Minnesota United vs. Sporting Kansas City: Keys to the match, projected starting XI and a prediction

Minnesota United vs. Sporting Kansas City

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Allianz Field
Stream: Apple TV Season Pass
Radio: KSTP-AM 1500 ESPN
Weather: 75 degrees, sunny, 5 mph east wind
Betting line: MNUFC minus-135; draw plus-290; SKC plus-310

Form: MNUFC (7-3-4, 25 points) ended a six-game unbeaten run with a 2-0 loss at LAFC on Wednesday; the Loons’ offense was missing in action. Kansas City (2-8-5, 11 points) has lost six straight games, is winless in nine and sits in a last-place tie in the MLS Western Conference.

Last matchup: Sporting’s losing skid started with a 2-1 loss to MNUFC on April 27. The Loons were boosted by early goals from Michael Boxall and Tani Oluwaseyi in St. Paul, but held on after Alan Pulido scored in the 37th minute. Loons head coach Eric Ramsay was displeased in how his team was on the back foot for large stretches to finish the match.

Hot seat? SKC’s Peter Vermes is the longest-tenured coach in MLS, starting in 2009. But could that run be coming to an end? Fans at Children’s Mercy Park booed after Wednesday’s loss to Vancouver.

Quote: “We’re not getting results,” Vermes was quoted by the Kansas City Star. “You can play bad and win and nobody cares. But right now, we’re not getting the results. So, I understand the frustration.”

Context: Ramsay spoke to his players before Friday’s training session about the unique challenge in playing against a struggling team. “I think psychologically it’s a very difficult game,” he told reporters. “… On paper, they are not on a good run of form. We would far rather be in our position than theirs. … But you know those teams are dangerous. They can be wounded animals.”

Absences: Emanuel Reynoso (transfer to Club Tijuana) has left MNUFC for good. Hugo Bacharach (knee) and Alejandro Bran (international duty) are out. Franco Fragapane (leg) is doubtful; he missed the LAFC game.

Look-ahead: If MNUFC and Club Tijuana both advance to the knockout rounds of Leagues Cup this summer, there’s a chance Reynoso could play against his former club in the round of 16 or quarterfinals. Stars would have to align for that situation to occur.

Stats: The Loons are playing their third match in eight days Saturday, but only four players have played all 180 minutes across the previous two and 18 total players have taken the field. So the Loons should be pretty fresh.

Projected XI: In a 5-2-3 formation, LW Sang Bin Jeong, CF Tani Oluwaseyi, RW Bongi Hlongwane; CM Robin Lod, CM Wil Trapp; LB Joseph Rosales, CB Micky Tapias, CB Michael Boxall, CB Kervin Arriaga, RB DJ Taylor; GK Dayne St. Clair

Players to watch: Vermes made eight changes to SKC’s starting lineup midweek, but went with the front three of Alan Pulido, Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russel for 30 minutes. They only have six combined goals this season.

Shoutout: MNUFC will honor former center back Ike Opara at halftime of Saturday’s game. Opara won MLS defender of the year in 2017 with Kansas City and in 2019 with the Loons. He is now an assistant coach with Sporting Kansas City II.

Prediction: Both teams struggled to score midweek and that appears likely to continue Saturday. MNUFC could use a home win, especially with eight players to be away for international duties next weekend. Loons eke it out 1-0.