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#SKCvCHI Numbers and Words: A midwest meeting between conference contenders

MATCH INFO

 
Matchup Chicago Fire (11-4-5, 38 pts.) at Sporting Kansas City (8-4-9, 33 pts.)
Date Saturday, July 29 • 7:00 p.m. CT
Location Kansas City, Kan. • Children's Mercy Park
TV CSN Chicago Plus (Pregame Show: 6:30 p.m.)
Spanish Radio Univision América 1200 (WRTO)
Watch Party Heineken Pub97

The Chicago Fire's road trip resumes this weekend, as a pair of interconference contenders clash in Kansas City on Saturday night (7 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago Plus). The Fire will look to rebound from a loss at NYCFC last weekend, a result that snapped a string of 11-straight matches unbeaten in MLS play. They'll take on a Sporting Kansas City side that made headlines off-the-field this week with a blockbuster trade that could shake up their Western Conference campaign. Ahead of this weekend's midwest meetup, here are a few key facts, faces and figures to keep in mind:

Key number: 0.71

The Sporting defense is unequivocally the league's top performing unit from a statistical standpoint. Head coach Peter Vermes' side have conceded only 15 goals through 21 matches played, a total that averages out to an MLS-best average of 0.71 goals allowed per game. The Fire are no slouches in that category themselves, checking in at a healthy 1.05 goals allowed per game, good enough for the third-best average league-wide. For more on this weekend's matchup by the numbers, click here.

Matchup to watch: Nemanja Nikolic vs. Tim Melia

One is the league's leading goal-scorer. The other is the league's leader in clean sheets. After being held goalless in New York City last weekend, Nemanja Nikolic will surely be thirsty to find the back of the net and add to his 16-goal haul so far this season. Standing in his way will be Sporting net-minder Tim Melia, whose nine clean sheets are an MLS high. Melia also leads the league in save percentage (81.25%) among all 'keepers with at least two matches played this season. This is every bit an "unstoppable force meets an immovable object" scenario, and how this battle plays out will very likely determine who leaves Children's Mercy Park with three points on Saturday.

Hungarian Hello

Nikolic also has another reason to look forward to his visit to Sporting KC, where fellow Hungarian international Daniel Salloi has broken into a regular first-team role after beginning his time in the U.S. in SKC's Academy program. As Nikolic discussed earlier this week with the hosts of ExtraTime Radio, the meeting is likely to mark the first time that two Hungarians will square off in MLS. Nikolic has known Salloi and his family for some time, telling ETR that Salloi has "big potential to be a big player." Click here for the full interview and see how the two fare against one another Saturday night.

Looking Left 

Aside from dropping points on the road, the other notable outcome of last week's trip to NYCFC was the late scratch of Brandon Vincent from the starting XI due to a quad strain. Veljko Paunovic's midweek comments indicate that Vincent, who had played every competitive minute for the Fire this season prior to last Saturday, could miss a spell of time. Replacing Vincent's service going forward and bond with his teammates on the back line won't happen overnight, but Pauno will need someone -- be it Michael Harrington, Patrick Doody, Drew Conner or another option -- to step up in a tough environment Saturday night. 

One Big Question: Who takes on scoring responsibility for Kansas City?

Sporting were one half of a blockbuster trade this week, shipping forward Dom Dwyer to Orlando City on Tuesday afternoon in exchange for $400,000 in General Allocation Money, $500,000 in Targeted Allocation Money, and up to $700,000 in future Allocation Money. Dwyer has been one of the league's most consistent attackers in recent years, and had five goals to his name in 2017. KC will additionally be missing leading scorer Gerso Fernandes, who was suspended by MLS on Wednesday for a foul delivered in the club's most recent match against Real Salt Lake. Without their top two scorers, look for SKC to lean on the likes of Benny Feilhaber, Latif Blessing, and the aforementioned Salloi to generate scoring opportunities.

Quote of the Week:

After helping the United States Men's National Team capture the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Wednesday night, midfielder Dax McCarty returned to training on Friday and looks to be available for selection against Kansas City on Saturday. McCarty's stabilizing presence in the heart of the Fire midfield will be a welcome return to a side looking to reclaim the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Fire Field Vision powered by NovaCare:

From the Media Guide

  • The Fire hold a 26-14-11 all-time regular season record against Sporting Kansas City, including at 8-10-9 record in matches played on the road.
  • Fire defender Michael Harrington began his professional career when he was selected in the first round (third overall) of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft by the Kansas City Wizards after a standout collegiate career at the University of North Carolina. Harrington appeared in 149 regular season matches in Kansas City before joining the Timbers in 2013.
  • Sporting KC goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra spent the 2009-10 seasons as a member of the Fire, appearing in 17 games in the 2010 season.
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