Heineken Rivalry Week finds Minnesota United in fantastic form. On the other hand, Sporting KC has struggled to find any consistency this season, leaving them near the bottom of the table. This edition of the Nicest Rivalry in Sports is shaping up to be an interesting one; will the Loons keep rolling, or will SKC finally start firing?

USATSI_14795971

The Occasion: MLS Week 20; Game No. 20; Home Game No. 10

The Opponent: Sporting KC

Head-to-Head:

This will be the first meeting of the season between SKC and Minnesota United. They will meet again on September 17 for the reverse fixture in Kansas City. Since joining MLS, the Loons have struggled against Sporting KC, accumulating an all-time record of 6-10-3. While history favors the visitors, recent form certainly suggests this game may go differently. 

Their Run of Form: L-W-L-L-W

Week 15 – 1-2 L vs. New England Revolution (Goal from Johnny Russell)

Week 16 – 2-1 W at Nashville SC (Goals from Graham Zusi and Felipe Hernandez)

Week 17 – 0-3 L at Seattle Sounders 

Week 18 – 0-1 L vs. New York Red Bulls

Week 19 – 2-1 W at CF Montreal (Goals from Remi Walker and Roger Espinoza)

This season has been disappointing for Sporting KC. They find themselves floundering at the bottom of the Western Conference, unusual circumstances for one of the league’s most historic clubs. Recent times have seen them eke out a couple of close wins against mid table sides, but these should be considered anomalies, not the norm. This game will be a clash of two teams experiencing very different fortunes at the moment.

USATSI_14929500

Last Season

In their three meetings last season, these teams split the games 1-1-1. The first of these three games came in August, when an eventful game saw just about everything short of a goal. Great shots, greater saves, and a red card made for one of the most exciting 0-0 draws you’ll ever see. 

They next met just a month later in Kansas City. This time, there were plenty of goals…for the home team. Sporting was able to put four past the Loons defense, three of which came in the first half. Their dominant performance proved to be too much for Minnesota United to handle, and the game ended with a 4-0 score line. Good play from both Daniel Salloi and Khiry Shelton completely nullified the slow attempts to get back into the game from the Loons. 

The final match of the season came on October 31, Halloween. The Loons were hoping for a treat, rather than a repeat of the trick they experienced in Kansas City. An early Khiry Shelton goal in the 8th minute certainly dampened expectations, but there was plenty of time left. Minnesota United applied the pressure, finding the breakthrough equalizer with a 20th minute goal from Franco Fragapane. Before the half, Emanuel Reynoso drew a penalty, subsequently scoring the game-winner off a Panenka. Cheeky way to get all three points, eh?

USATSI_17251992

That was then, this is now

Kansas City has been around since the beginning of MLS. They began play as the Wizards, before changing their name to Sporting Kansas City in 2010. Their story is of a consistent competitor, with several notable accolades to prove it. In the history of the league, there have only been seven years where SKC didn’t feature in the playoffs. They have been to MLS Cup three times, emerging as champions in two of those appearances. In 2000, they won the Supporter’s Shield, they have won the U.S. Open Cup four times, and have never finished last in league standings. 

This is an organization that knows what it takes to compete. They have climbed the mountain to see the view from the top, but it has been some time since they last reached the summit. Their last MLS Cup was in 2013, and since then, they have failed to take home any major trophies. While SKC has been a staple among the MLS’ best, it appears that it is becoming harder for this big fish to keep up with a growing pond. 

This year, a perfect storm of injuries, player departures, and stagnant play has combined to leave Sporting KC near the very bottom of the league. The loss of star midfielder Gianluca Busio has left questions in the middle of the pitch. Striker Alan Pulido’s absence has limited options up top, and those options have failed to produce. Last year’s stars Daniel Salloi and Khiry Shelton have massively underperformed this season, with Shelton failing to score any goals in 15 games. This year has been unfamiliar territory for the team down I-35, to say the least.

USATSI_13414346

The Attack

Currently, Sporting KC is tied with Chicago for the league’s worst goal-scoring record, with just 18 goals scored this season. Their minus 16 goal differential demonstrates just how bad things have gotten, along with the fact that no MLS team has lost as many games as SKC’s 11. 

Winger Johnny Russell is leading the team in goals this year with 5, followed by Salloi with 4. Aside from those two, only two other SKC players have scored more than once this year. If these two fail to get on the scoresheet, it seems likely that their team won’t score. New attacking signings William Agada and Erik Thommy have yet to play for the team, but could provide them with the spark they need to start banging in the goals.

In their most recent games, Sporting KC have utilized a 4-1-4-1 formation. Shelton will likely start up top, with Russell and Salloi out wide. Behind Shelton, expect to see Cam Duke and Felipe Hernandez. In lieu of that midfield pairing, we could see MLS veteran Roger Espinoza fill in.

USATSI_17251636

The Defense

In the back, SKC have struggled. They have only managed to keep four clean sheets across 20 games, and appear to be stuck between the old and the new. Veteran players Tim Melia and Graham Zusi have tried to lead this group, but thus far, to no avail.

Zusi, who competed at the 2014 World Cup with the USMNT, has recently picked up an injury, giving a chance to 19-year-old Kayden Pierre. In his limited time, Pierre has impressed, making his bid to be the heir at the right back position.  

Fans can expect a backline of Logan Ndenbe, Andreu Fontas, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, and Kayden Pierre, with French midfielder Remi Walter sitting in front of them. The ever-present Tim Melia will almost certainly start in goal. 

Final Thought

SKC are down on their luck. Some key injuries, mixed with an aging core of players that haven’t quite transitioned to the next generation has left them reeling during the 2022 season. They barely score, they concede a lot, and they have dropped points in 75% of their games this year. With the Loons in such high-flying form, this game could get ugly for the visitors. However, this is the MLS, where anything can happen on any given day. The season isn’t over until Decision Day, and wounded animals are often the most dangerous to deal with. 

MATCH INFO

Minnesota United FC v. Sporting Kansas City

Allianz Field | St. Paul, Minnesota

07.13.22 | MLS Game No. 20

7:00 pm CT (ESPN and 1500 ESPN)