"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 lone MLS match of the weekend will unfold Saturday at 2 p.m. CT when high-flying Sporting Kansas City (5-2-1, 16 points) hosts expansion club Austin FC (2-4-1, 7 points) at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the Western Conference clash are available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting looks to jump atop the Supporters’ Shield standings with a fourth successive win.
Saturday’s showdown will air live on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus and Bally Sports Midwest Plus in addition to streaming on BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app, with three hours of programming set to begin at 1:30 p.m. CT. Listeners can also catch the action on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish).
With first place on the line for Manager Peter Vermes’ men, we examine five major storylines surrounding the afternoon matchup.
1. Sporting on the Rise
Winners of three straight games and four of their last five, Sporting are among the most in-form teams in MLS. Goalkeeper Tim Melia and Catalan center back pairing Andreu Fontas and Ilie Sanchez have anchored the defense, 19-year-old Gianluca Busio has flourished in midfield, and the likes of Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda and Daniel Salloi have sparked an attack that leads MLS with 15 goals.
It should be noted that Pulido will miss Saturday’s contest due to national team obligations with Mexico, but the way Sporting have been playing in recent weeks, the hosts will like their chances of continuing to create high-quality scoring opportunities.
2. The Perks of Attending
When Sporting and Austin lock horns on Saturday, ticket holders will have the opportunity to purchase the club's new commemorative book. "One Club: The First 25 Years of Major League Soccer in Kansas City" will be available Saturday at all SportingStyle locations inside Children's Mercy Park. The hardback book is $25 for Season Ticket Members and $40 for non-STMs.
Furthermore, The Victory Project and Charlie Hustle have partnered to create a new “Be a Force for Good” shirt that will be available while supplies last at the stadium’s new Charlie Hustle location on the south side of the Mazuma Plaza. Lastly, SportingStyle locations are offering buy-one-get-one 50% off on all headwear.
3. Familiar Foes
Sporting and Austin held their inaugural battle on May 9 as Vermes’ side fought back to emerge 2-1 winners in a dramatic showdown at Children’s Mercy Park. Ilie nodded home an 82nd-minute equalizer before Gadi Kinda buried a game-winner in the 90th minute, marking the seventh time that Kansas City has overturned a deficit after the 80th minute to win an MLS match. The momentous result ignited Sporting’s current hot streak, while Austin has yet to win since beating Minnesota United FC on May 1.
4. A Sporting Reunion
A Sporting reunion that first took place May 9 will repeat on Saturday when three club legends return to Kansas City as opponents. Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff, assistant Davy Arnaud and defender Matt Besler, three of the most accomplished MLS players in Kansas City history, will descend on Children’s Mercy Park in white and green. All three individuals have left indelible marks in a Kansas City uniform, combining for 784 competitive appearances and seven MLS All-Star selections as members of the club. Five of Sporting's seven major trophies were secured with Wolff, Arnaud or Besler as an integral part of the squad.
5. Stadium Anniversary
Ten years ago this week, one of North America's finest soccer cathedrals opened its doors for the first time. On June 9, 2011, Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire locked horns in the inaugural game at state-of-the-art Children's Mercy Park. Saturday’s match will serve as a 10-year anniversary celebration of the heralded venue, where Sporting boasts a 3-0-1 record this season.
Just as Sporting raises a glass to 10 years at Children’s Mercy Park, Austin FC will be participating in their last of eight straight away matches to begin the 2021 campaign. The expansion outfit will open the new Q2 Stadium with their inaugural home fixture against the San Jose Earthquakes on June 19.