Sporting Kansas City are looking to end a frustrating season on a high note, and much of that is down to an improved defensive grit.
Kansas City have not lost in five games, winning three of those and conceding only three goals across their unbeaten streak.
It is a run that, ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Minnesota United, leaves Sporting in 12th place in the Western Conference.
They would need a miracle to qualify for the playoffs, but coach Peter Vermes was hugely impressed with how his team defending in the midweek win over D.C. United.
“I thought that the group was actually really good. I thought they dealt with the majority of stuff with [Christian] Benteke, who obviously is a top striker,” Vermes said.
“They did a really good job of knowing when to challenge him in the air or cover. They also were smart in the way that they tackled him because at times he can get the leverage on you just because of his size. We did a really good job in that regard, for sure. And then I also think in the air, in and around the box on set pieces, we actually did a pretty good job.”
Minnesota, meanwhile, would have to endure an end-of-season collapse in order to not make the playoffs.
The Loons are without a win in four games, but after a draw with Los Angeles FC, coach Adrian Heath feels his side can get the job done.
He said: “We’ve got three games left. If we win two of the games, that’ll probably put us in the top four. Another win might put us in the playoffs.
“Before the season started, that was the aim. Now, we’ve got ourselves in a position where we’ve got to go and win at least one of the games that we’ve got left.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sporting Kansas City – Khiry Shelton
Khiry Shelton scored his first goal of the season in Sporting’s win over D.C. on Tuesday. The goal ended a run of 23 straight regular season matches without a goal for Shelton, who had not previously gone more than 13 appearances without a goal since debuting in the league in 2015.
Minnesota United – Brent Kallman
Brent Kallman scored for the Loons against LAFC, and the defender is hoping to add more goals to his portfolio, saying: “It felt really good. Every time there’s an attacking set piece, I have the belief that it’s going to come my way, so I try to stay ready.”
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Sporting Kansas City has won all six of its regular season home matches against Minnesota, outscoring the Loons by a total of 15-1. The lone playoff meeting between the sides at Children’s Mercy Park, however, was a 3-0 Minnesota victory in 2020.
– Sporting Kansas City’s 3-0 win over D.C. United on Tuesday was its fourth straight home win after winning just three of its first 11 at home this season (D2 L6).
– This is Sporting’s longest home winning streak in over five years, since recording six straight home wins in March-June 2017.
– Minnesota United ended a three-match losing streak on Tuesday with a 1-1 draw against LAFC. The four-match winless run equals the longest for Minnesota this season as the Loons haven’t gone five regular season games in a row without a win since July-August 2020 (D2 L3) including MLS is Back.
– Minnesota will be without Emanuel Reynoso due to yellow card accumulation on Saturday. Since joining the club in September 2020, Minnesota has won 43.5 per cent of matches in which Reynoso has played (30/69) but just 20 per cent when he does not (2/10).