Two sides pushing toward the playoffs square off when Sporting Kansas City visit extremely short-handed Inter Miami on Saturday in the first-ever matchup between the clubs.
Lionel Messi will not play for Miami while he is on international duty with Argentina.
Kansas City (8-11-8, 32 points) sits two points shy of the playoff line in the Western Conference and can move into a playoff spot with a win and some help.
It’s an impressive turnaround for a club whose season began with a 10-match winless streak (0-7-3). They notched their first win on May 7 and have lost only four matches in the 17 since, going 8-4-5 in that stretch.
“What I think we always have is we have a very confident but humble group,” SKC coach Peter Vermes said. “They’re confident in what they do but there’s also humility within the group, and I think we have that. But I think they know the recipe that you need to get points at this time of the year.”
Forward Alan Pulido scored both goals in Sporting’s last match, a 2-1 win against St. Louis City. That brought Pulido’s season total to 12, tied for fourth in the league. It was his fourth brace in a stretch of 10 MLS matches, making him the first player in team history to realize such a feat.
Inter Miami (7-14-4, 25 points) enter the match with a tough hill to climb to make the playoffs. Sitting 14th in the Eastern Conference, they find themselves eight points behind ninth-place D.C. United, with four other teams between them.
Miami holds at least two matches in hand on all but one of the other clubs ahead of them, one of which is Saturday.
“Now more than ever we cannot slow down, we must keep battling as long as we are mathematically alive,” coach Tata Martino told the Miami Herald. “The important thing is for us to compete well and keep gaining points.”
They’ll have to do so without the spark provided by Messi, who is one of eight Miami players absent while they represent their national teams. That group also includes leading goal-scorer Josef Martinez.
Miami is 2-0-1 in MLS matches since Messi’s debut and riding an 11-match unbeaten streak across all competitions after opening the season as one of the worst teams in the league.
Miami has scored 30 goals across all competitions with Messi present, two more than they had in the previous 26 matches prior to his arrival.
“It will be a difficult match with so many national team players missing, including Leo, who is always a difference maker for us, not only with his goals and assists but how he plays,” midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “We have to step it up, prepare well, and hope to continue in the same way we have been playing to reach our objective.”
–Field Level Media