Seattle, WA- The second of the two Western Conference knockout round Matches is Sporting KC vs. Seattle Sounders. The last time these two teams met, Sigi Schmid was still the Seattle manager, and Nicolas Lodeiro was with Boca Juniors in their Copa Libertadores run. Now both of them are in different places and the Sounders will look to get into the Conference Semifinals. On the other side of the table, Sporting Kansas City looks to be getting back into top form just in time for the playoffs. It will be a tight affair at CenturyLink Field. We’re going to look at what each team needs to do to win, the projected lineups, and predictions for the match. Here. We. Go.
Sporting KC vs Seattle Sounders Preview
Sporting Kansas City Keys to Victory
For Sporting Kansas City to win against Seattle, they must be disciplined defensively. Recently, the San Jose Earthquakes had the Sounders on the back-foot for the majority of the game. They were disciplined on defense for the most part, but not all 90 minutes. A foul in a dangerous area gave Nico Lodeiro a free kick which equalized the match, 1-1. SKC did the same against the Houston Dynamo on September 9th in the dying minutes. They gave up two points on the ensuing goal, which could actually have them hosting this game. In recent weeks, Sporting KC’s defensive swagger has returned. Part of that has to do with Matt Besler’s recent play.
Besler got benched a few times during the run-in for Sporting KC. After putting in a good performance during his last national team call-up, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann questioned SKC head coach Peter Vermes as to why Besler wasn’t getting time with Sporting.
Vermes was fairly straight-forward about it.
“(Besler) needs to get back to being him, and doing what he does,” Vermes said.
Besler is the heart and soul of the backline, but Kevin Ellis, Saad Abdul-Salaam, and Seth Sinovic have done extremely well in the last few weeks to be disciplined. The overall effort from the team defensively has actually been on the rise in recent weeks and that is a good sign. Team defense is a significant part of Vermes’ philosophy. If the team does that, there is enough offensive firepower to score a couple goals. Disciplined defense most likely would mean a Sporting KC win.
Seattle Sounders Keys To Victory
Seattle will need to shut down Dom Dwyer if they want to win. While the main matchup to watch will be Ozzie Alonso and Benny Feilhaber, Dwyer and the Seattle backline will be interesting. The Seattle center back pairing isn’t very mobile, and Dwyer is full of pace. However, with only one forward, that leaves two center backs to help mark. If those two can do a good job of stifling Dwyer off and on the ball, Seattle has a good shot at pulling it out.
Offensively, Nicolas Lodeiro needs to get space. Sporting KC has an extremely heavy and high press. Quick passing moves to get them out of position and create space elsewhere will be necessary. Specifically for Lodeiro, he’ll need to stay away from Soni Mustivar and either Paulo Nagamura or Roger Espinoza‘s constant pressure when on the ball. Lodeiro is a magician, yes. Seattle hasn’t faced a team that does what Sporting does since, well, the last time they played Sporting. If Lodiero gets enough space, he should be able to do enough to create good chances. If they do that enough, they could easily win the match.
What To Watch For
Benny vs. Ozzie
Benny is one of the premier creative midfielders in MLS, and Ozzie is one of the premier d-mids in the league. Those two will lock horns for what is sure to be an intense 90 minutes of play. Frankly, if either one of these ends up winning this matchup, their team will most likely win. If Benny beats Ozzie, he’s pulling the strings everywhere and playing guys like Dwyer, Zusi, and maybe Jacob Peterson in all game long. If Ozzie wins? Benny isn’t creating anything, and Sporting are getting countered heavily with Alonso’s high quality distribution from deep.
Jacob Peterson has had a career year with Sporting this season. He actually seems to provide what many thought they would get out of Brad Davis. It’s not really fair to Davis, as he’s been plagued with injuries all season. But Peterson has been fantastic. His movement off the ball helps create things when teams bunker in on SKC’s relentless pressure.
If Peterson gets in the game, it could cause trouble. With SKC’s outside backs that like to bomb forward, you could see a guy like Peterson drifting a little more central. If he does this, he’s likely to draw another center back, leaving a little less attention on Dwyer. If they chose not to divert their attention to Peterson, he’ll have no problems placing a header in the back of the net. An injury kept him off the field the last two weeks, but Vermes said today that he’s ready to go for the playoffs.
I don’t think Seattle will deviate from what has worked for them. I would be shocked if Brad Evans didn’t play a role somehow in this match. As for Sporting, same thing. Don’t deviate from what works. If they are hard-pressed for a goal, they could go with Espinoza in central midfield, and take off Nagamura for Peterson. They could also do the reverse of that. Get an early goal and go the other route for defense. Still think Sinovic keeps his place over Medranda, especially with the match looming next Sunday, provided they win.
In Last Word’s All-Star Podcast, I predicted Seattle to get back into the playoff race, and here we are. While I’m incredibly impressed with their run to get back into contention, they seem to be slowing down recently. Sporting KC’s game plan is just not a good match for the way they try to play. They seemed to have difficulties with RSL on Sunday, and Sporting have looked miles better than that recently. We’ll see if Seattle can continue their ways. Sporting’s recent return to form will prove too much in my opinion. It will be a tight one, but I’ll take Sporting KC 2-1.