Five Things, presented by Keith + Associates Dentistry, is a weekly series on SportingKC.com that highlights the top storylines, players to watch and matchday programming ahead of each game throughout the season.
Unbeaten in five straight MLS matches, Sporting Kansas City (2-1-3, 9 points) hits the road Saturday for a Western Conference tilt with fellow MLS charter member San Jose Earthquakes. Kickoff at Avaya Stadium is set for 9 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.
Fans catching the action in Kansas City are welcome to attend the game’s official watch party at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District, featuring $4 Bud Light drafts, $5 Corona cans, and an all-you-can-eat buffet with bottomless domestic draft beers.
As Manager Peter Vermes’ side prepares for their California clash, here are five bits of insight surrounding Saturday’s showdown.
1. Keeping Pace
Sporting’s start to the MLS season—two wins, a loss and three draws—is nothing to be disappointed about, especially considering the fact that Vermes’ men have coped with the fixture congestion that comes with the Concacaf Champions League. But now that Sporting’s run in the continental tournament is over, the club can shift its entire focus on the domestic campaign.
Saturday marks the first time all year that Sporting have had a full week to prepare for a game. And while the season remains young, claiming three points on Saturday feels imperative when you take a look at the Western Conference table. LAFC, Seattle, Houston and the LA Galaxy have all enjoyed scintillating starts to 2019. Sporting will undoubtedly want to keep pace, knowing that the single-elimination format of the new playoff system puts extra importance on high seeding come October.
2. The Wunderkind
Gianluca Busio continues to light the MLS world on fire. The 16-year-old has scored in three straight league games and on Sunday became the first Sporting player, regardless of age, to bag a game-tying goal in consecutive MLS matches. The Sporting KC Academy product is one of three players in MLS history to have four career goals before his 17th birthday.
Can Busio make it four on the trot against San Jose? Only two other players in club history have scored in four consecutive MLS matches, and they happen to be Kansas City’s top two scorers of all time: legendary playmaker Preki and now-departed striker Dom Dwyer.
3. Growing Pains
Let’s not sugar-coat it: the Earthquakes have been Major League Soccer’s worst team since the start of 2018. Their 5-26-9 record over the last two seasons tells you just about everything you need to know.
However, the Quakes are under new guidance this season and have shown recent signs of developing into a formidable team. First-year head coach Matias Almeyda, who guided Liga MX side Chivas de Guadalajara to the 2018 Concacaf Champions League title, has implemented a high-pressure, man-marking scheme that helped yield a recent 3-0 home win over the Portland Timbers. The Quakes ranking in the top five in MLS in both possession and interceptions illustrates the effects of this approach. Despite a 1-5-0 record, San Jose poses a threat through the likes of attackers Danny Hoesen and Cristian Espinoza, the latter of whom played for Argentine giant Boca Juniors from 2017-2018.
4. Quaking in Their Boots
Recent history in the series belongs to Sporting, who are 5-0-1 in their last six regular season meetings against the Quakes. This stretch includes a 3-2 home win last March and a 5-1 thumping at Avaya Stadium last September that saw Gerso Fernandes explode for two goals and two assists. San Jose’s last win over Sporting came by a 1-0 scoreline in April 2016
5. Wondo Watch
Now in his 10th season with the club, San Jose legend Chris Wondolowski is two goals away from breaking Landon Donovan’s all-time MLS regular season scoring record. The 36-year-old Wondolowski, who has hit double-digit goals every year since 2010, has 144 career goals to his name but has yet to open his 2019 account. Sporting will have every intention of keeping it that way as Wondo takes his shot at dethroning Donovan atop the scoring charts.
Keith + Associates Dental Fact
The elephant grinds its molars and grows new ones six times in a lifetime. An elephant’s molar is about seven inches square and can weigh over six pounds.