When Sporting Kansas City visited Seattle back in May, I wrote the following:
With their horrific mark of 1-5-1 only coming 4 points (half the number of the second most hapless team in MLS, the Vancouver Whitecaps) and a league-worst -6 goal differential, Sporting KC have a massive hill to climb if they even hope to re-enter the playoff discussion.
Well, funny story; the hill has been climbed and Sporting KC are now looking to take a run at topping the Eastern Conference standings before the year is out. SKC sit just four points back of Columbus, currently good enough for 4th in the East. There's no hotter team in MLS; KC's 1-0 loss in Seattle was their last loss in league play given them a 14 game MLS unbeaten streak. Their form has been good enough for a mark of 1.78 points per match over that spell, just shy of LA Galaxy and FC Dallas' pace on the season. A great deal of KC's early season struggles can be attributed to the 11 game road-trip they began the year on, and since moving into LIVESTRONG Sporting Park the club has averaged 2.0 PPM per home game. Simply put, this is a very different team than the one we saw earlier this season, playing in a stadium at which they have yet to lose an MLS game.
It could also be said that this is a very different Seattle Sounders team than the one that eked out a 1-0, last-second victory over Sporting KC back in May. And while that would be true, the timing of this game probably makes that a lot less important than you'd think. The Sounders have clocked quite a few air miles these past few weeks, first flying to Panama to play in hot, humid weather before turning right back around to fly to Houston and play in far hotter, far more humid weather on just three days rest. The team then flew back to Seattle and played a grueling 120 minutes against San Francisco FC on short rest yet again, and now they will fly to Kansas City to have another go on just three days rest. And of course, the weather is supposed to be-you guessed it- hot and humid, 97 with a heat index over 110 and a chance of thunderstorms to boot.
The Sounders looked as fresh on Wednesday as they looked gassed on Saturday, but their failure to secure a more favorable result in Panama meant Seattle were forced to start a mostly first-choice lineup against San Francisco, a majority of whom went all 120 minutes. There's a very good chance we'll see starts from the likes of Lamar Neagle, Mike Fucito, Nate Jaqua and Roger Levesque (possibly all four) and with Kansas City's most dangerous play coming down the wings the Sounders should hope James Riley has a bit left in the tank on Saturday than he did against Houston. When one of the league's fittest players looks like he's running in quicksand, you know the travel and weather have taken a toll.
This is going to be the kind of game where Sigi Schmid earns his money. The Sounders are likely going to be in a situation that requires starting a significantly weakened lineup, and they'll be doing so against a very good team that can create some serious match-up problems. We haven't seen the Sounders try to grind anything out as of late, but there's a good chance we'll just that tomorrow. It's certainly not anyone's preference, but it's a fair bit better than being beaten handily.