The Seattle Sounders visit Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (3 p.m. PT; FS1, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, EL REY 1360 AM) in Week 13 MLS action. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.
Raúl Ruidíaz vs. Matt Besler
Ruidíaz and Besler recently returned from injury spells. SKC has an abundance of other ailments to deal with, especially in its depleted midfield, so the host’s back four will receive very little cover. With his instincts in the final third and sharp, precise movements in the box, you have to the like Peruvian’s chances in a 1-v-1 matchup with any defender in the league. That’s especially true when you factor in Besler’s rust — he missed three straight matches before returning in Sporting’s 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps in Week 12 — and lack of familiarity with a rotating cast of center back partners. He is a cerebral intelligent defender, but SKC has been extremely vulnerable in transition over recent months. Besler can only put out so many fires; don’t be surprised when Ruidíaz capitalizes on the chaos.
Stefan Frei vs. Johnny Russell
Already one of the top goalkeepers in MLS, Frei has elevated his game to even loftier heights in 2019. The 2018 MLS Save of the Year winner pulled off some impressive stops to earn a point away to the Philadelphia Union, but his fingertip save against Haris Medunjanin was nothing short of spectacular.
While SKC has struggled for results since it was bounced from Concacaf Champions League, its attack hasn’t been the problem. Winger Johnny Russell has been in prolific form, posting four goals and three assists from just 911 minutes of MLS action. Frei will need to be wary of the former Derby County man when he cuts inside onto his lethal left foot. Set pieces are a saving grace for teams struggling for results, and the Scottish winger is a legitimate threat on free kicks. Frei will need to bring his A-game against Russell if the Sounders hope to secure points on the road this weekend.
Nicolás Lodeiro vs. Ilie Sanchez
Lodeiro and Sanchez are two of the best tempo-setting midfielders in MLS, though they go about this important task in different ways. Lodeiro covers every blade of grass on the pitch, pulling apart opposing teams’ defensive shapes with his limitless running and technical acuity. Sanchez, conversely, lacks the mobility of his counterpart but makes up for it with his high soccer IQ and excellent passing range. The Spanish maestro prefers to sit deep and dissect his opponents by alternating between line-breaking passes and rhythm-setting lateral balls. If Lodeiro wins this matchup, the Rave Green will dictate the cadence of the match, which will be crucial in picking up three points at Children’s Mercy Park.