Fresh off a victory over the San Jose Earthquakes in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup that spanned 120 minutes and penalty kicks Wednesday night, Sporting Kansas City travels to Seattle to face the Sounders on Saturday afternoon at CenturyLink Field.
Both clubs are in the thick of the race in the Western Conference. Seattle (9-7-7, 34 points) is in a four-way tie for second place, three points behind Sporting Kansas City (9-4-10, 37 points). There are seven teams within six points of the top spot in the West.
The draining Open Cup match saw Sporting use its top 11, with the exception of Seth Sinovic, who was serving a red-card suspension from the quarterfinal match. With the extra game and the travel, manager Peter Vermes must be concerned about the stamina of his side.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Vermes said during a Kansas City radio talk-show interview Thursday. “We’ve got a tired group coming off an emotional victory last night. It’s now time to probably use some different guys and get some fresh legs out there. Because it’s going to be tough to turn all those guys around. The game is in the afternoon; it’s going to give us an even shorter recovery. But we have to put a group together that’s going to be hungry and ready to go.”
Seattle knows that the opportunity is there to take advantage of Sporting’s fatigue.
“From the opening whistle, we’re going to have to go at them,” forward Clint Dempsey said of facing Sporting’s tough defense. “(We have to) create as many chances as we can, but keep possession, do it in the right way. We have to go out there and dictate the pace of the game. We know it will be difficult.”
While Sporting has been at or near the top of the table all season, defending MLS Cup champion Seattle is a recent arrival. The Sounders are riding a seven-match unbeaten string, the latest test being a 4-0 dismantling of Minnesota United on the road. Dempsey scored two goals, while Jordan Morris and Will Bruin each added a goal.
Sporting is almost as hot as the Sounders, riding a nine-game unbeaten streak. But that streak is somewhat deceiving as SKC is just 3-0-6 in those nine matches. It allowed a stoppage time goal at home to Atlanta last Sunday.
Sporting will continue to depend on its new trio of forwards that have held form since the trade of striker Dom Dwyer in mid-July. Gerso Fernandes, Latif Blessing and Diego Rubio have acquitted themselves well, to the point that Sporting did not add any new players during the transfer window.
Gerso leads Sporting with six goals, followed by Benny Feilhaber (five). Blessing’s three goals all came in the same match. Sporting’s key to success is defense; it leads the MLS with a goals-against average of 0.78, the only MLS club under 1.0. Goalkeeper Tim Melia leads MLS with nine clean sheets.
Seattle is in the middle of the pack in goals and goals-against, but its 6-1-3 record at home is among the best in MLS. The Sounders’ recent surge has been led by Dempsey and Morris since their return from international duty. Despite playing in only 18 games, Dempsey leads Seattle with nine goals. Bruin has eight goals in his 20 competitions.
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