"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.
Children’s Mercy Park will host its final regular season match of the year on Sunday when second-place Sporting Kansas City (11-6-3, 36 points) battles fourth-place Minnesota United FC (8-5-6, 30 points) at 6:30 p.m. CT. Tickets for the pivotal Western Conference clash are available at SeatGeek.com 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 became the first MLS head coach to lead a single club to nine playoff appearances after Sporting clinched their postseason berth by defeating FC Cincinnati 1-0 on Wednesday. Sunday’s showdown at Children’s Mercy Park will pit two teams in rich veins of form, and with the fourth head-to-head meeting of 2020 on the docket, there will be no love lost between the Midwestern rivals.
With plenty at stake on Sunday, we take a look at five prevailing storylines surrounding the fixture in the space below.
1. Points Per Game
Major League Soccer announced Thursday that conference standings and playoff seedings will be determined on a points per game basis. This decision addressed the fact that clubs across the league will finish the regular season with an uneven number of matches played due to COVID-19 complications.
The move from total points to points per game saw Sporting drop from first to second place in the West, but Vermes’ men will nevertheless be high on confidence entering the weekend. With a win or a draw on Sunday, Sporting will guarantee a top-four finish in the West and a home playoff match in the first round of the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
2. Teams in Form
As mentioned above, Sporting and Minnesota are rolling at the moment. No team had more wins (five) or points (16) during the month of October than Sporting, which claimed five regular season victories in a single month for the first time since April 2000. The likes of Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda, Johnny Russell and Erik Hurtado have all played major roles in attack, while backline depth has also been on display with solid performances from Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey, Amadou Dia, Winston Reid and Roberto Puncec, who has gone the full 90 minutes in all six shutout efforts this season.
On the opposite sideline, Minnesota have gone 3-0-3 in their last six games and haven’t lost since Sept. 23. Their six-match unbeaten streak is tied for the longest active run in MLS, with Kevin Molino (seven goals), Robin Lod (six goals), Jan Gregus (six assists) and defensive lynchpin Michael Boxall all shouldering integral roles. Goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair, who won the starting job midway through the campaign, has also impressed with five shutouts and a 0.91 goals against average in 11 appearances.
3. Familiar Foes
Sporting and Minnesota have met 13 times across all competitions since the Loons joined MLS in 2017. Three of those meetings have taken place in 2020, including a 2-1 Minnesota victory at the MLS is Back Tournament on July 12, a 2-1 road triumph for Sporting on Aug. 21 and a 1-0 decision on Sept. 13 that saw Russell bag Sporting’s game-winner.
4. House of Horrors
Sporting are 7-4-2 against Minnesota in all competitions—a mark that includes a perfect 6-0-0 record at home. The Loons have managed just one goal on their six visits to Kansas City while allowing 15, a clear indication that Children's Mercy Park may as well be their house of horrors. Each of the last two meetings at Children’s Mercy Park have seen Sporting score late to secure 1-0 results.
5. Save on Jerseys
The final regular season home match of the season calls for major shopping perks at the stadium. Supporters in attendance will have the opportunity to purchase Sporting’s primary and secondary kits at 50% off as part of the Ivy Investments jersey sale.