The Seattle Sounders face the Chicago Fire (10:00 a.m. PT; JOEtv, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) on Saturday in the club’s first away match of the 2019 season. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.
Jordan Morris vs. Replacement Left Back
Jordan Morris has hit the ground running in 2019 as he adjusts to his new position out on the wing. Blessed with plenty of pace and explosiveness, the Mercer Island native faces a favorable matchup against the Fire, as first-choice left back Jorge Corrales is suspended after receiving a red card against Orlando City SC. Without a clear backup to Corrales, the home side could shift one of its two center backs, Johan Kappelhof or Marcelo, into the full back slot. If the Fire want a weapon in the attack, utility-man Nico Hasler could line up on the left. With the Sounders encountering a competent Fire offense on the road, the Seattle winger’s ability to spark transition moments will be critical to generating chances. If Morris, who recently was called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team, can consistently win his matchups with the left back, it will negate some of the Fire’s biggest strengths. Repeated success down the right will force either Bastian Schweinsteiger to vacate his spot in front of the center backs to assist defensively, which opens up acres of space for Nicolás Lodeiro and Víctor Rodríguez, or it will require Aleksandar Katai to track back and provide cover, nullifying one of Chicago’s greatest offensive weapons.
Morris celebrates his second goal against FC Cincinnati | Charis Wilson
Brad Smith vs. CJ Sapong
Fire Head Coach Veljko Paunovich introduced an interesting tactical wrinkle in his side’s 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC over the weekend. With star forward and fellow Serbian Nemanja Nicolić re-introduced to the starting XI, Paunovich shifted his other No. 9, CJ Sapong, to a wide attacking midfield role. Much like Morris, the former Philadelphia Union stalwart will likely drift inside throughout the match, morphing Chicago’s system into a two-forward setup. Sounders FC left back Brad Smith must be alert to Sapong’s positioning throughout, as he’ll need to communicate with Chad Marshall and Gustav Svensson to pass off his defensive assignment. Moreover, the Australian will have his handful marking Sapong’s back-post runs on crosses. There is a silver lining, however. Sapong is unlikely to put in a stellar defensive shift, so expect more mesmerizing 1-2 passing combinations from Smith and Rodríguez on Saturday.
Brad Smith one one of his rampaging runs against FC Cincinnati | Charis Wilson
Nicolás Lodeiro vs. Bastian Schweinsteiger
Two of the biggest names in the league, Lodeiro and Schweinsteiger will be the marquee matchup on Saturday. Games are often won and lost based upon which team dictates and controls the tempo in midfield. With these midfield metronomes going toe-to-toe on Saturday – the Uruguayan has completed 110 passes in the opponent’s half this season while the German has 74 – whoever seizes control of the middle of the pitch will likely lead his team to victory. Lodeiro, who was named team captain ahead of the 2019 season, has been in electrifying form of late, bagging two assists in Seattle’s 4-1 win over FC Cincinnati and pulling apart the Rapids’ defensive shape with his relentless passing. Capable of initiating pressing traps in midfield, Lodeiro’s ability to stifle Schweinsteiger when the Fire have possession will go a long way toward Seattle securing points on the road.