Shorthanded Sporting KC eager for weekend test against high-flying Seattle

It may not include quite the same star power as either team would prefer, but Sporting Kansas City and the Seattle Sounders nonetheless anxiously await their top-of-the-Western Conference clash on Sunday at Lumen Field (9 pm ET | MLS Live on ESPN+).

For starters, SKC manager Peter Vermes confirmed that he and two players remain in health and safety protocols and won't be cleared in time to face Seattle. Vermes and the two unnamed players also missed Wednesday's 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes.

“They’re the best team in the league," Vermes said of Seattle on a virtual press conference. "For both of us, it’s a challenge. We don’t have all of our players. But you keep trying to grind through an MLS season and make the playoffs. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Seattle earned league-wide plaudits after pulling out a 1-0 midweek road win against Austin FC without 10 regular first-teamers and deploying a starting XI that featured five teenagers. Despite missing big-name talent all season, including the likes of Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro and Stefan Frei, they've lost just once and are currently atop the Supporters' Shield race on 32 points.

SKC haven't quite dealt with the same quantity of absences, but they've faced their fair share of hurdles. Striker Alan Pulido missed time early in the season and has been on international duty at the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup, while midfielder Gianluca Busio has possibly played his last game for SKC ahead of a transfer to Serie A side Venezia FC, which is virtually done. Offseason signings Remi Walter and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin have been unavailable for large swaths of the season as well.

“We’ve been dealing with not having players available the whole season, since day one," Vermes said. "I think the guys are pretty used to that. ... It’s a tough match Sunday, but there’s nothing else we can do but keep working.”

Even without several stars, Seattle vs. Sporting will be among the marquee matches in MLS Week 15. Sporting enter on 27 points, putting them third in the Shield race and second in the West. If they beat Seattle, the gaps only become more narrow.

“It’s going to be a difficult game, but it’s going to be a fun game," goalkeeper Tim Melia said. "Both teams are jockeying towards the top of the table. We’re looking forward to it.”