The Seattle Sounders head out on the road for what could be the last time in 2022, heading to face Sporting Kansas City on Sunday in a game that they absolutely need to win if there’s any chance of them getting into the playoffs. The Sounders have been in virtual must-win territory for a while now, but this 2 PM PST kickoff is the first literal must-win as anything less leaves them with too much room to make up with only three more points available and five points between themselves and the playoff line.
With no room for failure, it’s hard to imagine a worse place for Seattle to have to travel to for this game. From a historical perspective — however much that’s worth — although the Sounders won the last time these two sides faced as well as the last time they played at Children’s Mercy Park, that win last year was the first win on the road against SKC since 2013. In fact, after having dominated the early stretch of this matchup after entering MLS — Seattle lost the first regular season meeting with Kansas City, then went 10 games and almost 6 years without losing a regular season game to them including winning 6 straight from 2009 to 2011 — Seattle are now 4-8-3, -5 in their last 15 regular season meetings with SKC.
Looking at this year in particular, the two sides have had oddly mirrored seasons. Through the first half of the season, SKC’s struggles were very much on display as they went 3-9-4, -13 in league play. At the same time, Seattle was winning CCL and had a respectable 8-7-2, +7 record.
The 15 games that have followed have been a drastically different story for both sides. The wheels have largely fallen off for Seattle, who have gone 4-9-2, -5 and only had consecutive wins once in that time, while SKC have gone 6-6-3, +1 — although they haven’t lost in 6 games and are 5-2-2, +9 since getting knocked out of the US Open Cup in the Semi-Finals back at the end of July.
The Sporting Way
Since 2009, Peter Vermes has had his Kansas City teams in what’s a pretty recognizable style, the “Sporting Way.” What all that style entails has changed over the years, but by and large you can count on Vermes’s teams to play in a 4-3-3, value possession, and try to make life hell for the other team when they lose possession. In the past, there’s been an emphasis on hard running, athleticism, and pressing, but that’s often come with a noticeable decline in performances as the season progresses, so SKC have started to move away from that emphasis. In 2022 SKC attempts 128.2 pressures/90 minutes to Seattle’s 126.5 pressures/90, and average about 60 fewer touches per game with 577.6/90 minutes compared to Seattle’s 638.4/90.
During the early first two-thirds of the season, when the team struggled, it felt clear why: Alan Pulido, the team’s star striker, hasn’t played a single minute and key parts of their midfield are gone or unavailable as Ilie Sanchez left on a free during the offseason to join LAFC and has been playing like one of the best midfielders in the league, while Designated Player Gadi Kinda has also missed the whole season after having to have the cartilage in his right knee repaired in April.
With those absences, the midfield struggled and the attack withered on the vine. SKC hasn’t exactly had a long line of elite strikers, but the options behind Pulido have been below the usual level. The performances of Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell, SKC’s first-choice wingers who both drew a bit of MVP chatter in 2021, are emblematic of the team’s attacking struggles. In 2021 Russell had 15 goals and 8 assists in 2221 MLS minutes, and Salloi put up 16 and 8 in 2453 MLS minutes. This season Russell’s got 8 goals and 1 assist, while Sally’s managed 7 and 4. As we noted earlier, though, things have been better recently. In the 9 games that have encompassed their significant turn of form, Salloi has recorded 3 of his 7 goals and 3 of his 4 assists, highlighting his early season struggles.
What to watch
Seattle CBs vs. William Agada
A major part of the improved offensive output - and as a result, improved results - for SKC has been Summer signing William Agada, a 23 year-old striker signed from Hapoel Jerusalem. In just 738 MLS minutes, Agama’s smart runs, impressive acceleration and clinical finishing have allowed him to accumulate 7 goals and 2 assists. Regardless of who Brian Schmetzer starts at centerback, Agada is going to give them fits as they work to track his runs and limit his danger inside the penalty area where all 7 of his goals have been scored from.
Where does the game get played?
In an ideal world, both of these teams want to possess the ball, and use that possession to create opportunities to get in behind the defense for their attackers. Often when the Sounders play well the midfielders stack up touches, sometimes reaching into triple-digits for the likes of Nico Lodeiro. Albert Rusnák, Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva are no strangers to touching the ball 70-80+ times in a game, either, but when an opponent limits the Sounders midfield the ball moves out to the fullbacks or wingbacks, depending on formation. Against SKC and the midfield trio of Roger Espinoza, Winter signing Erik Thommy and Remy Walter, the Sounders may opt to play through the wings and/or over the defense, while Atencio and Leyva - or whoever plays in that midfield pair - are mainly tasked with forcing SKC out of the middle.
SKC have certainly tightened things up in recent weeks, keeping 3 clean sheets in their last 5 games, but both sides involved on Sunday are capable of giving up goals. SKC are 1-12-2 in regular season games when they’ve given up multiple goals. Seattle are a not-too-dissimilar 1-10-2 when giving up multiple goals in MLS this year. It seems likely that if either side can grab a couple goals, they can probably take all three points.
How to watch
Seattle and SKC kick off at Children’s Mercy Park at 2:25 PM PST. The match will be on FS1 and FOX Deportes.