Sporting Kansas City has turned the corner after some midseason doldrums and the Portland Timbers look to follow that template, beginning when the two sides square off on Saturday evening in a crucial Western Conference matchup at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
After a run of ragged play and a series of losses, Sporting Kansas City (11-6-6, 39 points) appears to have found its mojo again with back-to-back wins, most recently beating Los Angeles FC on the road on Aug. 11 to move into second place in the West standings, three points behind frontrunner FC Dallas.
Conversely, the Timbers (10-5-7, 37 points) have dropped consecutive games for the first time since the opening two weeks of the season. There are still just two points separating the two sides in the standings, and a win by Portland could flip those positions.
Gerso Fernandes and Illie Sanchez scored the goals for Sporting in its 2-0 win over LAFC, the latter on a penalty kick after Felipe Gutierrez was fouled in the box.
“It was important for us to get some points here,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said after the win in Los Angeles. “The fact that we got three points - those are big for us.”
Sporting’s Ike Opara made the defensive play of the match in the win over LAFC and said afterward that defense is what’s made the difference for his side after it went more than a month without a victory.
“We set an attitude out over the last couple of weeks to be better defensively,” Opara said. “We put ourselves in really good positions, we just didn’t make any plays in the month of July.”
Portland got off to a solid start, but conceded just before halftime and surrendered three more unanswered goals in a 4-1 midweek loss to D.C. United at Audi Field. Samuel Armenteros scored for the Timbers in the 35th minute but Portland was flat, especially on defense, in the second half.
“In the second half, maybe the guys didn’t come in with the right mentality,” Portland coach Giovanni Savarese said. “At the end, it’s my responsibility - my fault - so I take full blame of this defeat. We have to continue to work.
“We’ll bounce back,” Savarese said after the loss to D.C. United, “And now we have a tough match against a good team that has some good momentum, as well.”
This is the second meeting this season, with the teams playing to a 0-0 draw on June 9 at Providence Park. Sporting KC owns a 6-3 edge all-time against the Timbers, with four draws, and a 2-1 advantage in league matches played in Kansas City, with two ties, including a 1-1 draw on July 1, 2017 in the most recent match played in Kansas.
—Field Level Media