Preview: Sporting KC Visits Atlanta in Marquee Wednesday Matchup
A titanic showdown between division leaders awaits Wednesday as Sporting Kansas City (6-2-2, 20 points) travels to visit Atlanta United FC (7-1-1, 22 points) in a matchup of the top two teams in the MLS Supporters' Shield standings.
Kickoff at world-class Mercedes-Benz Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. CT, with three hours of live coverage beginning at 6 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO. The interconference clash will also air on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish), while the Sporting KC Uphoria app will provide live updates.
The official watch party for Wednesday's match will take place at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District, featuring $6 Till Vodka cocktails and an all-you-can-eat buffet with bottomless soda and domestic draft beer.
Sitting four points clear at the top of the Western Conference, Sporting KC returned to winning ways Saturday as forward Daniel Salloi scored in the 16th minute of a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids at Children's Mercy Park. The result gave Peter Vermes his 150th coaching win for the club in all competitions and came two days before the manager and technical director signed a contract extension with Sporting KC through 2023.
Vermes' men have enjoyed a strong start to the 2018 campaign thanks in part to a highly improved scoring clip. Sporting KC has bagged 21 goals in 10 games this season, more than half the club's 2017 total, with the likes of Salloi (two goals, four assists) and fellow winger Johnny Russell (five goals, two assists) regularly creating havoc in the attacking third. The team has also rediscovered its stingy defensive form, recording four shutouts in its last six games behind reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Melia.
Sporting KC has fared well on its recent travels, going 2-1-1 away from home in 2018, but a formidable task beckons Wednesday when they enter the hallowed Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United took MLS by storm during its inaugural 2017 campaign and has been even better this year, racking up seven wins and a draw over their last eight games.
Atlanta's eight-game surge includes a 2-1 road victory over the Chicago Fire on Saturday that vaulted the side past New York City FC and into first place in the Eastern Conference. Nineteen-year-old Ezequiel Barco opened his MLS scoring account in the 53rd minute before MLS Golden Boot leader Josef Martinez tallied his seventh goal of the year four minutes later. Former Sporting KC defender Kevin Ellis grabbed a goal back for Chicago, but the Five Stripes held on for their third consecutive win.
Guided by well-traveled manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino, who has coached both FC Barcelona and the Argentina Men's National Team within the past five years, Atlanta boasts a remarkable scoring rate at the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Five Stripes own a 9-1-3 regular season record at the venue dating back to last season, scoring a remarkable 44 goals across those 13 matches (3.4 per game). Atlanta has scored at least twice in every regular season fixture at the stadium since it opened for the club on Sept. 10, 2017.
The prolific production of Martinez and fellow talisman Miguel Almiron - both MLS Best XI selections in 2017 - has paced Atlanta's devastating attack over the last two seasons. Martinez has scored 26 times in 29 career regular season appearances, including 15 goals in 12 games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, while Almiron has amassed 15 goals and 19 assists in 39 regular season matches. The Paraguayan midfielder is tied for second in MLS with six goals and leads the league with 49 shots.
The inaugural meeting between the sides took place on Aug. 6, 2017, at Children's Mercy Park. Benny Feilhaber gave the hosts a 1-0 lead from the penalty spot in the 59th minute, but substitute Jacob Peterson haunted his former club with a 91st-minute equalizer against the run of play. Atlanta's seven shot attempts and two shots on goal against Sporting KC were both their second-fewest of the 2017 season.
Just one name occupies Sporting KC's injury report, as midfielder Felipe Gutierrez will miss the next several weeks after undergoing successful sports hernia surgery last week. Atlanta, meanwhile, could be without Argentine defender Franco Escobar, who is listed as questionable after suffering a thorax injury in Saturday's defeat of Chicago. Midfielder Chris McCann missed that game with a tight hamstring, but is set to return Wednesday after starting each of the club's previous six matches.
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