Sporting Kansas City hosts the Final due to a 2-0 road win against Philadelphia, but have had a rather mediocre go of it over the last month or so. Falling to Houston and Columbus in July, as well as a draw against New England, SKC is 4-2-2 in all competitions over the last month and a half. Four wins is nothing to dismiss, but it’s the casualties from that stretch that has me most concerned: Aurellian Collin broke his face in the All Star Game; Bobby Convey, Chance Meyers, and CJ Sapong are all out with leg/hip injuries; Jacob Peterson has a sprained shoulder; and Roger Espinoza just traveled from across the pond on his return from Olympic duty in London. when you figure that all of these players have factored into SKC’s Starting XI over the last month, it’s hard to imagine what tonight’s starting line-up will look like for Peter Vermes’ side.
Seattle, on the other hand, looks like they’ve finally snapped their midsummer skid (5-0-2 in all competitions since July 1st), and have new acquisition Christian Tiffert ready to go for his first debut in the USOC tournament. After throttling LA over the weekend, Seattle seem poised to host the Cup for an unprecedented fourth consecutive time. But will it really be that easy?
I see the key matchup’s being how KC’s patchwork defense will contain the chemically-active pairing of Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero. Lawrence Olum will need to be at the top of his game at central defense to help Matt Besler to shut down this combo, as will outside backs Seth Sinovic and Michael Harrington. Vermes’ 4-3-3 formation is dependent upon the wing back’s getting up on the attack, but with the likes of Mauro Rosales and possibly Tiffert working the wings, they’ll surely have their hands full.
There are a couple bright spots for Kansas City, though. They’re the host, and the cauldron known as the Blue Hell will surely be rocking tonight. If the 12th Man can help instill some fear in the Sounder’s hearts, it may be a deciding factor… regardless of what Vermes says about his homefield advantage. The other positive is the game of Teal Bunbury, who has scored two goals in his last four regular season games, registering 13 shots, and being an extreme pest for backlines everywhere. He’s no CJ Sapong, but he might do.
So which way will this bout go? I hate to do it, but I’ll have to pick Seattle, and here’s why. The current depth of the Sounder’s bench, especially at midfield, has to be the key here. Even if Tiffert starts, they can safely draw an Alex Caskey or Andy Rose to fill in when needed. Tiffert and Rosales will add the creativity to the attack that is sorely needed, and with Osvaldo Alonso anchoring the tail end of the midfield, it’s a safe bet that the middle of the pitch will be locked down tight by Seattle all night. Factor in the return of Michael Gspurning to the goal, and I think you have a recipe for success.
The downside of Seattle starting this many top players in a midweek game to get their paws of a fourth US Open Cup is the detriment to their regular season ambitions for the next week and a half. Will this championship cost them some much needed points in the MLS standings?
Prediction: Seattle Sounders 2:1 Sporting Kansas City. Eddie Johnson header to open the scoring, followed by a much-needed Kei Kamara goal inside the six yard box in the second half, finished off by an Andy Rose golazo in the dying minutes of regulation. Lofty prediction, I know, but let’s make it interesting!