First-place Sporting KC to visit MLS Cup champion Seattle Saturday afternoon

Two MLS heavyweights collide Saturday when Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City (9-4-10, 37 points) travel to face reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC (9-7-7, 34 points) at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Central Time with three hours of live television coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.

Local radio broadcasts of Saturday’s marquee matchup will air on ESPN 99.3 FM (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish), while FOX Sports GO will provide a live stream for all pay-TV subscribers who receive FOX Sports Kansas City or FOX Sports Midwest. The Sporting KC Uphoria mobile app will also give live updates throughout the afternoon.

Saturday’s contest could go a long way in deciding the final postseason picture in the Western Conference. Sporting Kansas City currently holds the top spot on 37 points, while Seattle is three points behind and in a remarkable four-way tie for second place. A win would separate Sporting KC from the logjam below, while a loss would result in Seattle taking first place by virtue of more wins.

When Sporting Kansas City takes to the turf on Saturday, the team will be less than 72 hours removed from a thrilling 5-4 penalty shootout win over the San Jose Earthquakes in Wednesday’s pulsating U.S. Open Cup semifinal at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Danny Hoesen fired the Earthquakes into an early lead, but forward Diego Rubio equalized in the 32nd minute as Sporting KC racked up 31 shot attempts and enjoyed 67 percent of possession during a thoroughly dominant performance.

Following a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes, goalkeeper Tim Melia made two decisive saves in the shootout to vault Sporting Kansas City into the Open Cup Final – its third such appearance in six seasons – which will take place Sept. 20 at Children’s Mercy Park.

Manager Peter Vermes’ men are in the middle of a club-record 13-game unbeaten streak in all competitions since the start of June, recording six wins and seven draws. The 13-match run equals the initial record set in 2012, a season that saw Sporting Kansas City lift the Open Cup and finish atop the Eastern Conference standings.

In order to keep their undefeated streak alive, Sporting Kansas City will have to take down a Sounders FC outfit that has found its form during the summer months.

Head coach Brian Schmetzer’s men are 4-0-3 in their last seven MLS matches, including a 4-0 thrashing of Minnesota United FC last Saturday that featured a brace from Clint Dempsey and additional goals from Will Bruin and Jordan Morris. The victory marked the fourth time in five games that Seattle has bagged at least three goals in a league fixture.

The Rave Green have compiled an impressive 17-9-11 regular season record since Schmetzer took the helm in July 2016. His appointment as head coach coincided with the arrival of designated player Nicolas Lodeiro, who helped spur Seattle to last year’s MLS Cup title and has three goals and eight assists to his name in 2017. U.S. international duo Dempsey (nine goals) and Morris (three goals) offer unquestioned quality, though the contributions of Will Bruin (eight goals) and Cristian Roldan (five goals, two assists) shouldn’t go overlooked.

Defensively, the Sounders have hit an extra gear over the last fortnight. Anchored by center backs Chad Marshall and Roman Torres, the team has recorded three consecutive clean sheets in league play – their longest shutout streak of the year. Left back Joevin Jones has blossomed into one of the most dynamic defenders in the league, sitting tied for second in MLS with 10 assists.

These teams have shared a dramatic head-to-head history over the years, with recent regular season results favoring Sporting KC. Vermes’ side is 4-0-2 against Seattle over the last six regular season meetings since 2015 – including a rampant 3-0 triumph on May 17 at Children’s Mercy Park, highlighted by Gerso’s historic second-half hat-trick.

Melia has particularly relished the matchup, posting a 4-0-1 regular season record versus Seattle with zero goals allowed over 450 minutes of action. The Sounders owned the series from 2009-2014, going 7-1-1 with five victories being decided in second-half stoppage time.

Saturday also serves as a rematch of the 2016 Western Conference Knockout Round, marking the first time Sporting KC has visited CenturyLink Field since the fiercely contested playoff match last October.

Sporting KC finished the game with seven shots on goal to Seattle’s one, but the hosts converted their lone attempt on target when Nelson Valdez headed home in the 88th minute to send Sporting KC packing at the knockout round stage for the third straight year. Replays indicated that Valdez was offside when his goal was scored, adding further frustration to a heartbreaking defeat for the visitors.

Sporting Kansas City enters the contest with no new injury concerns to report, though the club will remain without forward Cameron Porter, who underwent season-ending ankle surgery earlier this week.

On the Seattle sideline, domineering defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is listed as questionable with a knee sprain, while veteran defender Brad Evans is ruled out with a lower back ailment.

– Story from Sporting KC

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