Sporting travels to Portland for match tonight

A marquee Western Conference matchup beckons on Saturday night as second-place Sporting Kansas City (5-2-2, 17 points) travels to face the Portland Timbers (3-4-0, 9 points) in a 9:30 p.m. showdown at Providence Park in Oregon.

Bally Sports Kansas City and Bally Sports Midwest will provide three hours of live television coverage on Saturday beginning at 9 p.m.

Supporters can stream the contest on or the Bally Sports app, while the Sporting KC app will provide additional in-game updates. The game will also air live locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish), with The Final Whistle postgame show immediately following on 810 WHB.

Led by manager Peter Vermes, Sporting pushed its unbeaten run to four matches last Saturday with a 1-1 home draw against Austin FC that lifted the club within a point of first place in the Western Conference.

Daniel Salloi struck a second-half equalizer — converting one of 32 shot attempts for the dominant hosts — and is now tied for third in MLS alongside teammate Alan Pulido with six combined goals and assists this season.

Sporting leads MLS with 16 goals and a remarkable 13 points from losing positions, nine more than any other team.

One of the league’s best attacking teams will receive a further boost this weekend as Pulido returns to Sporting after a two-week stint with the Mexico Men’s National Team. The 30-year-old striker in May notched a league-best five goals and an assist while helping Sporting to four wins.

Midfielder Gadi Kinda, who ranks third on the team with three goals, is also back after a successful European trip that saw him score in his debut for Israel.

Kinda is questionable for Saturday’s clash with a foot ailment, as is veteran Sporting defender Graham Zusi as he recovers from a hamstring strain. French midfielder Remi Walter (knee) and backup goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh (adductor) will miss out through injury.

Portland reached impressive heights in 2020, securing the MLS is Back Tournament championship last summer and finishing with a formidable 11-6-6 regular season record under head coach Giovanni Savarese.

The Timbers have endured an up-and-down start to 2021 with three wins and four losses, including a 3-0 setback at the hands of reigning Supporters’ Shield champion Philadelphia Union in their most recent match on May 30. Portland has employed a balanced attack thus far, receiving nine goals from eight different scorers — tied for the most in MLS.

Forward Felipe Mora is the lone Portland player with two goals this season and is one of two Timbers who will miss Saturday’s contest on international duty. Mora has joined Chile for the 2021 Copa America in Brazil, while standout midfielder Yimmi Chara is competing in the same tournament with Colombia.

The Timbers have been injury-hit during the early stages of 2021. Star playmaker Sebastian Blanco and prolific forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda are still awaiting their season debuts after suffering serious setbacks last year, while veteran Diego Chara has been limited to three appearances and hasn’t played since early May.

Midfielder Eryk Williamson, forward Jeremy Ebobisse and talisman Diego Valeri — one of three MLS players all-time with 80 goals and 80 assists in the regular season — figure to play key roles as the Timbers enter the early summer.

Sporting owns a 4-3-2 regular season record at Providence Park, posting five shutouts in nine trips to the stadium. Goalkeeper Tim Melia has been particularly effective in road matches against Portland, earning clean sheets in four of five regular season appearances at Providence Park.

The Timbers, however, boast two postseason feathers in their cap. Portland notably defeated Sporting on penalty kicks in the 2015 Western Conference Knockout Round and prevailed in the 2018 Western Conference Championship behind a 3-2 win in the decisive second leg of the series at Children’s Mercy Park.

Sporting and Portland haven’t met since September 2019 when the sides met twice during the stretch run of the regular season. The Timbers claimed a dramatic 2-1 home win on Sept. 7, striking twice in the final 10 minutes, before the teams played to an entertaining 2-2 stalemate on Sept. 29 in Kansas City.

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