Matchday 12 Preview: Sporting KC vs MNUFC

Matchday 12


AppleTV  | 1500 ESPN

We are three months into the 2023 MLS season which means it is [Partially Manufactured] Rivalry Week. This year’s edition of the Nicest Rivalry in Sports, aka the I-35 Derby (aka Sporks vs Floons), tops off a thrilling week of US Open Cup play in which Sporting Kansas City was bounced from the tournament by a 1-0 loss at Houston despite a man-advantage (following a red card to Always-A-Loon Chase Gasper in the 35′) while Minnesota United snagged a penalty shootout victory after dropping a lead [twice] to Philadelphia Union. SKC fans may be breathing a sigh of relief over their club’s exit as it removes a distraction at a time when every point and every break is desperately needed. MNUFC on the other hand has at least one more opportunity to test the waters with a constantly shifting squad and formation.

Though the Emanuel Reynoso narrative was refreshed by his return to Minnesota on Monday, little will change for the Loons in the short term. With MLS protocols to meet before clearing his suspension and rejoining the squad for training, it’s still a wait-and-see situation. As centerback Michael Boxall told the Pioneer Press, “The feeling around the team is no one really holds grudges here, so if he is willing to do the work, if he’s willing to work hard for the club and his teammates and for the fans and obviously make up for the last six months, then it’s something we need to see.”

In the meantime, the Loons need to redeem themselves a squad at Children’s Mercy Park. The first meeting with SKC in 2023 comes with both sides on a skid in MLS play. Sporting started the month with a surprise 2-1 win at Seattle, their first win all season and the first game in which they’d scored more than one goal. Their other three points came from three 0-0 draws in the first six weeks of the season. The club’s five goals in MLS play all came from different players – I-35 Derby trouble-maker Dániel Sallói scored the club’s first goal of the 2023 season against FC Dallas but hasn’t scored in league play since (He did contribute a goal in SKC’s 3-0 win against USL’s Tulsa in USOC Round 3). Minnesota has fared better with the workmen mentality but the Loons’ performance has dropped off after early success on the road.


MIN: 8th in the West, 12 pts., 3-4-3, Last five: L-W-D-L-W

Last game: USOC R4, May 9, MIN 3(7)-3(6) PHI // MLS, May 6, VAN 3-2 MIN

SKC: 14th in the West, 6 pts., 1-7-3, Last five: L-L-W-L-W

Last game: USOC R4, May 10, HOU 1-0 SKC // MLS, May 7, SEA 1-2 SKC

All-time head-to-head record: 4-6-9 (2-0-9 on the road)

Last meeting: September 17, 2022, SKC 4-1 MIN

What to watch

The Loons hope to carry the momentum of the USOC result into Kansas City. “We still need to find a way to keep the clean sheets,” Boxall explained. “We’re putting ourselves in the position to win games and then we’re finding ways to not see it out. To get the result is positive and then to play how we did for the majority of the game is another step forward, so we just need to put it all together.” Adrian Heath will likely return to some form of his 4-2-3-1 attack, 4-4-2 defensive hybrid to get the most out of his healthy players. The 3-5-2 used against Philadelphia proved a decent alternative but also highlighted the perennial lapses in midfield.

“We’re going to have to be mindful, certainly on the counterattacks because they’re very, very quick on the counterattack,” Heath noted. Regardless of how many players stay home in the midfield, the Loons’ biggest challenge in Kansas City will be maintaining possession in the central third and not giving away easy opportunities. “Let the back four have it, if we can stay compact and get us before we get into the game, and then assert our dominance later on,” suggested Boxall.

Who to watch

Bongokuhle (Bongi) Hlongwane asserted his dominance as a late substitute against Philadelphia, completing the gentleman’s hat trick with 2 goals and 1 assist. Bongi has appeared in every match this season, contributing 4 goals and 1 assist in all-comps. Whether Ménder García or Luis Amarilla start up top, Bongi seems to be bridge the gap between a loose midfield and Striker Island. While Amarilla is not listed as questionable, there is some doubt about his fitness after his early exit on Tuesday with a groin/adductor strain. A Bongi, García, and Rosales attack may be the Loons’ best bet in Kansas.

The biggest question mark, as always, is the midfield (Wil Trapp and Hassani Dotson? Dotson and Kervin Arriaga? All three? Robin Lod central or to the right? Arriaga on the wing?) but regardless of how they lineup, the midfield has been a carousel of names and roles this season and that’s unlikely to change. This makes the back four all the more important. The Boxall-Tapias pairing has been great against teams with rogue forwards, of which SKC has many. Whether it’s DJ Taylor or Zarek Valentin holding the wing opposite Kemar Lawrence, communication along the outside of the pitch will be key.

Only three players have started in all 11 matches for SKC this season: Sallói, Rémi Walter, and Erik Thommy. Alan Pulido, another key feature of the “Nicest Rivalry”, has yet to score in league play but did join Sallói on the board in the rout over Tulsa. The DP is slowly returning to fitness, starting in SKC’s last six matches and putting in long shifts in the last two, playing a full 90 against Montreal (April 29, 2-0 loss) and 85 at Seattle (May 7, 2-1 win). He’s on Heath’s mind: “The guy is a quality, quality player, and he’s proved in this league that when he’s fit and healthy, he can score goals.” SKC head coach Peter Vermes said, “[Pulido] loves the game. I think that’s a big part of the reason why he’s back and able to play like he does and he helps our team immensely.”

Sporting Kansas City shares a big attacking trait with Minnesota and it’s not a positive one. Poor finishing has plagued both squads but SKC’s is almost comical. The five goal scorers – Sallói, Pulido, Thommy, Johnny Russell, and William Agada – have sent in a total of 98 shots, with 41 of those on target (Thommy leads both categories with 36 and 15, respectively). All five featured in the win at Seattle and all were kept out of the USOC match against Houston, so the Loons will likely face the same Sallói, Pulido, Russell front three that started in Seattle. Dayne St. Clair will have to be quick to guard the target on the front of his shirt.




B. Dibassy – Thigh
R. Jiba – Knee
M. Marques – Ankle
E. Reynoso – Suspended





K. Ford – Achilles

K. Pierre – Hamstring

W. Agada – Stress fracture


T. Leibold – Hamstring

K. Shelton – Adductor