"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.
The final chapter of the 2020 MLS regular season will be written on Sunday as Sporting Kansas City (11-6-3, 36 points) looks to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference with a visit to rivals Real Salt Lake (5-9-7, 22 points) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The all-important matchup is set for 5:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO as well as ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
Manager Peter Vermes’ men have already secured a top-three finish and the West and can assure themselves of a No. 1 seed with a win on MLS Decision Day 2020 presented by AT&T. Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, have been eliminated from postseason contention and will embrace the spoiler role as the 2020 regular season campaign draws to a dramatic close.
As Sporting and RSL prepare for Sunday’s clash, we visit five compelling storylines surrounding the fixture in the space below.
1. Playoff Math
The newest edition of playoff math on SportingKC.com sets the table neatly. Simply put, Sporting can lock up the No. 1 seed in the West with a victory over Real Salt Lake this weekend. Vermes’ side can also finish first even if they fail to win, but the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC would have to drop points in their games against LAFC and the San Jose Earthquakes, respectively.
All Western Conference matchups will kick off concurrently at 5:30 p.m. CT on Sunday. Playoff seeding will be based on points per match, given the fact that teams have played an uneven number of games due to complications from COVID-19.
2. Back in Action
Sporting will enter Sunday on plenty of rest, having last played on Oct. 28 in a 1-0 road triumph against FC Cincinnati. Last weekend’s regular season home finale versus Minnesota United FC was cancelled due to two positive COVID-19 cases within the Minnesota team. On the opposite sideline, RSL took a 2-1 away loss to the LA Galaxy in their most recent outing on Sunday.
3. Hot October
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 all played major roles in attack, while backline depth was also 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. That’s not to mention the contributions of goalkeeper Tim Melia, who has posted three shutouts during a 5-1-1 stretch that began on Oct. 3.
4. History Lesson
Sporting and RSL have developed a colorful rivalry over the last decade, squaring off in a number of high-stakes encounters. MLS Cup 2013 notably saw Sporting defeat RSL on penalty kicks at Children’s Mercy Park, but Vermes’ team also ousted RSL in the 2018 Western Conference Semifinals as well as the 2015 and 2018 editions of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Despite their superiority in the most important fixtures between the clubs, Sporting has struggled in recent regular season meetings. RSL are 8-2-5 in the regular season series since 2014, although the most recent battle did see Sporting prevail by a 2-0 scoreline thanks to goals from Russell and Gerso Fernandes on July 22 at the MLS is Back Tournament in Walt Disney World.
5. Tough Place to Play
Rio Tinto Stadium hasn’t exactly been a fortress for RSL this season. The club is 3-3-3 at home this year and their three home wins are tied for the fewest in the Western Conference. However, Sporting have gone winless in each of their last seven MLS matches at Rio Tinto Stadium and haven’t secured a league win at the venue since July 2013. RSL are 5-0-2 in their last seven MLS home games against Sporting, a stretch that includes multi-goal defeats in each of the last two meetings.