Five Things, presented by Keith + Associates Dentistry, is a weekly series on SportingKC.com that highlights the top storylines, players to watch and matchday programming ahead of each game throughout the season.
Sporting Kansas City will kick off a potentially decisive month of August with a Sunday night trek to CenturyLink Field, battling Seattle Sounders FC at 9 p.m. CT.
FS1, FOX Deportes, the FOX Sports app, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM will provide live coverage as Sporting aims to secure a momentous win in one of the league’s toughest venues to play. Without further ado, let’s jump into five things to know about the Western Conference tilt.
1. Six Points Under
Sporting enter Week 22 six points below the playoff line, occupying 10th place in the West. It’s an unusual position for Peter Vermes’ side, whose eight-year postseason run is the third-longest active streak in MLS.
Alarm bells shouldn’t be ringing just yet, but if Sporting want to harness momentum heading into a home-heavy month of August, getting a result in Seattle would be a fine start. After visiting CenturyLink, the club will play four of its next five matches in the friendly confines of Children’s Mercy Park. That pivotal stretch could ultimately decide the team’s playoff fate, and what better way to build belief than by emerging from the Pacific Northwest with three points.
2. Sounding Off
Make no mistake, the Sounders have made a fortress out of CenturyLink Field. Head coach Brian Schmetzer’s side is 8-1-2 on home turf this season, with their lone defeat coming in a 2-1 decision to archrivals Portland Timbers on July 21. Recent history doesn’t paint the prettiest picture for Sporting, either. The club is 1-5-2 in its last eight trips to CenturyLink Field, including defeats in 2017 and 2018.
Seattle sits in second place in the West, a hefty 11 points behind leaders LAFC but only a point ahead of LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes. Striker Raul Ruidiaz has a team-best eight goals in just 10 starts, and fellow forward and U.S. international Jordan Morris has chipped in five goals and two assists. The unquestioned talisman of the side, however, remains playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro. With 23 goals and 45 assists to his name since 2016, Lodeiro continues to be one of the league’s most creative players in the attacking third.
3. Johnny on the Spot
Sporting and Seattle most recently met on May 26 at Children’s Mercy Park in a game that Johnny Russell took by the scruff of the neck. The Scottish forward bagged a scintillating hat-trick in a 3-2 victory for Sporting, offering up one of the better individual performances for the club in recent memory. The Sounders stayed competitive despite Russell’s hammer blows and struck through Ruidiaz and Leerdam, but the hosts were too much to overcome in the springtime thriller.
4. Soccer Sunday
MLS fanatics will certainly get their fill on Sunday. Three matches throughout the day will be nationally televised, beginning at 3 p.m. CT Sunday when Minnesota United FC hosts the upstart Portland Timbers on ESPN. The action then shifts to FS1, with Sporting and Seattle taking the field after D.C. United welcomes Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union at 6:30 p.m. CT.
5. Seeing Red
Sporting will take the field Sunday without influential midfielder Roger Espinoza, who received a straight red card in last Friday’s loss at New York City FC. The Honduran had missed over three months with a knee injury but worked his way back into the squad as a substitute on July 20 before landing a start at Yankee Stadium six days later.
Espinoza’s absence will once again require Vermes to flex his depth, with the likes of Felipe Gutierrez, Benny Feilhaber, Gedion Zelalem, Gianluca Busio and Kelyn Rowe among the candidates to fill the two advanced midfield spots in front of Ilie Sanchez.
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