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Dallas, Sporting KC set for Western Conference No. 1 battle

Oct 6, 2018; Frisco, TX, USA; FC Dallas midfielder Victor Ulloa (8) celebrates his goal against the Orlando City SC with FC Dallas forward Maximiliano Urruti (37) at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

FRISCO, Texas — FC Dallas has full control of its destiny entering Sunday’s match against top-of-the-table rival Sporting Kansas City and will look to clinch a bye in the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Dallas is sitting on 57 points, one point ahead of SKC. The two have met twice this season, both matchups at Children’s Mercy Park. Sporting KC defeated Dallas 3-2 in the U.S. Open Cup on June 16, but Dallas came back — led by a Michael Barrios hat trick — and knocked them off 3-2 July 28.

A win for Dallas this time means the team will have a first-round bye in the playoffs, avoiding the midweek knockout round matches. The win combined with an LAFC loss against Vancouver, and FCD takes the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. If FCD draws or loses, it will have to wait until Decision Day Oct. 28 to find out its playoff future.

Head coach Oscar Pareja isn’t focused on the other scenarios. He knows with a win, his team is in the driver’s seat.

“Huge,” Pareja said when asked how important a bye would be for his team. “Huge. It is very important just to skip that match in the middle of the week.”

Many consider Houston as Dallas’ biggest rival, but in terms of competitiveness and on-the-field battles, Sporting Kansas City is up there as one the team’s toughest opponents. In the last 10 matches, FCD’s record against SKC is 4-5-1 in all competitions. With the teams being located in the same geographic region, the pair is often selected for U.S. Open Cup matches, adding to the intensity of the matchup.

“I think we see that rivalry,” midfielder Victor Ulloa said. “We see them a lot because, obviously, they’re in our conference. It’s been a team that we’ve always been competitive with. We got our first win at their home and we know they’re coming with everything, trying to take our spot in the standings. It can’t be a bigger game in the season. We’re prepared and we’re ready to fight for those three points.”

The team was without key players Carlos Gruezo and Reggie Cannon for its last match against D.C. United, which resulted in a 1-0 loss at Audi Field. Both are back and are expected to be fit and ready to play for Sunday.

“SKC is a very special team,” Cannon said. “They got everything locked down.  I think they have a very strong defensive third and have very strong attacking players, with Danny Salloi, Russell and all those guys. You have concrete players like Opara and all them back there. I think it’s going to be a very tough game. It’s always a battle of the conference champs, with LAFC right behind. SKC has always been a special team, and you can tell with the record away, they’re so much better at home. I think away, they’ll start to break down a little bit. We’ll see what happens when they come here.”

The D.C. loss had to be put in the rearview mirror quickly after FCD allowed a late goal to midfielder Russell Canouse, the result of a scrappy play. Coach Óscar Pareja was pleased with his team’s performance despite the result.

“When I see the results of the games, I have that bitter taste of not getting the points,” Pareja said. “But I saw the team and what they did, and I just keep working fresh. It’s going to be fine. Obviously, not getting the points was disappointing, and also the outcome of the game was very awkward; That play, after missing that many chances. The players are good and they’re they’re leading, still.”

With everything at stake during this match, plus the added hype and fanfare surrounding it due to Saturday’s National Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the game isn’t exactly a normal one. However, Pareja insists this match is no different from the last.

“If you put all the context and the things around [the game] for what it means, you may say that, yeah. It’s a very important match,” Pareja said. “If you ask me, I don’t see any difference between yesterday and today. My approach in life is the same. The games for me, since I started playing this game, I don’t recognize any game that I was less nervous for or less responsible. Every game is the same.”

Match Information:

Where: Toyota Stadium (Frisco, Texas)

When: Oct 20, 4:00 PM CST

Broadcast: TXA 21; Radio- FCDallas.com/Radio (English), 1270 AM (Spanish)

Stream: ESPN+

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