Minnesota United visits Sporting KC on Wednesday

The fight for Western Conference supremacy will continue in earnest at 7:30 p.m. today when second-place Sporting Kansas City (12-5-7, 43 points) welcomes regional rivals Minnesota United FC (8-7-7, 31 points) to Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Tickets for the match are available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting and Minnesota lock horns in the second of three head-to-head meetings this season.

Led by 13th-year manager Peter Vermes, Sporting kept within two points of Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC by claiming a 2-0 home win over Chicago Fire FC on Saturday.

Sporting struck twice in the first six minutes — its fastest two goals ever in a regular season match — as midfielder Jose Mauri scored on his Children’s Mercy Park debut before captain Johnny Russell bagged his fifth goal of the 2021 campaign.

By propelling his team to the shutout on Saturday, goalkeeper Tim Melia has equaled an MLS record by posting 10 wins in seven consecutive regular seasons. Melia has served as a vital part of an improving Sporting defense that has four shutouts in its last seven games, with center back Andreu Fontas, Ilie Sanchez, Graham Zusi and left back Luis Martins all contributing.

On the opposite end of the pitch, Sporting’s balanced attack has the club ranking second in MLS with 39 goals this season. MLS All-Star Daniel Salloi is tied for second in MLS with 18 combined goals (12) and assists (six), Alan Pulido has amassed eight goals and three assists, and the in-form Russell has five goals and five assists.

Minnesota lost its first four matches in 2021. The return of goalkeeper Tyler Miller between the posts has coincided with an undeniable uptick, as the Loons have gone 8-3-7 with a league-best 0.83 goals against average since May 12.

Minnesota has yet to click on all cylinders offensively despite ranking third in MLS in both shots and chances created per match — its 24 goals are second fewest in the Western Conference — but Emanuel Reynoso (two goals, six assists) and Adrien Hunou (four goals) are capable of turning a game in their team’s favor.

Fans have billed the ongoing battle between Sporting and Minnesota as “the nicest rivalry in sports,” although it has not always matched what has transpired on the field. In the most recent meeting between the teams on Aug. 21 at Allianz Field, Sporting midfielder Remi Walter was controversially sent off with a first-half red card and the rest of the game was marred by chippy confrontations between players on both sides.

The Midwestern rivalry has seen Sporting and Minnesota square off 15 times in all competitions over the last five seasons, a number will grow to at least 17 by the end of the year. In addition to meeting on Wednesday, Sporting will travel to Minnesota once more on Oct. 31 in the penultimate weekend of the regular season.

Sporting owns a 7-5-3 record against the Loons in all competitions, including a perfect 5-0-0 regular season home record. In those five matches, Sporting has posted four shutouts and outscored Minnesota by a combined 11-1. In 10 regular season appearances against the Loons, Melia boasts a 6-2-2 record with five shutouts and a 0.61 goals against average.

Minnesota claimed a three-goal road win over Sporting in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs last December. Reynoso assisted each goal in the game as Minnesota built an unassailable 3-0 lead before halftime.

Both clubs will have absences to account for on Wednesday. On the Sporting sideline, Jaylin Lindsey and Felipe Hernandez remain long-term absentees and Pulido is listed as questionable with a knee ailment. Minnesota, meanwhile, will be without two key players through suspension — veteran midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and defender Chase Gasper — as well as the injured quartet of Juan Agudelo, Hassani Dotson, Niko Hansen and Justin McMaster. Influential midfielder Robin Lod, who leads the team with six goals this year, is questionable with a calf strain.

Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally sports app will provide three hours of live coverage beginning at 7 p.m., while Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish) will air local radio calls with The Final Whistle postgame show immediately following on 810 WHB. Supporters can access the Sporting KC app for additional in-game updates.

In conjunction with Wednesday’s contest, The Victory Project will hold its annual broadcast auction as Bally Sports Kansas City promotes a premier fundraiser for Sporting Kansas City’s charitable foundation dedicated to helping children faced with life’s challenges. By visiting VictoryKC.org/auction, supporters in attendance and watching from home will have the opportunity to bid on a variety of signed Sporting gear and limited-edition items. All proceeds from the auction will go directly to The Victory Project.

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