A pair of streaking Western Conference sides square off Saturday night as first-place Sporting Kansas City (8-2-4, 28 points) travels to face the fifth-place Portland Timbers (6-3-3, 21 points) at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
Kickoff is set for 9:30 p.m. with three hours of live coverage beginning at 9 p.m. on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO. Radio broadcasts will air live on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish), while the Sporting KC Uphoria app will provide instant updates.
Saturday’s clash features two teams who have caught fire over the last several weeks.
Portland endured a turbulent start to the 2018 campaign, going 0-3-2 out of the gates, but first-year head coach Giovanni Savarese has his team surging into the early summer with wins in seven of their last eight games across all competitions since mid-April.
The Timbers will be three days removed from a 2-0 home defeat of the San Jose Earthquakes in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round, which featured a reshuffled lineup with many of Portland’s regular starters rested.
Sporting KC, meanwhile, is riding a six-game unbeaten run since falling 1-0 to the New England Revolution on April 28.
That includes Wednesday’s comprehensive 2-0 Open Cup win at Real Salt Lake, a game that saw forwards Johnny Russell and Kharlton Belmar assist each other’s second-half goals.
Manager Peter Vermes fielded four homegrown payers for the first time in club history on Wednesday, notably giving 16-year-old Gianluca Busio his debut to become Sporting KC’s youngest player to feature in a competitive match.
Seven points behind Sporting KC in the standings but with two games in hand, Portland drew the LA Galaxy 1-1 last Saturday in a result that snapped the team’s franchise-record 10-game regular-season home winning streak at Providence Park. This torrid 10-game run spanned back to August 2017 and saw the Timbers outscore opponents 25-6 while posting five clean sheets.
Despite Portland’s rampant home form, Sporting KC has fared well on its recent visits to Providence Park. Vermes’ men have gone 4-2-1 in their last seven regular season visits to Portland, including shutouts in four of their last five games at the stadium. Sporting KC is 4-1-2 in its last seven regular season meetings with the Timbers, counting a 1-1 home draw and a 1-0 away win in 2017.
Prior to sweeping aside RSL in the Open Cup, Sporting KC cruised to a 4-1 victory over Minnesota United FC last Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park. Homegrown midfielder Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal opened his MLS scoring account to go with strikes from Daniel Salloi, Cristian Lobato and Diego Rubio in a wire-to-wire performance. Entering Week 15 of the MLS campaign, Sporting KC leads all Western Conference clubs in wins (eight), goals (28), goal difference (plus-14) and fewest goals allowed (14).
On the Portland sideline, reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri has again led the way with six goals and three assists this season. Recent offensive production has come from a first-year MLS player, however, as forward Samuel Armenteros – who struck twice in Portland’s 3-2 preseason win over Sporting KC on Feb. 24 – has bagged three goals in as many matches.
Elsewhere, veteran midfielder Diego Chara will be sidelined Saturday while serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. Portland is 0-11-6 in its last 17 matches without Chara in the lineup.
Saturday’s stern test will be further complicated by the fact that Sporting KC has six players on its injury report. Forward Khiry Shelton is listed as questionable as he continues to recover from a thigh ailment, while Yohan Croizet (hamstring), Brad Evans (thigh), Felipe Gutierrez (hernia), Jimmy Medranda (knee) and Seth Sinovic (hamstring) are all ruled out.
The Timbers aren’t without their own injury concerns either. Influential defenders Alvas Powell and Liam Ridgewell are questionable with thigh injuries, as is goalkeeper Jake Gleeson with a back ailment.
– Story from Sporting KC