The Seattle Sounders will host a knockout round game for the third straight season when they take on Sporting Kansas City Thursday night at CenturyLink Field. In those two previous knockout round games, the Sounders advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals.
To even be in the playoffs is a near miracle for the Sounders as they were ten points out of the final playoff spot with 14 games left in the season. They average two points per game in their final 14 games and secured fourth place in the West.
This will be the first time that these two teams will square off in the postseason.
Last time out
Needing a win to ensure they would be playing in the postseason for the eighth straight season, the Sounders took care of Real Salt Lake by a score of 2-1. The Sounders got on the board early in the 3rd minute of the game after some nifty footwork from Jordan Morris. He heel flicked the low cross sent in by Tyrone Mears to the feel of Alvaro Fernandez. “Flaco” was able to direct the ball into the back of the net for an early 1-0 lead.
Salt Lake would respond 90 seconds later as Luke Mulholland found the back of the net for Real. Mulholland took a shot that deflected off of Joevin Jones and into the net at the far post. Seattle grabbed the lead back in the 31st minute after Cristian Roldan scored off of a corner. Nicolás Lodeiro sent in a corner that found the head of Román Torres. Torres’ powerful header was parried away by Nick Rimando but it deflected off the face of Mulholland and fell to Roldan’s feet.
Sporting Kansas City also knew they need a win to ensure they would be playing in the postseason for the sixth straight year. Ever since the club was rebranded, they have made the postseason. Sporting got on the board first in the 27th minute after Benny Feilhaber scored from the spot after Cordell Cato was judged to have handled the ball in the penalty area. The second goal came in the 88th minute after Feilhaber feed a perfectly weighted ball to Graham Zusi. Zusi one-time his shot from about ten yards out and beat an onrushing David Bingham at the near post.
The Sounders and Sporting opened the season against each other on March 6th at CenturyLink Field. In a game that was dominated in the early portion by the Sounders, everything changed when Oniel Fisher received a red card for his studs-up tackle late in the first half. The lone goal of the game came in the 73rd minute when Nuno Andre Coelho took an opportunistic shot from outside the box. The ball short-hopped Stefan Frei and found itself in the back of the net. The Sounders had their chances throughout the game, even when a man down but Tim Melia was there to make all of the stops for Sporting.
The second time these two teams met was on July 24th in Kansas City. Sporting dominated the Sounders from the beginning and torched them with three goals on a hot afternoon. The goals came from Dom Dwyer (21’ and 79’) and Jacob Peterson (45+3’) in a game that was the last straw for the Sounders front office as they fired longtime coach Sigi Schmid two days later.
Different team since the last meeting
The Sounders are a completely different team than the last time these two met. The addition of Lodeiro and return of Torres and the emergence of Cristian Roldan makes the Sounders one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs. Sporting knows this and said as much when speaking with reporters before Tuesday’s training session.
“Coming into the season, you knew Seattle was going to be one of the contenders,” Sporting captain Roger Espinoza said. “Every year they are. I was surprised when they weren't doing well, and now I'm not surprised that they're doing pretty good.”
The Sounders finished the season on an 8-2-4 (W-L-T) run to climb from the basement of the Western Conference to the fourth seed in the playoffs.
Graham Zusi knows wins builds confidence; “They got some results, and this is a results-based sport. “If you're getting some wins and going on some runs – it's all about confidence as a team, and they were able to get that in the second half of the season.”
Sporting head coach Peter Vermes knows Lodeiro is a dangerous player and said as much; “He's a good attacking midfielder, very good player on the ball, has a lot of qualities to play forward. His movement is good. I think he sees the game really well and can give the final pass, can score. He's a very dangerous player.”
Espinoza had some high praise for Sounders rookie Jordan Morris.
“He was actually one of the guys who was a bright spot when they were not doing so well. Being a young guy, he's been amazing, and now that Lodeiro got there, that opens a lot more space for him."
“It's great to see young guys in the league doing that well. It just tells you that the league is developing in the right way.”
With it being playoff time, anything can happen. Seattle enters this game as the hottest team in the West going 5-1-1 in their last seven games while Sporting went 2-2-3 in their last seven. Home field advantage will come into play in this game. Seattle is 5-0-2 at home since Brian Schmetzer took over and is 10-5-2 on the season. Sporting has just three wins on the road but one of them was in the season opener.
This will be a physical match and referee Ismail Elfath will need to keep things in control and not let the two teams hack each other all game long. Elfath will need to set the tone early so things don’t get out of hand. He can’t allow consistent infringement and may need to issue an early yellow card or two to keep things in check.