The Seattle Sounders visit the Philadelphia Union on Saturday (4:30 p.m. PT; JOEtv, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) in Week 12 MLS action. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.
Brad Smith vs Kai Wagner
Smith and Wagner won’t go head-to-head very often on Saturday. But the outcome of the match will largely be decided by which left back can have a greater influence on his team’s attack. Wagner, who interprets space well and can create from underlapping runs, has posted three assists and 11 key passes since joining the Union from Germany’s 3. Liga side Würzburger Kickers. While those are pretty impressive stats, Smith has been arguably the best attacking fullback in MLS this season with four assists and 17 key passes. Both players have been integral cogs in systems that prioritize high-volume chance creation. It’s not often that a left-back battle determines a result, but that could very well be the case on Saturday.
Jordy Delem vs. Jamiro Monteiro
Delem has been a revelation since Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer inserted him into the Starting XI in place of the injured Gustav Svensson. Across his last four starts, the Martinique international has posted eight interceptions, 23 recoveries, nine successful tackles and 10 clearances. Beyond the statistics, Delem has showcased his ability to break up attacks and cover vast swaths of ground defensively.
He’ll need to provide plenty of mobility to the midfield on Saturday, as Monteiro is a box-to-box midfielder who thrives in space. When he’s given time to lift his head and pick out a teammate, he can thread passes that dissect his opponent’s entire defensive shape. With the Union utilizing a high-pressing scheme to generate chances, his explosive running allows him to exploit gaps in expansive teams after they turnover possession. If Delem can slow down Monteiro in transition, he’ll nullify one of Philadelphia’s greatest threats.
Román Torres vs. Kacper Przybylko
Unless Schmetzer goes for the element of surprise on Saturday, his team will line up in their classic 4-2-3-1 formation. The Union will likely roll out a 4-4-2 diamond, which leaves their two forwards matched up one-for-one with Seattle’s center backs. Kim Kee-hee will probably mark the pacy Fafa Picault, leaving Torres with the responsibility to lock down in-form striker Przybylko, who has three goals and one assist in his last four starts. Don’t let the Polish forward’s hulking size and broad frame fool you. He’s a clever player with plenty of subtleties to his movement in the final third. Torres, who put in an impressive shift against Orlando City, has plenty of experience facing strikers of Pryzbylko’s ilk and should be up for the task.