Mar 7, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Have you missed MLS? Of course you have! Worry not, because on Saturday, the 2014 season kicks off in style. Defending MLS Cup holders Sporting Kansas City travel to an undoubtedly boisterous CenturyLink Field, where they’ll take on the new-look Seattle Sounders (Watch live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).
The hosts are far and away the leaders in this contest, having lost just once in eight meetings, and recording a tie just once as well. The last game between the two, in Kansas City, ended in dramatic fashion, with Djimi Traore getting the only goal deep in stoppage time.
But will all that change now that the Sounders have revamped their squad? Despite making the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, Seattle have made major changes to their team. Gone are Eddie Johnson, Mauro Rosales, Steve Zakuani, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Michael Gspurning. In come Kenny Cooper, Chad Marshall, Marco Pappa, Jalil Anibaba, Tristan Bowen and Stefan Frei. The man in charge remains the same, however, with Sigi Schmid beginning his sixth season at the Sounders’ helm.
The Sounders will also be hoping for more from Clint Dempsey, who signed on as a DP last summer, but failed to provide as much of a boost as fans had hoped. The American just returned from a loan spell at Premier League bottom-side Fulham, where he did little to impress. Seattle will be hoping he settles in, finds a spark and spurns the team forward.
Sporting KC, on the other hand, have made few changes to their side. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen retired, and forward Teal Bunbury got traded to New England. But for the most part, Peter Vermes mans a side that’s nearly identical to the one that beat Real Salt Lake on penalties last December to lift the MLS Cup.
With so few changes, it’s unlikely the team’s style will change, either, which will disappoint some MLS fans who bemoan Sporting’s physical approach. But it’s worth remembering that Benny Feilhaber can pick a pass, Graham Zusi can select a cross and Claudio Bieler can score the goals. They can slice apart defenses – and where better to start than a potentially shaky Seattle backline?
What they’re saying
Schmid on whether Dempsey will feature: “He’ll play a role for us,” the Sounders coach told reporters. “I have to talk to him, he lands today and we’ve gone back and forth on text a little bit. I want to see how he feels after the flight, how many minutes he can play. We’ll just have to go from there.”
Feilhaber on Sporting’s defense of the MLS Cup: “If you’re not improving, you’re getting worse,” said the midfielder. “Teams are going to come after us a little bit more because they know they’re playing against the defending champions. But even though we won the MLS Cup, we didn’t play our best soccer each and every game. We have 10 of our 11 starters back, and I think that makes a huge difference. We continue to grow together and learn more and more how everyone plays. That only leads to more success.”
As a Sounders fan living far, far away from Seattle, I’d feel mighty disloyal if I predicted anything but a home win. It may not be pretty, but the hosts could very well be buoyed by their 12th man.
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