Preview: Sporting Visits Minnesota for Must-Win Match on Wednesday
The penultimate matchweek of the 2019 MLS regular season will commence Wednesday when Sporting Kansas City (10-14-7, 37 points) visits the new Allianz Field to battle regional rivals Minnesota United FC (14-10-7, 49 points) at 7 p.m. CT. The all-important Western Conference clash will pit a Sporting outfit whose playoff hopes hang by a thread against a much-improved Minnesota side on the brink of clinching its first postseason appearance.
FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO will provide three hours of live coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT, while local radio broadcasts will air live on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish). Fans can access the Sporting KC App for additional in-game updates and exclusive offers, while viewers outside the FOX Sports Midwest footprint can stream the action on ESPN Plus.
With Sporting back on the road, supporters across the Kansas City region are invited to Wednesday's official watch party at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District (1370 Grand Blvd.). From 6:30 p.m. CT until the final whistle, No Other Pub will feature an all-inclusive buffet with bottomless domestic draft beers and sodas plus $4 specials on Bud Light drafts, Corona bottles and Captain Morgan cocktails. The venue will also conduct ticket giveaways for Sporting's home finale against the Portland Timbers on Sunday at Children's Mercy Park.
Under the guidance of Manager Peter Vermes, Sporting have reached the MLS Cup Playoffs every year since 2011. In order to preserve their hopes of extending that club-record streak to a ninth season, Sporting must defeat Minnesota and see either Portland or the San Jose Earthquakes drop points in their respective home fixtures on Wednesday night. Should the Timbers and Quakes both prevail, Sporting will be eliminated from playoff contention regardless of their result versus Minnesota.
Gerso Fernandes fired Sporting into a third-minute lead in a gut-wrenching 3-2 home loss to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. The hosts doubled their advantage with an own goal shortly thereafter, but Sporting captain Matt Besler was sent off midway through the first half to give the Rapids a numerical advantage. Colorado cashed in with goals from Kei Kamara, Diego Rubio and Tommy Smith to deliver Vermes' side its sixth home defeat of 2019.
Minnesota faces an even quicker turnaround, having scrapped to a scoreless draw at Portland on Sunday afternoon. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone notched his 11th clean sheet, third-most in MLS, as the Loons took hold of third place in the Western Conference on 49 points. A victory against Sporting would vault head coach Adrian Heath's men into the playoffs for the first time.
Behind the influential contributions of versatile attacker Darwin Quintero (10 goals, five assists), wide midfielder Ethan Finlay (seven goals, three assists), the combative Jan Gregus (nine assists) and a strengthened backline, Minnesota has enjoyed its best season since joining MLS in 2017. The Loons finished well below the playoff line in each of their first two campaigns but have parlayed their new home stadium into a palpable advantage: Minnesota is 12-1-5 at Allianz Field in all competitions, outscoring opponents 38-14.
Despite sitting in 11th place in the West, Sporting haven't been void of their own standout performers. Chilean international Felipe Gutierrez has tallied a team-best 12 goals to become the fourth midfielder in club history to record double-digit goals in a single season. He has also made league history as the first MLS player during the Opta era (2010-present) to net 10 goals and win 50 tackles in a season.
Further up the field, forward Johnny Russell has notched nine goals and seven assists during a solid sophomore campaign in MLS. The Scottish international is one goal shy of becoming the fourth player in Sporting history to hit 10 goals in back-to-back regular seasons. Between the posts, 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Melia has saved all three penalty kicks he has faced in 2019.
Sporting are 7-2-2 against Minnesota in all competitions since 2014, including a 5-2-2 mark since 2017 when the Loons entered MLS via expansion. However, the Loons are unbeaten at home versus Sporting (2-0-2) over the last three seasons, including a 4-1 victory in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round on June 12 that saw Quintero bag a brace to go with strikes from Finlay and Angelo Rodriguez.
The clubs most recently met on Aug. 22 at Children's Mercy Park, a tightly contested encounter that remained goalless until the 88th minute when Sporting striker Erik Hurtado bagged a dramatic game-winner on a clever Russell assist.
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Major League Soccer Stories from September 24, 2019
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