Manager Peter Vermes’ men. We examine five compelling storylines surrounding the matchup in the space below.
1. Wild West
Sporting were left frustrated by a pair of controversial outcomes last week, falling 1-0 at FC Dallas and claiming a 2-2 draw at Chicago FC, but Vermes’ men remain well within striking distance of first place in the West. Saturday will serve as Sporting’s penultimate home match of the regular season, with contests at FC Cincinnati (Oct. 28), versus Minnesota United FC (Nov. 1) and at Real Salt Lake (Nov. 8) still on the docket.
The top eight finishers in the Western Conference will advance to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, which will unfold in a single-game, single-elimination format through MLS Cup with the higher-seeded team hosting. MLS has yet to announce whether playoff teams will be determined via total points or by points per game, given the fact that some clubs will finish with fewer than 23 matches played.
2. Balanced Attack
Sporting’s 1-0 loss to FC Dallas last Wednesday drew an end to a 16-game scoring streak for the club, tied for the third-longest in club history. Indeed, Vermes has plenty of firepower at his disposal, and one particular stat backs up the notion that Sporting boasts the most balanced attack in MLS.
Of the 26 clubs across the league, only Sporting has five players with at least four regular season goals this year. Johnny Russell has six, newcomers Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda have five each, and forwards Khiry Shelton and Erik Hurtado have four apiece. Pulido has missed Sporting’s last four games due to international commitments with Mexico, but the 29-year-old star could make his return on Saturday night.
3. Rusty Rapids?
The Rapids were enjoying a strong run of form during the month of September, having lost just once in seven games, before a COVID-19 outbreak within the team prompted several matches to be postponed. Head coach Robin Fraser’s men haven’t played since Sept. 23, a 5-0 thrashing of the San Jose Earthquakes, so Saturday figures to be a formidable test for a team that hasn’t seen the field in upwards of 30 days.
Because the Rapids have played only 13 matches and have just five scheduled fixtures remaining, they will almost certainly fall short of the 23 games most other teams will total by season’s end. Colorado sits 11th in the Western Conference table on total points (19) but ranks fourth in points per game (1.46). Given the uncertainty of how playoff seeding will be decided, the Rapids know that points are at a premium.
4. Homegrown Stars
Saturday’s showdown will feature some of the finest young talent in MLS. Sporting Kansas City Academy products Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, Felipe Hernandez and Cam Duke have all made strong impressions in recent weeks, and with newly signed, 20-year-old forward Wilson Harris joining the ranks, Sporting has another promising youngster to call upon.
On the opposite sideline, Rapids midfielder Cole Bassett is the only player with four goals and four assists in less than 10 regular season appearances this year. Outside back Sam Vines, meanwhile, has played every minute for the club and looks to be a U.S. Men’s National Team frequenter for the foreseeable future.
5. Familiar Foes
Sporting has faced Colorado 80 times in all competitions dating back to the inaugural 1996 MLS campaign, making the Rapids the most frequent opponent in Kansas City history. Two of those meetings have taken place this year, including a five-goal thriller at the MLS is Back Tournament in which Sporting received second-half goals from Shelton, Pulido and Graham Zusi to prevail 3-2. The most recent meeting on Aug. 29 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park saw Bassett and Busio trade second-half strikes.