Kansas City, KS – The top two teams in Major League Soccer will do battle at Livestrong Sporting Park on Saturday as Sporting Kansas City attempts to protect its perfect start to the season against once-beaten Real Salt Lake.
Sporting became the third team in MLS history, joining the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1996 and 1998, to begin a season with five wins from five games after recording a 1-0 win over L.A.last weekend.
Both of those Galaxy teams went on to reach the MLS Cup final, something that Sporting is also hoping to replicate this season.
Peter Vermes has watched his team score eight times in those five games, but the real reason for his club's success is a defense that has yielded only one goal in that time.
Not only is Sporting keeping teams off the scoreboard, lately they are not even allowing goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to see a shot.
Nielsen has earned four clean sheets in five games this year but hasn't faced a shot on goal in an MLS-record 245 minutes.
He hasn't had to make a save in either of the club's last two games, and the last shot that made its way on goal went in as FC Dallas scored on a free kick in the 25th minute of its 2-1 defeat against Sporting in the third game of the season.
Getting such good defensive play is any goalkeeper's dream, but it also can make it tougher to stay in the game with such a lack of action.
"Last year, it was very simple for me to be in the game," Nielsen said. "This year, I have to prepare myself to be there for one chance, two chances the whole game. Last year, I probably had six or seven saves in each game."
Real Salt Lake is hoping to keep Nielsen busy on Saturday, but the club has an impressive defensive record of its own going into the game.
RSL has yielded four goals in six games but has kept clean sheets over the past two matches.
Since suffering its lone loss of the season, a 1-0 setback at home against Chivas USA, Salt Lake has run off three straight wins to move to the top of the Western Conference.
A subpar performance in a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact was followed by a much more complete effort against the Colorado Rapids, a game RSL won 2-0 to leave coach Jason Kreis pleased with the current state of his side.
"Three matches and nine points," Kreis said. "Two out of three extremely good performances - so we have to be pleased with where we are at right now."
Both teams are obviously very strong in the back but Kreis believes the battle in midfield could determine the outcome of Saturday's match and feels as though his side might need to approach the contest a bit differently.
"It's an interesting team," Kreis said in reference to Sporting. "It's a very disruptive team. They put a lot of players in your half of the field and try not to allow you to play, which can be difficult for us because we like to knock the ball around.
"We like to have possession for long stretches and against a team like Kansas City sometimes that's maybe not going to be possible. So it puts us into maybe another place, where we have to decide if we can play another way."
Unfortunately for MLS fans this will be the only meeting in the regular season between the two sides.
But at this point it isn't a stretch to imagine them meeting up again come playoff time.