Eastern Conference Showdown: Head-to-head breakdown of Sporting Kansas City vs. D.C. United

Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United face off in a massive game on Saturday night (MLS Live, 8:30 ET) that could ultimately decide who finishes first in the East and maybe even the Supporters' Shield. The editors at MLSsoccer.com break down how these teams match up and who will have the edge.

Category Edge Outlook

Goalkeepers

Since Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum went down to injury, Homegrown goalkeeper Jon Kempin has stepped in between the pipes for SKC and done an admirable job in two games in MLS and Open Cup competition. The problem is that the man he will be staring at across the field is in the middle of a career season. Bill Hamid made his first All-Star game appearance a few weeks back and is really coming into his own in his fifth professional campaign. In a couple more seasons there is no reason Kempin can't be as stellar as Hamid, but that time is not now. – BEN BAER

Defenders

They allowed the fewest goals in MLS in 2012 (27) and 2013 (30), and Sporting KC are once again leading the way defensively with 23 this season. With that in mind, and with Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin making up the league's best center-back pairing, this one goes to the Midwesterners. But not by much. D.C. United have only given up 26 goals this season themselves, and the backline rebuild with Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin providing veteran know-how and Steve Birnbaum and (right now) Taylor Kemp contributing young legs has paid off big time. Almost a push, but not quite. – ANDREW WIEBE

Midfielders

Perry Kitchen has quietly been one of the best defensive midfielders in the league this year, but he and his United teammates will have their hands full against a formidable Sporting KC midfield. Key man Benny Feilhaber played just 23 minutes in SKC’s trip to Nicaragua in the CCL on Tuesday, and don’t expect much drop-off from those who played even more than that – they call them “Sporting Fit” for a reason. – NICHOLAS ROSANO

Forwards

In their last 10 games in all competitions, Peter Vermes has only twice repeated a specific trio in attack. The only player to start in all but one game (that one coming in CCL) has been Dom Dwyer. Sporting KC have depth, allowing midfielders such as Graham Zusi and Toni Dovale to push up and feature alongside Dwyer in the attack. On the other side, the rotation of forwards in D.C. hasn't delivered the same consist output as in KC. But with Fabián Espíndola back into the picture, a pairing up top with Luis Silva threatens to really trouble that SKC backline. – DIEGO PINZON

Managers

Ben Olsen seemed like he was on thin ice during DC’s abysmal 2013 season, but he’s rebounded to become a Coach of the Year candidate in his fourth full season on the job. A player’s coach with a reputation for honesty with his players and the media, he’s thrived this season in part by adding savvy veterans like Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and Chris Rolfe, guys not too unlike Olsen when he was playing. Vermes, meanwhile, is a perennial candidate for the award every year these days, and has ascended into the upper echelon of bosses in the league. His 60 regular-season wins since the start of 2011 are equal to LA’s Bruce Arena, and second only to Seattle’s Sigi Schmid (61). – NICK FIRCHAU

Bench

Lewis Neal has also been a jack-of-all-trades for DC United, filling in wherever needed by Olsen, and Kofi Opare, fresh off his experience in LA, should provide some reliable defensive help. And while we don't really know who SKC will have on the bench with the amount of squad rotation Vermes has done this year, anybody he is likely to bring on can contribute in a big way. C.J. Sapong, Soony Saad, Jacob Peterson, Sal Zizzo, and Dovale have all been a big part of this team in 2014. Any of these players could change the game in an instant. – BEN BAER

Overall

I see all these Sporting KC crests, and there's really no choice but to give them the edge here. But I'm just not convinced it's as big a gap as this one-sided matchup suggests. You can argue Espindola, when healthy, has been MLS' best player in 2014 and his return changes the dynamic in D.C. Still, Sporting remain the Kings of the East until someone knocks them from their perch. Can Olsen and his gang do it at Sporting Park, where KC haven't exactly been dominant? If they can, we may be seeing the usurpers stake their claim. – ANDREW WIEBE