The final month of the MLS regular season kicks off Saturday when Sporting Kansas City visits the New England Revolution in an interconference clash rife with playoff implications.
Kickoff at Gillette Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. as 38 The Spot and SKCTV broadcast three hours of live coverage starting at 6 p.m.
Both clubs will approach Saturday’s fixture with a sense of urgency as the playoff race hits full steam.
Sporting Kansas City (12-12-7, 43 points) is currently fifth in the Western Conference, but the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers lurk just two points behind in sixth and seventh, respectively. New England (9-13-9, 36 points) has its back against the wall as the seventh-place side in the East, sitting four points below the red line and at risk of missing the postseason if certain results come true this weekend.
Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes is trying to lead his club to a franchise-record sixth straight postseason appearance, knowing that a win against New England would represent a massive step in reaching that goal.
His team earned a precious 2-1 victory last Saturday at the San Jose Earthquakes, snapping a 12-game road winless skid and leapfrogging Portland for fifth place in the West.
Homegrown defender Kevin Ellis decided the match with a back-heel strike in the 81st minute, while forward Dom Dwyer and midfielder Benny Feilhaber continued their fantastic runs of form.
Dwyer has scored in three straight league games to bring his season total to 15 goals, tied for fourth most in MLS. Feilhaber recorded his 10th and 11 assists of the MLS campaign, seven of which have come in his last eight appearances.
New England saw its three-game winning streak halted with a 2-0 setback at Columbus Crew SC last Sunday.
Jay Heaps’ men entered the month of September winless in six games, but rebounded with consecutive multi-goal victories over the Colorado Rapids, New York City FC and Montreal Impact to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Revolution labored for much of the summer, winning just twice between June 25 and Aug. 28, but made an inspired run to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final before falling to FC Dallas on Sept. 13.
Despite its losing record and a league-worst minus-14 goal differential, New England boasts a wealth of attacking options. Veteran midfielder Lee Nguyen leads New England in goals (six) and assists (eight), while athletic forwards Kei Kamara and Juan Agudelo pose threats up top.
Kamara, who starred at Sporting Kansas City from 2009-2013, was traded from Columbus to New England in May and has since scored five goals for the Revs. Wide midfielders Kelyn Rowe (five goals, seven assists) and Diego Fagundez (four goals, five assists) have provided further offensive punch throughout the year.
The clubs last met on May 20, 2015, at Children’s Mercy Park. Sporting Kansas City cruised to an emphatic 4-2 victory behind a Krisztian Nemeth brace and additional goals from Feilhaber and Dwyer. Feilhaber notched two assists in the contest, while New England scored twice through Agudelo and Scott Caldwell.
The Revs have won each of the last three meetings played at Gillette Stadium, prevailing 2-1 in the first leg of the 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals before claiming two home wins in 2014. Series history gives an edge to Sporting Kansas City, whose all-time record (24-16-11) and road record (11-9-6) vs. New England are both their best against any MLS charter member in the regular season.
Sporting Kansas City could receive an additional boost on Saturday, as Vermes revealed this week that Graham Zusi will be included in the match day 18. The winger has missed four straight games in all competitions after suffering a calf strain with the United States Men’s National Team at the beginning of the month.
Four others will be sidelined through injury, including Justin Mapp (calf), Chance Myers (thigh strain), Lawrence Olum (abdomen) and Cameron Porter (concussion). Influential midfielder Roger Espinoza will serve a one-game suspension Saturday due to caution accumulation.
New England will be without longterm absentee Xavier Kouassi (knee) and defensive midfielder Gershon Koffie (ankle sprain), while Rowe (illness) and integral defenders Je-Vaughn Watson (groin strain) and Jose Goncalves (ankle sprain) are questionable.
– Story from Sporting KC