The Seattle Sounders host Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (7:00 p.m. PT; FS1, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS) in Week 22 MLS action. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.
Nouhou vs. Johnny Russell
The Sounders and Sporting have established a heated rivalry over the years, dating back to when Seattle first entered the league in 2009. Every good rivalry needs a villain, a role that is perfectly suited for Russell.
A creative, pacey winger that can perform incredible dribbling feats at full speed, the Scottish winger hit the ground running 2018 and hasn’t looked back. Operating as an inverted winger on the right side, Russell has chipped in 17 goals and 15 assists from just 47 regular season appearances. But he’ll have a tough time on Sunday, as Nouhou is an absolute lockdown defender in 1-v-1 situations. The young left back revels in shutting down opposing wingers, as demonstrated by his MLS Week 21 Team of the Week honor for his performance in Houston. Russell bagged a hat-trick in his only previous outing against the Rave Green this Summer, but Nouhou should be up for the challenge on Sunday.
Nicolás Lodeiro vs. Ilie Sánchez
Over the last couple of seasons, SKC’s game model has evolved into one that compliments high-pressing with sustained possession. At the heart of their high-volume passing scheme is their metronomic midfielder, Sánchez.
The Spanish midfielder is more of a deep-lying quarterback than a hard-nosed destroyer. Seattle’s No. 10, Lodeiro, is one of the most mobile and frenetic players of his ilk in all of MLS. The Sounders are at their best when they blend their offensive system with high-energy pressing. If Lodeiro can harass Sánchez on Sunday, he’ll disrupt SKC’s entire offense. Moreover, given Sánchez’s defensive limitations, look for the Uruguayan to roam the final third in search of pockets in the half-spaces, from which he can carve apart Sporting’s backline with his incisive passing.
Jordan Morris vs. Seth Sinovic
Sinovic is a throwback defender. While the modern game often requires fullbacks to contribute heavily to the attack, Sinovic is far more influential on the defensive side of things. Given he’s not particularly quick and lacks elite mobility, he prefers to defend in his own defensive third. But SKC’s shape in possession mandates that he stay wide in possession, despite the fact that he struggles to link passes. Moreover, it means he can get caught out of position on counter-attacks, with three of LAFC’s five goals occurring while Sinovic was trailing the play.
Morris’ evolution from a No. 9 to a winger is best exemplified by his defensive work rate. With his physicality and elite closing speed, he’s incredibly effective in a high-press, as showcased in his assist on Harry Shipp’s game-winning goal against Atlanta United FC. Look for the Homegrown winger to exploit the space vacated by Sinovic down the flanks when Seattle attacks in transition.