Sporting Kansas City are hoping to regain first place in the Western Conference, while Minnesota United are just hoping to stay atop the playoff line when the two sides lock horns at Children's Mercy Park on Wednesday.
The Wizards took advantage of some poor goalkeeping from Chicago to beat them 2-0 over the weekend, while the Loons were slow out of the gate in their previous match, losing 1-0 to the Seattle Sounders.
Getting off to a fast start was one of the keys for Peter Vermes over the weekend, and his team began the game as well as he could have asked for, leading by two goals before the match was even seven minutes old.
It was a sharp contrast from what this side had done in their previous two encounters when they found themselves on the back foot versus Los Angeles FC and the Colorado Rapids, allowing the opening goal within the first 20 minutes of play in each of those fixtures.
The mentality and commitment within this group has been strong all season following a defeat, as they have answered all five of their losses this year with a victory.
Saturday was surprisingly their first home win since June 26 when they scored a winner in the 87th minute to beat LAFC 2-1, although they have only lost one match at home this year in league play.
While they have not collected a lot of wins at home in recent memory, they have scored plenty of goals, having found the back of the net now in 27 straight regular-season encounters in Kansas City, a club record and the longest current active streak in MLS, with their last scoreless game at Children's Mercy Park dating back to July 20, 2019, when they dropped a 2-0 decision to Dallas.
All year we have talked about how good this team are when trailing, earning 19 points from losing positions in 2021, but they are equally strong if not stronger when they have their noses in front, having lost only twice this season when scoring first, winning their last six games in which they have drawn first blood.
With a potential first-place showdown against the Sounders upcoming after this game, staying sharp and focused against a Minnesota side who held them scoreless in their previous meeting this year will be critical, while making sure that they are not looking too far ahead.
The Loons held their own this past weekend against the defending Western Conference champions, but their opening 20 minutes let them down, and sometimes that is all a team like Seattle will need to come away with three points.
Even though they had more possession than the Sounders, Adrian Heath was left disappointed by their quality in front of goal as they failed to have any significant efforts against a keeper in Stefan Frei, who had been playing his first game after a lengthy injury spell.
While this side have not been bad away from home, collecting points in seven of 11 fixtures this year, they have not shown that they are capable of competing with the top teams in the West on the road, as their four away defeats have come against the top four teams in the conference, and they have been outscored 10-2 overall in that time.
Knowing that we should see them push hard over their final dozen regular-season games to try and get into a position to host a postseason match at Allianz Field, where they have six wins already this year.
Minnesota are not too far away from the fourth-place Los Angeles Galaxy, trailing them by only six points with a game in hand, but they are certainly far from assured a playoff spot, currently only two points above that line.
This team is at their best offensively when they can use the whole field and get the ball out wide as they have some strong fullbacks who can add an extra dimension to their attacking game.
They have been shut out in three of their last five games, mainly because their accuracy in front of goal has let them down, as they have fired 17 shots on target in those three encounters combined, but most of those saves from opposing keepers have been relatively routine.
Jose Mauri became the 12th different player to score for the Wizards in the regular season, and Johnny Russell scored his second goal in his last three games in what was his 100th appearance for the club on Saturday, while Remi Walter picked up his first assist of the campaign on their opening goal.
Roger Espinoza missed his first game of the season this past weekend following his red card against the Black-and-Gold, Jaylin Lindsey sat out once again with a hamstring injury and Felipe Hernandez is still dealing with personal issues and will not be available.
Tim Melia collected his first clean sheet since a 0-0 draw with the Loons on August 21, while Gadi Kinda and Daniel Salloi returned from international duty with Israel and Hungary, respectively, as both were in the starting 11 versus the Fire.
Despite the loss on Saturday, Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller played terrific, particularly in the opening half, to keep his side in it as he has played a big part in the resurgence of this team since replacing Dayne St. Clair as the number one, with seven clean sheets this year.
In their last game the Loons were missing their top goalscorer Robin Lod with a calf injury and their leader in assists Emanuel Reynoso, plus Juan Agudelo and Justin McMaster, as all three have thigh injuries and Niko Hansen is nursing a hamstring problem.
Sporting Kansas City possible starting lineup:
Melia; Rad, llie, Fontas, Martins; Walter, Mauri, Duke; Russell, Pulido, Salloi
Minnesota United possible starting lineup:
Miller; Kallman, Dibassy, Boxall, Raitala; Trapp, Rosales; Gregus, Dotson, Finlay; Hunou
We say: Sporting Kansas City 1-0 Minnesota United
The Loons have lost all five meetings versus Kansas City away from home, scoring only once in that span, and at the moment, they lack that little extra that separates the good teams from the great ones, and they are likely to be without their top playmaker and goalscorer once again.
KC know the importance of this match with Seattle upcoming, and Vermes and company recognize that this is their opportunity to take control of the Western Conference.
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