What's one of the best ways to give yourself a worse shot at winning? Get your top players suspended. That's what KC decided to do. While the Sounders were out blowing out Vancouver, twice, the Wizards lost to a 10-man Houston side and got Matt Besler and Benny Feilhaber suspended for today's game. Neither player left the game thinking that they were not on accumulation. Peter Vermes has not screamed publicly that the system is rigged or anything. They knew full well that they wanted to weaken their side (or at least we can say they feel that way). KC is already without Ike Opara and Roger Espinoza due to injuries and may be without Amobi Okugo and starting keeper Tim Meila who both missed training but it could be for fatigue reasons as well. Overall what does this mean?
The Sounders will not have to score in the 90+ in order to win this one. They should handily beat up a side missing their MVP, best defender, second best CM, and playing a shoestring backline. They've never showed much interest in not fouling and since switching to a 4-3-3 with Marcel de Jong up top have even more reckless abandonment.
San Jose went into KC about a month and a half ago and blew them out 5-0, after that match things have only gotten worse for the Wizards, going 1-4-1 (W-L-D) after that game. Graham Zusi is playing nothing like the player that earned a DP contract and Dom Dwyer has come back to earth after last season's goalapalooza with only nine goals in 22 matches.
Unlike most scouting reports there's honestly not much to tell you about, it is expected that Peter Vermes tries to experiment, so here's a bit of the options.
Replacing Matt Besler-
Vermes could go with a like for like and replace him with Erik Palmer-Brown, the mostly likely solution. This wouldn't be flashy and definitely makes the squad weaker but it keeps them within their traditional tactics. If they change too much it could through everything off. Saad Abdul-Salaam is another option at going like-for-like but again leaves a lot of risk as he is weaker than Palmer-Brown.
2nd option- Seth Sinovic could be slide inside and Bernando Anor starts out left. This would be like playing Dylan Remick at CB, not a good solution for them but great for us. The Clintfemi/Hydra/ValdezSchitz combo would have a field day most likely.
Experimental Option- Go to a five-man backline. Combine the solutions, either put both Abdul-Salaam and Palmer-Brown in next Ellis or slide one in and Sinovic over, putting Anor at left back. Vermes has been known to tinker and the Sounders have seen extreme changes from clubs with CB issues, like Toronto's three-man backline.
Replacing Benny Feilhaber-
This is much easier said than done as Feilhaber has been KC's MVP this year. Ten goals and 14 assists in 28 matches this year. He is what makes the side tick. Playing traditionally on the left side of the midfield trio, he's been one of the best CMs in the league this year and his absence will be known. The Wiz have yet to get a result in a game where Benny has not started. His most likely replacement is Mikey Lopez sliding into the lineup. The 22-year old would be making his third start and fourth appearance if he did that. He would not be any help offensively, getting off a whopping one shot in 212 minutes this year. Graham Zusi in any case is going to take on the entirety of the build up play, whether he sits in the midfield or up top as a winger, he'll be in charge.
2nd Option- Slide Zusi back into the midfield and start Jacob Peterson. This is a pretty likely solution as well, it would shift Zusi to the left instead of his preferred right or move Pablo Nagamura to the right. This would lead to weaker defensive posture with Zusi in the midfield as he has a tendency to stay forward and have less than 100% hustle getting back on D. The midfield battle would be lost easily by KC in this as well and would require Zusi to start counters for any offensive rhythm. With Mikey Lopez, they would have more hope to hold possession, requiring less counters.
Experimental Options- Moving into a 4-5-1, forcing de Jong and Zusi to sit back deeper. Sporting would sit back and only counter. Dom Dwyer would play as a target forward instead of nuisance running at the backline. The counter would be the only offensive option but by sitting so far back, it would take much more to effectively start one especially with the lack of speed in comparison to Oniel Fisher and the experience of Ty Mears.
If they pair the five-man backline idea from before they would then sit in a 5-4-1 or 5-2-3 formation, causing the same effect but using just Mustivar and Nagamura to do all the defense (like starting Zusi and Peterson in option two) but they would have an extra CB to make up for that. Probably the best solution defensively and to get Zusi free to just attack but also an unlikely one from Vermes.
I think Vermes decides that it is too risky to experiment against the Sounders, who are 3-1-0 in MLS play and are coming off back to back 3-0 wins over Vancouver, who went into them as top of the shield race. His side played themselves into a corner with cards and a lack of discipline and while we see the exact thing from them today (because they learn NOTHING), we won't see a crazy change.
It'll be the primary option with Erik Palmer-Brown coming in for Besler. He'll look scared and like a U20 the whole time. He'll get beat and beat often. Tim Meila will have to stand on his head to have a chance but it is what they'll have to do.
Jacob Peterson will get the start and move Graham Zusi to the midfield, where instead of a flat trio it'll likely be a triangle to allow Zusi to operate in the middle and roam freely. Kansas City will cede possession to the Sounders, whether they want to or not. Zusi will create plenty of nervy counters for the Sounders backline to deal with but in the end it'll be to no avail. Dom Dwyer will be asked to be a target forward too often as Peterson and de Jong have to hold themselves back or risk the flanks being exposed too much for Valdez and Ivanschitz. There's going to be a handful of yellows in this one and likely ends with a frustrated KC side getting a red around the 57th and turning to full bunker while down a goal. Around the 70th, they start flying to get the last goal and give up another two before the Sounders close up shop taking their third consecutive 3-0 win and three points back to Seattle.
Last note, I know Valdez played Wednesday against Van and getting a rest would be effective, I think that comes in the form of a fairly early sub like 60th-65th minute for Neagle or Pappa or one of handful of CMs. The Sounders want and know they really do need three points at this point every chance they get, so Valdez gets the start.