Thanks to the wonky schedule the past two years, the Seattle Sounders and Nashville SC have never met in their respective histories. That changes on Sunday.
Not only is this the first meeting between two of the league’s best teams from a year ago, it’s also an early look at two of the preseason favorites to win the Western Conference. This should be a good test of the Sounders’ depth and Nashville’s move to the tougher conference.
Here’s what we’ll be watching:
Rotating is needed; Let’s see our depth
Thursday night was a lot of fun for the obvious reasons, but having the second half on cruise control was great for the Sounders’ legs. Even with having made a lot of early subs, Seattle will likely rotate a few key spots because conditioning isn’t yet at midseason levels. Raul Ruidiaz has been posting on Instagram about his hamstring injury, so we could see him not start — or even appear in the matchday squad.
I suspect we’ll see up to four changes, but that gives us an opportunity to see just how deep this team is, even if it’s the first match of the regular season. Maybe we’ll see the likes of Kelyn Rowe, Marlon Vargas, and Leo Chu start. — Mark
Keep an eye on Hany
Somewhat quietly, Hany Mukhtar put together an MVP-caliber season in 2021. The German midfielder — who once was close to joining the Sounders — had a league-best 28 goals+assists last year and was in the middle of just about everything Nashville did offensively. Mukhtar nominally plays as a wide attacker in Gary Smith’s 3-4-3, but has so much freedom that he may as well be a No. 10. The Sounders can not lose track of Mukhtar; if they can contain him, they should be fine. — Jeremiah
Hurt Nashville on set pieces
Everybody's on the Nashville train, me included. My thinking is they can do what they did last year, but also not be a tire fire defending set pieces.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) February 25, 2022
The advanced stats don't love them, though. If Hany regresses & they still can't defend restarts, things get tough.
Nashville is a very good defensive team and have probably the best centerback in the league in Walker Zimmerman. But one of their weaknesses is set-piece defense, both in corner kicks and free kicks. Given Nashville’s style of play, it’s likely that the Sounders will get their chances with corner kicks and they need to make the visitors pay.
Another thing to keep an eye on: fouls. Seattle got fouled 511 times last season, which was the most in the Western Conference. With João Paulo, Nicolás Lodeiro, and now Albert Rusnák, free kicks could be a treat this season. — Mark
As great as the atmosphere at Lumen Field has been since the very first Sounders MLS game, the one thing we’ve never really been able to do is get the whole stadium singing a song. We had hoped to make that happen in the MLS Cup final with “Bluest Skies” but maybe that was a bit too ambitious. According to Brian Schmetzer, ECS may try to get everyone singing “Sounders ‘til I Die” in the 74th minute. The lyrics don’t get much easier than this one: “I’m Sounders ‘til I die / I’m Sounders ‘til I die / I know I am, I’m sure I am / I’m Sounders ‘til I die!” Let’s make it happen. — Jeremiah
A special home opener
It’s been two very long years since the Sounders have had a home opener in what could be considered normal circumstances. We’re obviously not in that now, but we’re at a point where we can safely go about having vaccinated fans in the stands. If you remember in 2020, Jordan Morris scored a 93rd minute winner against Chicago. That was a lot of fun. Ideally we won’t need a stoppage time goal to beat Nashville, but let’s make memories with this one. — Mark