Sporting KC could clinch playoff berth tonight in Cincinnati

Sporting Kansas City (10-6-3, 33 points) will continue its race for first place in the Western Conference on Wednesday when the club visits FC Cincinnati (4-12-4, 16 points) in the final MLS regular season match at Nippert Stadium.

The cross-conference clash will kick off at 6:30 p.m. with three hours of live coverage beginning at 6 p.m. on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO. Local radio broadcasts will also air on either Sports Radio 810 WHB or ESPN 94.5 FM in English as well as La Grande 1340 AM in Spanish.

Manager Peter Vermes became the first MLS head coach to record 10 regular season wins in 11 consecutive years when Sporting Kansas City rolled the Colorado Rapids 4-0 on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

A dominant second-half display saw striker Alan Pulido, defender Andreu Fontas, midfielder Gadi Kinda and winger Gerso Fernandes find the back of the net as Sporting leapfrogged Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers for top spot in the West.

With a win or a draw on Wednesday, Sporting will punch its ticket to the MLS Cup Playoffs. The top eight finishers in the West will advance to the postseason, which will unfold in single-game, single-elimination style through MLS Cup on Dec. 12.

Vermes’ side — which missed the playoffs in 2019 for the first time since 2010 — has three scheduled matches left on the regular season docket, with Wednesday’s fixture followed by a home finale against Minnesota United FC on Sunday and a Decision Day showdown at Real Salt Lake on Nov. 8.

No club in MLS has more wins (four) or points (13) than Sporting during the month of October.

That 4-1-1 stretch includes wins over Colorado, Houston Dynamo, Chicago Fire FC and Nashville SC as well as multiple goals from Pulido, Kinda and Erik Hurtado.

On the defensive end of the pitch, goalkeeper Tim Melia has reached 50 career shutouts for Sporting — the most in club regular season history — while the likes of Roberto Puncec, Winston Reid, Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey and Amadou Dia have bolstered an improved backline.

Led by first-year head coach and former Netherlands international Jaap Stam, FC Cincinnati faces a formidable task on Wednesday as it prepares to battle one of the most balanced attacks in MLS.

Sporting ranks fifth in the league with 1.84 goals per game and is the only MLS club to have five players with at least four goals. Pulido, Kinda and Johnny Russell have six each, while Hurtado and Khiry Shelton have four apiece.

FC Cincinnati currently occupies last place in the 14-team Eastern Conference and faces a near must-win situation on Wednesday if it wants to keep its playoff hopes alive. Cincinnati’s struggles have mainly come in the final third, as its 11 goals through 19 games are eight fewer than any other team. The Ohio outfit has mustered only three goals in eight home games at Nippert Stadium, where it has gone 1-3-4 this year.

Wednesday will mark FC Cincinnati’s final regular season home match at Nippert Stadium, a longtime American football venue that opened in 1915 and underwent renovations as recently as 2017. Cincinnati’s farewell to Nippert will pave the way for the club’s highly anticipated move into the new, state-of-the-art West End Stadium next spring.

Although Sporting has enjoyed a strong run of form, Vermes will have to account for multiple injury absences. Center back Reid and 18-year-old midfielder Gianluca Busio — who has played in all but one of Sporting’s matches this season — are ruled out as they work toward full fitness ahead of Sunday’s home tilt against Minnesota.

Sporting and Cincinnati have met once previously, battling to a 1-1 draw at Nippert Stadium on April 7, 2019. Darren Mattocks scored a 19th-minute penalty before Busio drew Sporting level in the 62nd minute. A similar result on Wednesday would do little to boost Cincinnati’s postseason aspirations, as it presently sits five points below the playoff line in the East.

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