(Aug. 20, 2020) — Major League Soccer’s anticipated return to home markets delivers a scintillating showdown right off the bat as Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City (4-1-0, 12 points) visit second-place Minnesota United FC (3-0-2, 11 points) on Friday at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The newest chapter of this blossoming Midwestern rivalry will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT with three hours of live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO beginning at 6 p.m. CT. Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM will also provide local radio calls of the action, with The Final Whistle postgame show airing immediately afterward on 810 WHB. Supporters can access the Sporting KC app for additional in-game updates and exclusive offers and click here to join a virtual watch party for the match.
The first five months of an unprecedented MLS campaign saw Sporting and Minnesota play five regular season matches apiece. Both clubs raced to 2-0-0 starts in early March prior to a lengthy suspension of play, which preceded the historic MLS is Back Tournament last month at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Sporting met Minnesota in the team’s group stage opener on July 12 and took a 1-0 first-half lead through forward Khiry Shelton, but the Loons struck twice in second-half stoppage time to snatch a 2-1 victory. Minnesota finished second and Group D and progressed to the tournament semifinals, while Sporting beat the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake to finish atop the group before ultimately falling to the Philadelphia Union at the quarterfinal stage.
Friday marks the beginning of a fast and furious run of matches through the end of the regular season. All MLS clubs will play 18 more times between now and Decision Day on Nov. 8 to conclude the 23-game regular season. The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, featuring an expanded field of 18 teams, are slated to begin on Nov. 20 and culminate with the 25th MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
Under the guidance of 12th-year Manager Peter Vermes — the longest tenured head coach in MLS — Sporting is off to one of its best starts in recent memory. The club boasts a plus-8 goal differential, tied for the best in MLS, and its 13 goals scored are the most through the first five matches of a regular season in club history.
Key offseason additions Alan Pulido (three goals, four assists) Khiry Shelton (three goals, one assist) and Gadi Kinda (two goals, two assists) have played instrumental roles for one of the league’s most potent attacks. On the opposite end of the pitch, Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia currently boasts a 316-minute regular season shutout streak dating back to Feb. 29, the longest active run in the league.
Similarly, head coach Adrian Heath and Minnesota are enjoying the best start to a campaign in the club’s four-year existence. The Loons remain unbeaten in regular season play and have 12 goals through five matches, all of which have taken place away from home. Midfielder Jan Gregus is tied for second in MLS with four assists, while Kevin Molino (two goals), Luis Amarilla (two goals) and Ethan Finlay (two goals) have provided a clear scoring punch.
Sporting and Minnesota have battled on 13 occasions since the Loons joined MLS in 2017, with Vermes’ side holding a 5-4-2 record across all competitions. The teams split the regular season series in 2019 — Sporting prevailed 1-0 at Children’s Mercy Park last August and Minnesota claimed a 2-1 home win a month later — prior to locking horns in the MLS is Back Tournament this summer. Sporting are winless in five previous trips to Minnesota in all competitions and will aim to end that drought in the Loons’ 2020 home opener.
Despite their strong position in the standings, Minnesota is currently faced with a pair of defensive injury concerns. Former Sporting center back and reigning MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara will miss the game with an undisclosed injury, while starting goalkeeper Tyler Miller recently underwent hip surgery and is out for the season. In Miller’s absence, newcomer Greg Ranjitsingh will likely get the nod between the posts. The 27-year-old won consecutive USL Championship titles with Louisville City FC in 2017 and 2018 prior to joining Orlando City SC in the MLS ranks last year.
Midfielder Felipe Gutierrez is the only Sporting player ruled out on Friday. The club’s top scorer from 2019 had successful knee surgery in June and will be sidelined for the rest of the season.