New on Sports Illustrated: Sporting Kansas City-Minnesota United Preview

August 20, 2020 at 03:06AM

As MLS continues its resumption of the regular season, the top two teams in the Western Conference standings are set to square off.

Sitting atop the West, Sporting Kansas City visits second-place Minnesota United FC on Friday night.

After missing the playoffs last season, Kansas City (4-1-0) has responded nicely during this unique 2020 campaign, and currently holds a one-point advantage over Minnesota (3-0-2) as the regular season resumes for both teams. Though neither club was able to win the recent MLS Is Back Tournament, the focus to continue their respective overall success will commence at an empty Allianz Field in St. Paul.

These teams met in the Florida tournament, with Minnesota winning 2-1 in the opening of group play on July 12. But, Allianz might be one of the great home pitches in the league, beginning and ending with the "Wonderwall." Minnesota is 2-0-2 against Kansas City at home during the all-time series, but without fans in the stands, it's uncertain if that unbeaten run will continue.

Add in the fact that star defender Ike Opara is reportedly expected to miss this contest for undisclosed reasons after sitting out the tournament and goalkeeper Tyler Miller is done for the season following hip surgery, the challenge might be greater for the Loons on Friday.

Still, Minnesota remains a confident group, regardless of the circumstances.

"I (came out of the tournament) disappointed (after losing to Orlando City in the semifinals) ... but I'm deeply excited about where we can go in this regular season," forward Ethan Finley told Minnesota's official website. "We set ourselves up in a good spot."

Sporting lost 3-1 to Philadelphia in the event's quarterfinals, but also feels good about where it stands as play resumes.

"Just try to prepare ourselves for the rest of the season, the best way possible," forward Johnny Russell told Kansas City's official website. "But this actually feels like we're getting back in our league. We're certainly in a great position. We want to capitalize on that and keep pushing."

Khiry Shelton and Alan Pulido have combined for seven of Kansas City's 14 goals over all competitions this season. Pulido assisted on Shelton's goal in the loss to Minnesota, which featured a Shelton own goal that leveled the contest in stoppage time.

Kevin Molino's goal in the seventh minute of stoppage time gave the Loons the victory. Molino has a team-leading three goals in 2020.

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