After their Decision Day victory of Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders face Sporting Kansas City in their first match of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. This is a knockout round, which means there is no second leg, and the winner progresses to the conference semi-finals.
How KC got here: Their 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Decision Day put them in 5th place, with just a single point between them and 4th placed Sounders.
Recent league form: DDWLDW
Top scorer in 2016: Dom Dwyer, 16
Assist leader in 2016: Benny Feilhaber & Roger Espinoza, 5 each
- 9.5 shots conceded per game, fewest in the league.
- 14.1 shots taken per game, tied for 1st.
- 13 goals from set pieces in 2016, tied for 2nd. Dom Dwyer scored five of those, tied for most in the league.
- 53.3% average possession, 2nd best in the league.
Playmakers: Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi make up the bulk of KC’s creative output, especially with the cross-happy Brad Davis out with injury. In Peter Vermes’ usual 4-3-3, we typically see Feilhaber roam freely in midfield and spray balls all over the final third. KC’s bread and butter attack is a short pass or through ball from Feilhaber to Zusi, who will attempt to cross it to Dwyer in the box. Zusi attempted 5.3 crosses per match in the regular season, with the 7th-highest number of accurate crosses at 1.7. Chad Marshall and Román Torres should be able to handle that, though Sounders will need to focus on the second ball.
Discipline: While SKC have a reputation for being very physical on the pitch, their discipline record was relatively average in 2016. They picked up a modest 58 yellow cards, though they also saw five red cards this season, 3rd most in the league.
Stingy: Even if the stats don’t spell it out, Sporting KC is one of the harder teams to score against in MLS right now. They play very compact in midfield, often using two defensive midfielders to break up attacks in midfield and getting the ball to Feilhaber and beyond as quickly as possible. Matt Besler is still a top center back, and he’ll be on Jordan Morris every time he steps into the box.
Previous matchups in 2016: Both of the Sounders’ games against SKC in 2016 were pretty memorable...for the worst reasons. Their opening day meeting in Seattle ended 1-0 for the visitors, in a match in which Oniel Fisher saw red just before halftime and the winning goal coming from a savable shot that Stefan Frei failed to handle. When the two sides faced off in Kansas City in late July, it turned out to be the worst performance that the Sounders had all season, and the final nail in the coffin of Sigi Schmid’s Seattle career. Sporting won 3-0, and the Sounders didn’t even register a single shot until the 88th minute.
Expected lineup: Melia; Sinovic, Besler, Ellis, Abdul-Salaam; Nagamura, Mustivar, Feilhaber; Espinoza, Dwyer, Zusi