A pair of MLS originals occupying third place in their conferences will lock horns Saturday at 6 p.m. when Sporting Kansas City (9-4-6, 33 points) battles the New York Red Bulls (10-5-2, 32 points) in a marquee matchup at Red Bull Arena in New York.
FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus will air three hours of live coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m., while listeners can catch the action on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish).
The game will also stream live on FOX Sports GO in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa and on ESPN+ elsewhere across the U.S, while the Sporting KC Uphoria app will provide live updates.
Sporting KC held top spot in the Western Conference for 15 straight weeks before a recent skid saw FC Dallas usurp manager Peter Vermes’ men at the summit.
Consecutive road defeats to the Montreal Impact and Real Salt Lake were followed by an exciting 2-2 draw against Toronto FC last Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park.
Ilie scored a 57th-minute equalizer from the penalty spot before Johnny Russell bagged his 100th professional goal to give Sporting KC a 2-1 lead, but the Reds drew level on a 69th-minute strike from Jordan Hamilton.
Russell is now tied with fellow forward Daniel Salloi as Sporting KC’s top goal scorer this season. The duo has notched seven goals apiece in all competitions while also racking up six assists each in MLS play.
While Russell and Salloi have maintained solid scoring rates, midfielder Roger Espinoza is in the best playmaking campaign of his MLS career. The Honduran has a team-best eight assists and places fourth league-wide with 36 chances created from open play.
Manager Jesse Marsch parted ways with the Red Bulls last week to take an assistant coaching job with German side Red Bull Leipzig, ending a successful four-year stint in New York that included three playoff appearances, a 2015 Supporters’ Shield title and a 58-35-25 record.
Replacing him at the helm is former U.S. international and MLS veteran Chris Armas, who has served as an assistant under Marsch since 2015.
The Red Bulls suffered a 1-0 defeat to rivals New York City FC last Sunday in Armas’ first game in charge, snapping their four-game MLS unbeaten run. Maximiliano Moralez slotted home in the 85th minute at Yankee Stadium to move five points clear of their cross-city counterparts in the Eastern Conference table.
A dangerous New York attack figures to give the Sporting KC backline a stern test this weekend.
Vermes’ side ranks among the top scoring teams in MLS – their 35 goals through 19 games are already five shy of equaling last season’s total – but the club’s defensive form has regressed in recent weeks. The club has allowed 12 goals across its last five games in all competitions, conceding the first goal in each match.
Nevertheless, reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Melia still owns a league-best seven shutouts.
Prolific Englishman Bradley Wright-Phillips continues to serve as the centerpiece of New York’s potent offense, ranking second in MLS with 11 goals in 2018.
The Red Bulls are averaging two goals per game, the fourth-best clip in MLS, largely thanks to the contributions of Wright-Phillips and his supporting cast. Since 2014, his 104 regular-season goals are 31 more than any other player.
In the attacking midfield area, newcomer Kaku has enjoyed a brilliant first MLS campaign with a league-best 10 assists, while wingers Daniel Royer and Alex Muyl have chipped in six goals.
New York has been particularly lethal at home, where they have outscored opponents 20-4 and posted a 6-1-1 record.
A major championship was up for grabs the last time these clubs met in September 2017.
Children’s Mercy Park was the setting for a hotly contested Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, which saw Sporting KC lift their fourth trophy in six seasons. Daniel Salloi scored what turned out to be the match-winner in the 66th minute before Bradley Wright-Phillips provided a consolation goal for the Red Bulls in stoppage time.
The 2-1 victory gave Sporting KC their fourth Open Cup title and denied the Red Bulls their first cup of any kind.
Sporting KC has won three straight meetings in the series, including a 2-0 triumph when the club last visited New York in April 2016, and owns a 3-1-1 record over their last five regular-season visits to Red Bull Arena.
Vermes’ side holds a 3-3-3 road record this season and is one shy of the club’s 100th all-time away win in the MLS regular season.
Six of Kansas City’s 99 regular-season road victories have come against the Red Bulls – including three wins at both Red Bull Arena (2012, 2013 and 2016) and the now-demolished Giants Stadium (1999, 2000 and 2009).
Four Sporting KC players will miss Saturday’s match through injury – namely Brad Evans (Achilles), Cristian Lobato (knee), Jimmy Medranda (knee) and Khiry Shelton (knee) – but midfield talisman Felipe Gutierrez has been upgraded to questionable after missing the last two and a half months with a sports hernia.
Gutierrez was named the MLS Player of the Month in March after scoring five goals in his first five appearances for the club. Center back Ike Opara is also listed as questionable after straining his hamstring in last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Toronto.
On the opposite sideline, midfielder Florian Valot had registered three goals and five assists in his first MLS season before suffering a torn ACL in training last week. Joining him on the New York injury report is fellow Frenchman Vincent Bezecourt, who will be sidelined with a knee ailment.
– Story from Sporting KC