The Seattle Sounders face off against the Chicago Fire on Tuesday (6:00 a.m. PT; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, 950 KJR AM) in Group B’s second match of the MLS is Back Tournament. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.
Raúl Ruidíaz vs. Mauricio Pineda
Deployed as a defensive midfielder in the 2020 opener, Pineda will likely line up at center back on Tuesday, given the arrival of DP defensive midfielder Gastón Giménez and the injury to starting center back Johan Kapelhoff.
Pineda is undoubtedly talented, but there’s a massive jump from the NCAA to MLS – that contrast in quality becomes even more stark when facing off against a clever, relentless striker like Raúl Ruidíaz. While the Peruvian scoring machine didn’t get on the scoresheet against San Jose, he put in a shift that showcased his quality on the ball and ability to arrive in the box at opportune times. Facing off against one of the elite strikers in MLS will be a trial by fire (pun absolutely intended) for Pineda, with Ruidíaz poised to have a breakout game at the MLS is Back Tournament.
Yeimar Gómez vs. Robert Berić
As Berić demonstrated in each of Chicago’s opening two matches of the 2020 MLS regular season – he scored against Seattle in the opener – he’s a well-rounded No. 9 with soft feet, providing a sturdy physical presence up top. The Slovenian striker moves well off the ball and offers a focal point for the Fire’s possession, holding the ball up and linking with their more dynamic players in Raphael Wicky’s 4-1-4-1 formation.
Due to visa issues, Sounders defender Yeimar Gómez was unavailable for selection in the club’s championship celebration match. As Head Coach Brian Schmetzer so aptly put it after the match against San Jose on Friday, the Colombian center back is as good as advertised, boasting a blend of savvy defensive play with a physical toolset that make him a nightmare for opposing strikers. If Yeimar can deny service to Berić, starving him of the rhythm that target strikers depend upon, the Sounders can simultaneously cut off Chicago’s outlet in possession and dictate the tempo of the match.
Nouhou vs. Przemysław Frankowski
Frankowski was the source of a lot the Fire’s chance creation in their first two fixtures of the 2020 season. He’s quick, moves off the ball well and likes to beat defenders on the dribble.
Enter Nouhou, who’s elite 1-v-1 defending is like kryptonite for most of the league’s wide attackers. If the Cameroonian defender can lock down Frankowski, forcing him sideways or backwards, the Rave Green will restrict the service into box required for players like Berić and midfield runners to generate chances on goal. As Nouhou demonstrated against San Jose, his timing in joining the attack and low, driven crosses into the box have improved dramatically. Look for the Seattle left back to push forward on the overlap, pinning back Frankowski and creating the types of wide overloads that keep the Rave Green’s offense humming.