USOC: Sporting KC vs. Seattle Sounders, side by side

USOC final, SKC SSFC side by side

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

 

Sporting KC’s biggest challenge came in their first match, when they outlasted USL Pro side (and MLS hopefuls) Orlando City, 3-2. Since then, they haven’t conceded a goal: 2-0 over Colorado, 3-0 over USL Pro’s Dayton Dutch Lions and 2-0 over Philadelphia in the semifinals. Captain Jimmy Nielsen owns all three of those clean sheets.

ROAD TO THE FINAL

The Sounders outscored their four opponents 15-2 on their way to their fourth straight Open Cup final. After trouncing the Atlanta Silverbacks and Cal FC  by a combined scoreline of 10-1 at home, they faced what might well be their toughest task during their Open Cup history when they played San Jose on the road, gutting out a 1-0 win. Facing Chivas USA in the semifinals seemed to be almost an afterthought, and they easily won 4-1.

Silverware is an expectation for Sporting’s ownership group this season. With the Eastern Conference race turning tighter and tighter each week and San Jose making a surprising run toward the Supporters' Shield, Sporting would love to lock up a CONCACAF Champions League spot well before the end of the MLS season.

WHAT'S AT STAKE?

Nothing less than history for the Sounders. By winning on Wednesday, they'll become the first team to win the 99-year-old US Open Cup four straight times. That's a feat that no team in the comparably long histories of England, France, Germany or Italy has accomplished. Among the big European domestic tournaments, only the Copa del Rey has had a four-time repeating champion, but not since Athletic Bilbao won their fourth in 1933.

Sporting’s defensive triangle (d-mid and center backs) against Seattle’s forward tandem of Eddie Johnson and Mauro Rosales. The way those two are in sync with each other right now, Sporting will need to throw them off their rhythm early and often (without drawing cards.) That won’t be easy, with physical Frenchman Aurélien Collin unavailable for the final.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

The Sounders backline has been the weak link recently, which should be severely tested by the three-headed monster that is the Sporting KC front line. The return of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning has helped solidify the defense, but this will be just his third appearance since early May and the kinks are still being worked out.

Teal Bunbury's always dangerous when he’s just broken a drought, as he did in last weekend’s 1-0 away victory against New England. He’s also starting to use his size to knock defenders off the ball, rather than vice versa. Here, the question is whether the officials will let him do that or whistle him.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Osvaldo Alonso has been the engine that has made the Sounders' Open Cup machine work. He's a tireless worker on both sides of the ball. But he's rarely faced an adversary like Roger Espinoza, who plays a very similar role for Sporting KC's midfield. If Alonso can still keep from being neutralized, it should be a good day for the Sounders.

Will Vermes put right back Chance Myers and forward C.J. Sapong in the XI if they’re available, or will he go with Michael Harrington in the backline and Soony Saad as a winger/withdrawn striker? Both looked solid against the Revs, but Myers (when he’s healthy) is a crossing machine and Saad has never played in a pro match where the stakes are this high. With SKC suffering from a spate of injuries, Vermes has some decisions to make.

WILDCARD

The Sounders have gone 6-1-1 against Kansas City since 2009, which includes an active seven-game unbeaten streak that includes one previous Open Cup meeting. That's somewhat deceptive, though, as the Sounders have won each of those games by one goal, needed to come back twice and scored the game-winner in the 89th minute or later four times, including the Open Cup win in 2009. Might the Sounders have a little bit of an edge if this game is close late?

Roger Espinoza’s back in town. Sore shoulder or no, Espinoza is on fire right now. His smarts have caught up with his heart, and he’s beginning to realize just how good he can be and where his skills can take him (which is probably to Europe, either in this transfer window or the next). And after taking on the Next Big Thing in Brazil’s Neymar, there’s no way he’s intimidated by anyone Seattle throws at him.

THEY'LL WIN BECAUSE...

The Sounders simply don't lose Open Cup games. Even dating back to their days in the USL, they haven't lost in regulation since 2005. During the MLS era, they are 15-0-1 (they had to beat the Portland Timbers in a shootout in 2010) and have outscored their opponents 38-10 along the way. That's domination, no matter who or where you're playing. Easily explained or not, the Sounders seem to play this tournament at a different level than their opponents.

“This is what players play for to win trophies, win championships. It’s going to be huge for the fans. It’s a historic event.”

Teal Bunbury

QUOTABLE

"To win four in a row would be unbelievable. We're the first team in a long time to win three in a row, but nobody's ever won four in a row."

Sigi Schmid