Major League Soccer

Sporting KC aims to clinch playoff berth vs. Minnesota

Sporting Kansas City has an opportunity to clinch its seventh straight playoff appearance with a victory over Minnesota United on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Sporting Kansas City (12-7-11, 47 points) is in a three-way tie for second place in the Western Conference with four matches left in the regular season. Sporting Kansas City is tied with Portland and Seattle, but SKC has two games in hand with those two clubs. The trio stands four points behind Vancouver, which has three games remaining.

Minnesota (10-16-5, 35 points) is in ninth place. The Loons still have a chance to make the playoffs in their inaugural season, but a lot of things have to fall into place for to happen. They must win all three remaining matches to give them 44 points. There are four teams battling for the final two playoff spots, all with 42 or 43 points.

Minnesota posted a 2-0 win over Sporting KC in the first-ever meeting between the two sides on May 7. SKC has responded with consecutive shutouts in Kansas City, including a 4-0 victory in U.S. Open Cup play.

"They're a very, very good team and I expect them to be at their best," Minnesota defender Jerome Thiesson said about SKC. "We know how they are at their best. We lost to them two times in Kansas. But we also have proven to ourselves that we can beat them. That will be our goal."

Minnesota's best chance is to grab an early lead. The Loons are 4-0-0 when leading at halftime this season but 0-10-3 when trailing at intermission. They have won three of the last four games, and are 5-4-1 in its last 10 games.

Sporting is coming off its first loss at home since May 2016, a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Vancouver. Sporting controlled possession and scoring opportunities, but Erik Hertado flicked the ball past Sporting KC Tim Melia for the only goal.

Now it's time to start a new streak, and there's plenty of motivation to start it in Minnesota, according to Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes. "We expect an incredibly competitive match," he said.

Sporting will be without three key players, as Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber are all with the U.S. men's national team in World Cup qualifying. "It becomes a little bit of a challenge because you lose a little bit of the continuity of your team," Vermes said. "But it's something we're used to doing. I'm not saying we like it, but we're used to doing it."

Minnesota faces a similar challenge, as regular starters Molino (Trinidad & Tobago) and Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica) join Michael Boxall (New Zealand), Johan Venegas (Costa Rica) and Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica) for World Cup qualifiers or friendlies abroad.

Updated October 6, 2017

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