The Seattle Sounders are visiting Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (4 p.m. PT; FS1, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) in a massive clash atop the Western Conference. Here are three matchups to watch:
Raúl Ruidíaz vs. Andreu Fontàs
The Sounders’ No. 9 is second in MLS with 14 goals on the season, and after coming painstakingly close to scoring in the Leagues Cup Final on Wednesday (his one-timed shot hit the outside of the post), Ruidíaz will be hungry to get back on the score sheet. He’ll be matched up against an MLS Best XI-level center back in Fontàs, the 31-year-old Spaniard who has come to life in his fourth season in Kansas City. He’s helped lead SKC to the fourth-best defensive record in the league.
João Paulo vs. José Mauri
With Sounders captain Nicolás Lodeiro recovering from a second knee surgery, more of the onus in the center of the park will fall on João Paulo, the two-way Brazilian midfielder who has been one of the league’s best players in 2021. SKC sold teenage phenom Gianluca Busio to Venezia in Italy this summer, and João Paulo will be matched up against his replacement in Mauri, who has Serie A experience himself. The former Italian youth international joined SKC from Argentina’s Talleres during the summer transfer window.
Daniel Sallói and Johnny Russell vs. Brad Smith and Alex Roldan
A two-for-one special on the wings, where Sunday’s match is almost certainly going to be won or lost. SKC boasts two of the best wingers in the league, with Sallói having an MLS All-Star and Best XI season, tallying 13 goals and six assists. He and Russell both got on the score sheet in Seattle in their last meeting in July, and the latter has scored in three straight home matches at Children’s Mercy Park. If Smith and Roldan can neutralize Sporting’s threat from the outside and force them to play through the middle, then the Sounders have a legitimate chance to win their first match in Kansas City since 2013.