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Riding high after thrashing the Colorado Rapids on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park, Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City (10-6-3, 33 points) will look to continue their winning ways Wednesday with a visit to Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers FC Cincinnati (4-12-4, 16 points). Kickoff at Nippert Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports GO, Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
Last weekend, Manager Peter Vermes became the first coach in MLS history to record 10 regular season wins in 11 consecutive years. His Sporting Kansas City outfit has found form of late, going 4-1-1 during the month of October, and Wednesday will give the team an opportunity to solidify top spot in the West and clinch a berth in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. We hit on five compelling narratives surrounding the cross-conference clash in the space below.
1. Playoff Push
The Western Conference postseason picture is a bit murky at the moment due to a number of postponed matches and the uncertainty as to how playoff seeding will be determined. Total points? Points per game? No one knows just yet! However, Sporting fans can rest assured: with a win or a draw on Wednesday, Vermes’ men will punch their ticket to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
As a reminder, the top eight finishers in the West will advance to the postseason, which will unfold in a single-game, single-elimination format through MLS Cup on Dec. 12. The playoffs will begin sometime after the regular season ends on Decision Day, which is slated for Nov. 8.
2. Catching Fire
At the time of this publishing, no club in MLS has more wins (four) or points (13) than Sporting in the month of October. That 4-1-1 stretch includes home wins over Chicago Fire FC, Nashville SC and the Colorado Rapids as well as a road defeat of the Houston Dynamo. The likes of Alan Pulido, Erik Hurtado and Gadi Kinda have scored clutch goals, while defenders Winston Reid, Andreu Fontas, Amadou Dia and Jaylin Lindsey have all emerged in positive ways. That’s not to mention the steady displays from center back Roberto Puncec or ultra-versatile 18-year-old Gianluca Busio.
3. Spread the Wealth
Sporting boasts one of the best scoring clips in MLS, ranking fifth with 1.84 goals per game and being shut out just once in 19 matches. The recipe for success has seen numerous players get in on the act, as Sporting is the only team in MLS to have five players with at least four goals. Pulido, Kinda and Johnny Russell have six each, while Hurtado and Khiry Shelton have four apiece.
4. Living on a Prayer
FC Cincinnati currently occupy last place in the 14-team Eastern Conference and face a near must-win situation on Wednesday if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. Cincinnati’s struggles have mainly come on the attacking end of the field, as their 11 goals through 19 games are eight fewer than any other team. Head coach Jaap Stam’s side has mustered only three goals in eight home games at Nippert Stadium, where they have gone 1-3-4 this year.
5. Farewell to Nippert
Wednesday will mark FC Cincinnati’s final regular season home match at Nippert Stadium, a longtime American football venue that opened in 1915 and underwent renovations as recently as 2017. Cincinnati’s farewell to Nippert will pave the way for the club’s highly anticipated move into the new, state-of-the-art West End Stadium next spring.