(September 28, 2012) - Sporting Kansas City hosts the Chicago Fire at 7:30 p.m. CT tonight at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park with the team's first opportunity of the season to secure a berth in the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs (scenarios below). Sporting KC will look to defend its lead atop the Eastern Conference against a Fire side two points back entering the final month of the regular season.
The match is sponsored by Mainstreet Credit Union and the first 15,000 fans into LIVESTRONG Sporting Park will receive a complimentary Sporting Kansas City koozie courtesy of the match sponsor. A limited number of tickets for tonight's match are still available and can be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com and at the LSP Box Offices.
The week's marquee match-up in MLS will be nationally televised on the NBC Sports Network with JP Dellacamera and Brian Dunseth live in Kansas City, Kan. Radio coverage will also be available locally on La Gran D 1340 AM (Spanish) and Sports Radio 810 WHB (English), whose coverage begins at 7:15 p.m. CT and continues with the Final Whistle: Sporting KC Postgame show.
Sporting Kansas City leads the Eastern Conference with 55 points, two shy of the all-time club record set in 2000, with four games remaining in the regular season. Sporting KC can become the first team in the East to qualify for the postseason, if any of the following scenarios occur:
Sporting Kansas City wins vs. Chicago Fire on Friday, OR
Columbus Crew lose to Philadelphia Union on Saturday, OR
Sporting Kansas City tie vs. Chicago Fire on Friday AND
Columbus Crew tie vs. Philadelphia Union on Saturday OR
Houston Dynamo lose to New England Revolution on Saturday
Sporting Kansas City is unbeaten in the team's last eight matches, the longest streak in MLS this season, and has not allowed a goal in 211 minutes for the second longest active shutout streak. Captain Jimmy Nielsen, a 2012 MLS All-Star, leads the top-ranked defense in Major League Soccer with a 0.83 goals against average, 13 shutouts and 16 victories, all of which lead MLS.
Sporting Kansas City has limited opponents to 25 goals through 30 games, fewest of all 19 MLS teams, and also lead the League with 286 shots against and 88 shots on goal allowed this season.
Manager Peter Vermes will be without forward Jacob Peterson while he serves a mandatory one-game suspension for the red card he received in the club's scoreless draw at Montreal, but will have midfielder Roger Espinoza available following his absence last weekend due to caution accumulation.
The two clubs, tied for the most wins in the Eastern Conference, will face off for the third and final time during the regular season, with Chicago earning one-goal wins in each of the previous two meetings. The Fire came from behind in a 2-1 win at Toyota Park in May, scoring twice and playing up a man in the final 30 minutes, and manufactured a 1-0 victory at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in June.
Chicago has been among the most active clubs in MLS with eight roster moves since the teams last played. Frank Klopas loaned out Designated Player Federico Puppo and Orr Barouch, while transferring Marco Pappa, the club's third-leading scorer in team history, and Rafael Robayo. Reinforcements have come in the addition of Designated Players Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald, along with a trade for six-year MLS veteran Wells Thompson and the deadline-day acquisition of former Mexico international Guillermo Franco earlier this month.
The Fire hold the advantage with a 23-10-9 all-time record in the series, including a 8-7-7 mark in Kansas City where the club is unbeaten over a span of six games dating back to 2008. Chicago's five road wins in 2012 rank second most in the East behind Sporting KC, who are 8-3-4 at home on the year.
The visitors enter tonight's match victorious in each of their last four, and seven of their last eight, with an offense that has scored two or more goals in eight straight. Forward Chris Rolfe, who returned from overseas earlier this year, scored both goals in the team's 2-1 win over Columbus last Saturday. Over the last two months, no player in MLS has more goals than Rolfe with seven dating back to July 28th.
LIVESTRONG Sporting Park will host Breast Cancer Awareness Night in conjunction with tonight's match. Sporting Kansas City will be the first amongst all MLS clubs this year to take part in the annual MLS W.O.R.K.S. initiative by raising awareness and funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Additionally, Braden's Hope will be selling the organization's 2013 Year of Hope calendar, featuring Sporting KC players and childhood cancer survivors, in the Sprint Plaza prior to the game. All proceeds go toward raising awareness and funding research in the effort to find treatments and cures for childhood cancers.
Immediately following the match, Boulevard Brewing Company will host a launch party for their Bob's '47 Oktoberfest seasonal in the LSP Members' Club.
Sporting Kansas City supporters can follow tonight's game online via @SKCGameday on Twitter and the MLSSoccer.com MatchCenter, or on mobile devices with Sporting Explore and MLS MatchDay apps.