Sporting Kansas City has used defense to climb atop the Western Conference standings. First-year expansion team Minnesota United has only recently figured out how to play defense.
Sporting KC (5-1-3) has surrendered an MLS-low three goals this season, and while the Loons (2-5-2) have given up a league-worst 25, they have allowed only one goal in the last two matches.
The teams meet on Sunday at TDF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Minnesota United has split 1-0 results the last two weeks, a home win over Colorado and a loss at San Jose.
United coach Adrian Heath was hoping to capitalize on the Loons’ 2-1-1 start to April and called the shutout loss a “wake-up call” to his players.
“It’s disappointing, considering the momentum that we’ve had in the last three or four weeks,” Heath told the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press.
“I wanted a little bit of more energy, I’m sorry,” Heath told the paper. “I thought the two young’uns came out and gave us that. They gave their teammates a lift. They gave the crowd a lift. That’s what we expect.
“I support my players — always will. … But I expect certain things in return, and I thought that we were a little bit lacking in certain parts (Saturday) evening.”
Looking to spark his offense, Heath brought in Ismaila Jome, who was making his MLS debut, and rookie Abu Danladi.
The season’s first nine weeks have been steady for Sporting KC. Coach Peter Vermes has made only one change to his starting lineup.
But that could change this week for a team playing for the third time in eight days.
“It’s going to be about taking inventory with the guys to see where they are and then I’ll make a decision on what the lineup is,” Vermes told the Kansas City Star after a midweek win over the New York Red Bulls.
“What I’ll tell you … is the guys that are on our roster, whether it’s the guys that started (Wednesday) or not, we have confidence in those guys.”
Kansas City’s 2-0 win on Wednesday came four days after a 3-0 over Real Salt Lake.
“There is no doubt it’s a quick turnaround,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber told the Star. “This time we are playing away from home, so it’s even a little different situation. “But everyone can play on this team, and everybody will, so it’s about being ready.”
Feilhaber, who missed two matches because of a leg injury, is the only starter to miss a game this season.
Sporting KC has given up only one goal — in its only loss this season on April 22 at Dallas — in its last four games and has six shutouts, most in MLS.
“I think there was a good vibe in the preseason about what we were gonna be like this year. It’s coming to fruition, little by little,” Feilhaber said. “But I think everybody has a good sense about how early it is in the season. There’s a lot of season left.”
Kansas City will be in Orlando for a Saturday match that begins another three-games-in-eight-days stretch.
Minnesota United will be on the road for its next match in Toronto on Saturday.