Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City | MLS Match Preview

SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC vs SPORTING KANSAS CITY
CENTURYLINK FIELD, Seattle, Wash.
March 8, 2014 (WEEK 1, MLS Game #1)
12 noon PT (NBCSN)

The 2014 Major League Soccer season begins with an enticing clash when Seattle Sounders FC play host to defending champion Sporting Kansas City before an NBC Sports Network audience and their adoring faithful at CenturyLink Field. Sounders FC once again reached the MLS Cup Playoffs a season ago, but again saw their MLS Cup bid put to an early end. Sporting won the second league title in club history, capturing the final at their Sporting Park home with a thrilling penalty-kick shootout victory last December.

REFEREE: Mark Geiger. SAR (bench): Sean Hurd; JAR (opposite): Frank Anderson; 4th: Tyler Ploeger
MLS Career: 117 games; FC/gm: 26.6; Y/gm: 3.6; R: 28; pens: 38

SUSPENDED: none
DISABLED LIST: none
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (8 meetings): Sounders FC 6 wins, 11 goals … Sporting 1 win, 6 goals … Ties 1
AT SEATTLE (4 meetings): Sounders FC 2 wins, 3 goals … Sporting 1 win, 2 goals … Ties 1

LAST YEAR (MLS):
5/8: KC 0, SEA 1 (Traore 94+)

  • This is the only league meeting between the teams this season.
  • Sounders FC have a seven-game unbeaten streak alive against Sporting, including a 1-0 win at Sporting Park last May 8 in the only meeting between the teams. Since a 1-0 KC win in 2009 in the first meeting ever between the clubs, Seattle has won six matches (with one draw).
  • The teams also met in the 2012 U.S. Open Cup Final, Sporting winning in a penalty-kick shootout after a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes in K.C., ending Sounders FC’s three-year hold on the Open Cup title.
  • Coaches record: Sigi Schmid vs. KC: P40 W19 L15 D6 … Peter Vermes vs. SEA: P7 W0 L6 D1

ALL-TIME HISTORY

The Sounders have dominated the series since joining the league in 2009. In seven matches played over the years, Seattle have lost only once.

Seattle: 6W 1D 1L
Sporting KC: 1W 1D 6L

Seattle (at home): 2W 1D 1L

Amazingly, given their consistent success, the Sounders do not have a multi-goalscorer against Sporting KC. Instead, a list of players, including Tyrone Marshall, Roger Levesque, Nate Jaqua, Mike Fucito, Sanna Nyassi, Alvaro Fernandez, Jeff Parke, Mauro Rosales, Lamar Neagle, Patrick Ianni, and Djimi Traore.

Former Sporting captain Davy Arnaud is the only player with two goals in the series. 


LAST YEAR

The two clubs met once in 2013, with the Sounders pulling off a late, dramatic 1-0 victory at Sporting Park. Defender Djimi Traore earned the visitors the three points with a goal in 94th minute. Watch the highlights below:


When these two sides meet, goals are at a premium. In seven previous meetings, only a total of 17 goals have been scored. But that's not to say the affair isn't entertaining. It often turns feisty. A red card has been issued in each of the last three meetings, with the last two being issued to Seattle.

SEATTLE SOUNDERS

The offseason saw more than a few changes for head coach Sigi Schmid's side.

Gone are US national team star Eddie Johnson, goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, longtime center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, playmaker Mauro Rosales, and veteran defender Patrick Ianni. In are Chad Marshall, the two-time MLS Defender of the Year who dominated the Columbus Crew defense for years, veteran goalscorer Kenny Cooper, whose 72 career regular-season goals puts him #19 all-time in league history, and playmaker Marco Pappa, the former Chicago Fire maestro who returns to MLS after a year in Holland.

The other major change is the arrival of goalkeeper Stefan Frei from Toronto FC, who will battle all season with former US international Marcus Hahnemann for the starting role.

But the nucleus of the side is in the midfield. Cuban hard man Osvaldo Alonso is back, having signed a new DP contract. US World Cup hopeful Brad Evans has emerged as a leader and one of the most consistent box-to-box players in the league. And Clint Dempsey, who spent the offseason on loan with English Premier League club Fulham, is expected to spearhead the attack from the top of the midfield diamond.

SPORTING KC

If change was the directive in Seattle, staying the same rules the day for SKC head coach Peter Vermes. And why not? The champs had a tremendous season and run to the Cup last year and little reason to tinker too much.

But the retirement of goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen did force a few tweaks. Longtime backup Eric Kronberg will battle with incoming ex-Crew net minder Andy Gruenebaum.

Other than that, the only move of note was the trading of Teal Bunbury to New England. Which means the burden of success falls again on the shoulders of US national team star midfielder Graham Zusi and center back Matt Besler.

Zusi is coming off what some would consider a down year, posting only 6 goals and 8 assists. But considering all the travel he had to do with the US national team during World Cup qualifying and a couple of injuries that limited him to only 27 matches, it was anything but down. And he only turned it up during the playoffs, earning two assists and directing the midfield on the run to the Cup.

Besler, in 2013, solidified his reputation as the preeminent skillful center back in MLS and the presumed starter for the US in Brazil this summer. Playing alongside his usual partner, French bruiser Aurelien Collin, Besler helped Sporting finish the season with the league's stingiest defense

So the question is: How will Seattle's high-flying attack fare against Sporting's tried-and-true shock and awe style?


SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC
In 2013, Seattle Sounders FC reached the MLS Cup Playoffs for a fifth time in five seasons in the North American top flight. But once again, their championship hopes were dashed at the conference semifinal stage, going out to arch-rival Portland. Sigi Schmid is again in charge of the club, the only MLS coach the team has known, with the expressed aim of an MLS Cup appearance.

TEAM NEWS

  • Sounders FC concluded an undefeated preseason with a 2-2 draw with D.C. United in the final match of the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C. The Sounders goals came from Kenny Cooper and Marco Pappa.
  • Here’s the Sounders FC team: Stefan Frei, DeAndre Yedlin (Andy Rose 78'), Chad Marshall (Zach Scott 66'), Jalil Anibaba, Dylan Remick, Lamar Neagle, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Marco Pappa (Aaron Kovar 77'), Kenny Cooper (Kevin Parsemain 77'), Obafemi Martins.
  • Seattle had a 6-0-3 record in preparation matches, including a 3-0-3 mark against MLS clubs.
  • Cooper and Pappa are two of the offseason additions to the new-look Sounders FC side, which also saw Chad Barrett and Tristan Bowen added to the strike options with Steve Zakuani, Mauro Rosales, Adam Moffat and Eddie Johnson all having departed.
  • “It’s different than it was last year,” Brad Evans said. “It doesn't guarantee results or anything, but you always want to go to a place where you're comfortable and the guys around you, their spirits are always lifted. We haven't lost any games yet, so it's tough to tell if this group is going to stick together or if it is not, but the first impressions are that it is a good bunch of guys and a bunch of hard workers.”
  • There was also a considerable shakeup to the backline – one which is injury-hit entering the season opener. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and veteran defender Patrick Ianni have all departed. In their places have come Stefan Frei in goal and Chad Marshall and Jalil Anibaba on the back line.
  • Marshall and DeAndre Yedlin were both held out of full training in the days leading up to the opening match, but are expected to be available for the KC match. Leo González, who underwent groin surgery in the offseason, has also been limited during training. Dylan Remick could be in line to get the start in the season opener.
  • “You don’t lose [the starter’s job] because of injury,” Schmid said. “Leo has proven himself to be a very competent left back for us and does a great job defending for us. But we know there’s enough competition that we need Leo at 100 percent. Remick has done well enough in preseason where he’s put a stamp on if Leo isn’t 100 percent ‘I’m ready and prepared to play.’”
  • Sounders FC midfielder Clint Dempsey was the lone MLS player in the U.S. national team squad for the midweek friendly vs. Ukraine.

OFFSEASON TRANSACTIONS

IN: GK Stefan Frei (12/10/13 - trade from Toronto); FW Tristan Bowen (12/11/13 - trade from Chivas); DF Chad Marshall (12/12/13 - trade from Columbus); FW Kenny Cooper (12/13/13 - trade from FC Dallas); FW Corey Hertzog (12/18/13 - Re-Entry Stage 2); MF Aaron Kovar (1/9/14 - Homegrown); FW Sean Okoli (1/9/14 - Homegrown); FW Chad Barrett (1/9/14 - Re-Entry Stage 2); DF Jalil Anibaba (1/15/14 - trade from Chicago); DF Damion Lowe (1/16/14 - SuperDraft); MF Marco Pappa (1/31/14 - allocation); MF Gonzalo Pineda (3/5/14 - free)

OUT: GK Michael Gspurning (12/9/13 - option declined); DF Marc Burch (12/9/13 - option declined); MF Blair Gavin (12/9/13 - option declined); FW Steve Zakuani (12/9/13 - out of contract); MF Mauro Rosales (12/11/13 - traded to Chivas USA); MF Adam Moffat (12/13/13 - traded to FC Dallas); FW Eddie Johnson (12/17/13 - traded to D.C. United); DF Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (1/15/14 - traded to Chicago); DF Patrick Ianni (1/15/14 - traded to Chicago); FW Fredy Montero (1/30/14 - transfer to Sporting CP); FW Will Bates (2/19/14 - waived); DF James Ockford (2/26/14 - loaned to New York Cosmos); FW Eriq Zavaleta (2/28/14 - loaned to Chivas USA); MF Alex Caskey (3/4/14 - traded to D.C. United)

SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Sporting Kansas City begin the 2014 season as defending champions for the second time in club history, coming off a stirring MLS Cup victory on penalty kicks against Real Salt Lake on their home ground last December. Peter Vermes returns for his fifth full season as head coach, having brought the team to the MLS Cup Playoffs each of the last three seasons.

TEAM NEWS

  • Sporting saw their undefeated preseason run come to an end in their final preparation match, falling 4-1 to Columbus in the title match of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Kissimmee, Fla.
  • Here’s the Sporting team: Eric Kronberg; Chance Myers (Mechack Jerome 66), Aurelien Collin (Ike Opara 66), Matt Besler (Erik Palmer-Brown 66), Seth Sinovic (Josh Gardner 7); Oriol Rosell (Lawrence Olum 66), Paulo Nagamura (Benny Feilhaber 46), Claudio Bieler; Sal Zizzo (Jacob Peterson 61), Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi (Adnan Gabeljic 66)
  • “I think we are in a similar position to where we have been the last few years. I think that we are a little banged up at the moment, but that goes with the territory when you’re in a lot of competitions and play late in the year. You wind up being in a position where some guys are going to be a little fatigued,” said Vermes. “But, we’ll get through it. We’ll get ready and we have our first game next week and everything starts for real. I think all in all, preseason has been good and I think we’re ready to get the season underway.”
  • Sporting could have a couple of injury concerns heading into the season opener. Defender Seth Sinovic – who started 31 league matches in 2013 – was removed from the preseason finale after just seven minutes.
  • “He said his hip locked up a little bit. We didn’t want to take any chances so he came off the field. Up to this point, they haven’t had time to do a ton of diagnosis,” Vermes said. “But, from what I hear, he was trying to be a little smart and not make something very minor into something major.”
  • In addition, striker C.J. Sapong did not feature in the final match in the Disney tournament after suffering a leg contusion a week earlier.
  • “He's still not where he needs to be,” Vermes said. “I've always told guys, 'If you think you need some extra time, then keep yourself there.' Right now, it's just about getting the contusion better.”
  • Sporting come off their MLS championship season with very few changes. Striker Teal Bunbury was traded to New England and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen retired. Andy Gruenebaum was acquired from the Columbus Crew to challenge longtime backup Eric Kronberg for the starting position between the posts, and winger Sal Zizzo was picked up from the Portland Timbers.
  • Back in the Sporting fold is midfielder Claudio Bieler, who had lost his first-choice place as the 2013 season wound down. “He’s been in form and has played very well,” Vermes said. “I would say that a lot of guys have done well over the course of preseason. Dom (Dwyer) has done well; different guys have played well.”
  • Defender Mechack Jerome was called into Haiti’s national team for their midweek friendly in Kosovo.

OFFSEASON TRANSACTIONS

IN: MF Sal Zizzo (12/13/13 - trade from Portland); GK Andy Gruenebaum (12/16/13 - trade from Columbus); MF Alex Martinez (3/4/14 - SuperDraft)

OUT: GK Jimmy Nielsen (12/9/13 - retired); DF Kyle Miller (12/11/13 - waived); DF Brendan Ruiz (12/11/13 - waived); FW Teal Bunbury (2/19/14 - traded to New England)