Sporting Kansas City host deflated Portland Timbers on Wednesday with head coach Peter Vermes eager for his side to keep hold of top spot in the Western Conference.
Vermes’ side ended FC Dallas’ year-long unbeaten home run with a 2-0 victory on Saturday to remain a point clear of second-placed Seattle Sounders.
Sporting are in hot pursuit of a third first-placed finish in the West since 2018 and Vermes, in charge for each of those campaigns, has praised his players for their efforts so far.
“I’m very, very happy with the guys and happy for them and proud of them because I know that they want this,” he said. “They’re fighting for it.
“There are obviously a lot of good teams in this league and we’re just trying to compete with them. I appreciate what the guys have done. I appreciate the mentality.”
The Timbers are desperately clinging on to a playoff spot after collecting just four points from their last five matches, a run that includes a woeful 6-2 loss to Seattle Sounders last time out.
Portland need to pick themselves up on the back of that heavy defeat to their bitter rivals in this first of five successive road games.
“It’s difficult because when you play so well the way we did in the first half and part of the second half and then you see the score — it’s not good enough,” Giovanni Savarese said.
“It has to be much better. It has to be much better from every player, has to be much better from every staff member, has to be better from everyone, starting from me.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sporting Kansas City – Tim Melia
This Sporting side oozes quality throughout, not least in attack where their average of 1.84 goals per match is the second best in MLS.
But praise must also go to the improving backline, with keeper Melia keeping two successive clean sheets. Not since November last year have SKC kept three shutouts in a row.
Portland Timbers – Felipe Mora
Savarese’s side may be struggling for form, while only Toronto FC have conceded more goals in the entire MLS this term, but they do boast some game-changing players in their squad.
Top of that list is Mora, who registered his third assist of 2021 in the loss to Seattle to add to his six goals. He has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last three games.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Portland are unbeaten in five straight matches against Sporting Kansas City (W3 D2, including playoffs), including a 2-1 home win on June 19. Portland have won three of the last four against SKC after winning just three of the first 16 MLS matches against them (D6 L7, including playoffs).
– Sporting collected seven points during their three-match road trip, including a 2-0 win at Dallas on Saturday. Since the start of July, Sporting have collected 13 points in five away matches (W4 D1) and just one point in two matches at home (D1 L1).
– Portland’s 6-2 loss to Seattle marked the first time the Timbers have allowed six goals in an MLS match in club history (371st match, including playoffs and MLS is Back knockout matches).
– Daniel Salloi has recorded a goal and an assist in each of his last two appearances for Sporting Kansas City, the first player to do so for the club since Claudio Lopez in October 2008. No SKC player has ever done so in three straight MLS matches.
– The Timbers have lost three straight matches, and six of their eight (W1 D1) on the road this season. Portland have allowed multiple goals in five straight away matches, totalling 15 goals conceded in that time.