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Sounders v. Sporting KC: Three Questions

Will the second verse be the same as the first?

MLS: CF Montreal at Sporting Kansas City
USA; Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell (7) reacts during the game against the CF Montreal at Children’s Mercy Park
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

MLS soccer in Kansas City is fairly dire right now. Sporting KC has as many red cards as they do goals, and points — three. And the history of losing, it goes back a ways now.

Once the stellar example of what is possible in MLS thanks to parity rules, Sporting should be seen as easy three points as are available in the league.

But no games in MLS are actually easy. The Seattle Sounders will be missing four starters. KC is healthier than they were when they lost to Seattle 4-1 at home. How much tougher will it be?

For the KC Soccer Journal, Jimmy Mack answers Three Questions.

SaH: Is this a must-win game for Peter Vermes?

KCSJ: It probably depends on who you ask and what your definition of “must-win” is, but if you’re asking me if I think Peter Vermes will be fired if Sporting KC loses to the Sounders on Sunday my answer would be an emphatic “no.” There has been radio silence from SKC ownership and the President of the club Jake Reid about Peter Vermes’ job since he was signed to a five-year extension through the 2028 season this past February. At the time, there was a contingent of Sporting KC fans who questioned the wisdom of the timing of that extension given the way 2022 went, but even those people didn’t expect Sporting to be on the verge of the worst start in MLS history after 10 games.

Having said that, ownership has not given any indication that Vermes is actually in danger of losing his job. Most of the “Vermes Out” commentary is from understandably frustrated SKC fans. On Thursday night, the KC Cauldron supporters group published their first official comment on the state of the club. At the time of this answer, neither the club or SKC ownership have responded in any sort of capacity.

If there were a “must win” game for Peter Vermes’ job security, it would have been last week at home against a struggling and injured Montreal team that defeated SKC 2-0, leading SKC captain Johnny Russell to say “I genuinely don’t know how to fix it.” If that game didn’t result in technical staff changes, I highly doubt a road loss to the first place team in the Western Conference will.

One game I would keep an eye on as a potential “must win” depending on how the next few weeks go? May 20 at CITY Park against St. Louis CITY SC. If SKC gets shellacked in the first meeting with what was supposed to be the “little brother” club, the heat may ramp up a bit.

SaH: Seattle will probably have a third-tier left back. How can Johnny Russell make me sad on Sunday?

KCSJ: Sporting KC’s biggest offensive problem this year has been their inability to get quality shots inside the box. SKC have the sixth most shots in the league at 137; however, those have only led to a 27th ranked 8.40 xG per American Soccer Analysis, and a league worst 3 goals scored. Now that Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido, and Gadi Kinda have all returned from injury, missing key starters isn’t really an excuse anymore.

So far this year Johnny Russell has struggled to use his pace to get past left backs to create chances either at the end line or near the six yard box. He’s also been frustrated by teams double-teaming him with a LB and CB when he has the ball on the wing. He’s also been a tad slow and indecisive when making decisions, something that has plagued much of the SKCattack.

If Johnny is able to use his pace to take advantage of one-on-one situations he may be able to create open lanes to pass the ball back into the box to a trailing midfielder or to even create a shot for himself. If he’s double teamed, he’ll need to be decisive with cycling the ball back to either Gadi Kinda or Erik Thommy at the No. 10 spot to attack up the middle or an overlapping Graham Zusi (if he’s able to return from injury).

SaH: What will be done differently to contain Léo Chú and Jordan Morris?

KCSJ: The honest answer? Probably not much tactically, which may scare SKC fans. The two biggest differences will be:

Ben Sweat was cut after the first Seattle game, so he can’t earn two yellow cards in a span of 10 minutes, and Sporting KC has a new starting CB since Morris scored his quad against SKC back in March. Dany Rosero joined Sporting KC from Colombian side Atlético Junior. The 29-year-old has been inconsistent in his five starts for Sporting, at times looking like the best central defender the club has had since the Besler/Opara pairing of old, and other times looking a bit too erratic and undisciplined.

The advantage Rosero will bring to SKC in this matchup compared to the first game is he’s much quicker and more athletic than Andreu Fontas who was primarily responsible for marking Morris in the first game. Sporting doesn’t typically do man marking, but I would expect Rosero to be sticking near Morris if he’s anywhere near the goal this time around.

How will Sporting KC handle Léo Chú? That’s a bit more uncertain. Graham Zusi has missed a few games with an injury, leaving 21-year-old midfielder Jake Davis to fill in at the RB spot. While Davis performed admirably against NPSL side Tulsa Athletic, it was a bit more of a struggle against CF Montreal. Zusi has returned to “full training” as of this week, so it’s likely we see Zusi back in the starting XI. The 36-year-old likes to push up in the attack (a hallmark of Vermes’ 4-3-3 system), but he may hang back a bit more to avoid getting beat in the same way he was by Chú in the first match. If Sporting can somehow strike first this will be a bit easier, but if they find themselves down early and Zusi is forced to press in the attack looking for an equalizer, Seattle may be able to take advantage of that left side similar to how they did in the first game.

Check out the reverse and their other previews.

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