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Sounders expect Sporting KC to come out ‘fighting’

The two teams have gone in mostly opposite directions since Tim Melia’s WWE-inspired takedown of Cristian Roldan.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Seattle Sounders FC Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA — To suggest the Seattle Sounders have spent much of the past seven months thinking about their last encounter with Sporting KC would be a bit of a stretch. In that time, the Sounders made the playoffs for a 13th consecutive season, became the first MLS team to win Concacaf Champions League and overcame a rocky start to the 2022 regular season to put themselves back in playoff position.

To say they’ve completely forgotten about that encounter? That would be a bit of a stretch, too.

It’s not so much that the match itself was particularly memorable, but rather a moment. With Sporting KC leading 1-0, Tim Melia body-slammed Cristian Roldan in such an egregious way that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson even took notice.

“It adds a little bit of flair to the game,” Roldan said on Wednesday. “Games against Kansas City are always chippy. They’re well-coached and always have a chip on their shoulder.”

Roldan insisted he harbors no personal animosity toward Melia, even if the apology in the immediate aftermath was a bit half-assed.

“It was as if nothing happened,” Roldan said of Melia’s mea culpa. “I was kinda shocked to be honest. It was just like ‘Sorry about that.’ It was pretty lax.

“But Tim’s a good person and is competitive just like I am, so I don’t blame him.”

What adds a little more intrigue to the match is the general sense that the punishment didn’t equal the crime. Not only was Melia allowed to finish out the match — VAR didn’t even deign to intervene and at most suggested Ismail Elfath issue a yellow — but Sporting KC grabbed a late goal to win. Twisting the knife just a little, the Disciplinary Committee gave Melia the minimum one-game suspension. During that suspension, Melia’s Sporting KC teammates seemed to mock the situation by performing a wrestling-inspired celebration after a goal.

There does seem to have been some karmic retribution, however. Since that celebration, Sporting KC have gone just 5-13-4 in MLS play and come into Saturday’s match just two points ahead of the Wooden Spoon “leaders.”

As much as Sporting KC have struggled, they are coming off a potentially season-shifting win on the road against Nashville SC — ending Nashville’s 25-game home unbeaten streak — and could pull within a point of the playoff line with a win. Combined with Sporting KC having won each of their past three trips to Lumen Field, the Sounders aren’t taking anything for granted.

“They have the capabilities, they have the players, they’ve just been underperforming,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “Whether that’s bad luck or bad play, it doesn’t matter. If they have a good game with what they’re capable of, they’re a very good team that can put in a solid shift. We know that. We expect them to come out fighting.”

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