The Seattle Sounders enter Wednesday night's game against Sporting Kansas City mired in one of the worst slumps in the team's history. The Sounders best-ever MLS start has been largely negated, and Seattle now finds itself smack-dab in the middle of the Western Conference standings and eight points adrift of Supporters Shield leaders Real Salt Lake. With concerns beginning to mount regarding the team's performance heading into the break, the Sounders performance in a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of a less than stellar Montreal Impact team on Saturday has the alarm bells ringing at full blast. There's not a great deal of agreement about what's causing the problems and what Seattle needs to do in order to correct them, but there's near universal agreement that the Sounders need a result and a strong performance in this game to prevent a slump from becoming a trend.
Unfortunately for Seattle, Sporting Kansas City is not really the best team against which to try and right the ship. There's been no better team in MLS this season, and after a minor blip at the beginning of May KC has gotten back on track and look primed for a serious run at the Supporters Shield. They've gotten to where they are by being one of the league's most well-balanced teams; KC scores goals at a decent clip, keeps the opposition from scoring goals at an even rate and seems to have a knack for turning one point into three. An explosive and young attacking core is backed up by an unassuming but beyond solid back line, and coach Peter Vermes has seemingly made all of the right moves so far this season. While it's true that KC has not been nearly as strong on the road as at home, with a 6-1-0 record at LiveStrong against a 3-2-1 mark away, this is as good a team as the Sounders will face all season.
Despite Sporting Kansas City's undeniable quality, however, there is a very real sense that the Sounders most difficult competition in this game will be themselves. This is not a team that is playing as though they have a great deal of confidence at the moment, and they are desperately in need of that swagger if they are to be at their best. There will be changes made; Osvaldo Alonso will be the most welcome addition as he returns from suspension, while Jhon Kennedy Hurtado will take his place on the naughty list. The best case scenario for Seattle is that Patrick Ianni is fit and ready to slide into central defense by gametime; otherwise Sigi Schmid will have to get very creative while filling out the team sheet. Andrew Weber is rumored to be the new first-choice keeper, with Bryan Meredith's performance having gotten progressively worse and his confidence appearing to be on its last legs. Perhaps most intriguing will be what Schmid chooses to do on the wings; Mauro Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez are quite clearly not themselves at the moment, and the team may well be better off should Schmid choose to sit one of them. Fernandez seems the more likely of the two to be pulled from the starting XI, but with his struggles seemingly having more to do with form as opposed to Rosales and his struggles to regain full fitness, it's impossible to know for sure.
While it's a bit early to be thinking of games in terms of "make-or-break" it's likely fair to say that will be the most important game the Sounders have played all season. Genuinely good teams sometimes have bad seasons, and when that happens it's typically because they were unable to shake themselves from a sustained funk early in the going. We're still a long way from reaching that point, but each time the Sounders have a poor showing and leavee points on the table it gets a little bit closer and the inclination to panic becomes a little bit more defensible. This team is far too talented and capable to let it get any closer. They're not going to be able to turn things around overnight, but this game would be a pretty excellent place to start.