Sporting Kansas City-Minnesota United Preview
Still looking to secure its first playoff berth in franchise history, Minnesota United again tries to get the job done Wednesday night when it hosts Sporting Kansas City.
The Loons (14-10-7) are third in the West on 49 points, one point out of second and five clear of San Jose and Portland with three matches remaining. A victory in this match and a failure by both the Earthquakes and Timbers to match that result would put Minnesota through to the postseason for the first time.
Adrian Heath's side was unable to seal the deal this weekend in the Pacific Northwest, though United did take home a point after a scoreless draw at Portland on Sunday. Vito Mannone finished with a single-game, club-record 12 saves and got some help from the woodwork as the Timbers struck the goal post and the crossbar over the course of the match.
"I think he saved the ones (that) he should've saved but we needed him," Heath said of Mannone to the club's official website. "At times, I thought his ball handling was exceptional because it was a little bit greasy out there today. He was very, very good for us in big moments. When you go on the road at places like this, you know your goalkeeper is always going to have to play well and I thought he did."
The back line is a concern for this match, with Ike Opara questionable after being lifted at halftime Sunday. The Loons were already thin in defense following the 10-match suspension of defender Brent Kallman for violating the league's PED policy, with the ban having started Sunday.
Minnesota is unbeaten in its last 11 at Allianz Field in all competitions (9-0-2) and conceded 14 goals while going 12-1-5 in its new digs.
Sporting Kansas City (10-14-7) needs to win its final three matches and get plenty of help to overcome a seven-point gap between itself and the seventh and final playoff spot in the West. Sporting, though, have picked the worst possible time for their defense to come undone as they have shipped 12 goals during a current three-match losing streak.
They raced to a two-goal lead inside the first quarter-hour Saturday at home versus Colorado, but Matt Besler's second booking in the 20th minute changed the entire complexion of the match. The Rapids got a late first-half goal from ex-Sporting striker Kei Kamara before a weary 10-man Kansas City squad conceded twice in the final quarter-hour for a damaging 3-2 defeat.
Sporting have struggled all season to close out matches, with the 18 goals allowed in the final quarter-hour tied for the most in the MLS.
"We were in control of the game. Even when we were down a man, we played hard. We tried," coach Peter Vermes said. "Obviously, some of the situations - they happen. It's not for a lack of trying. Sometimes when you're not confident in certain areas, things don't go your way. It doesn't help when you go down a man.
"We haven't been the best at keeping the ball out of the back of the net this year. And so it wasn't like that was a strong point at that moment and we had to do that. We did a good job for a good stretch of time but not long enough."
Besler will sit out this match to serve his red card suspension, putting further stress on a defense that has given up 57 goals, better than only Colorado in the Western Conference.
Sporting are trying to do the double over Minnesota after Erik Hurtado's goal in the 88th minute proved decisive in a 1-0 victory Aug. 22. The Loons, though, are unbeaten in their last four at home (2-2-0) in the series after cruising to a 4-1 win in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup in June.
Updated September 23, 2019