Competition: MLS Playoffs (Western Conference Knockout Round) – Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City
Venue: CenturyLink Field – Thursday, October 27 – 22:00 ET (03:00 BST)
Match Odds: Seattle 10/11 – Draw 12/5 – Sporting KC 14/5
Few could have predicted Seattle would make the postseason, let alone hold home advantage, a few months ago. But the signing of Nicolas Lodeiro, coupled with interim head coach Brian Schmetzer taking over from Sigi Schmid, has inspired the team since the summer.
The Sounders have marched into the playoffs and rounded off their regular season with a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Sunday. They enter the playoffs unbeaten in their last eight home games and are favourites to advance here.
The worry for the hosts is that they were outclassed by Sporting Kansas City twice during the regular season, losing both games by an aggregate scoreline of 4-0.
The visitors have almost flown under the radar but enter the playoffs in fairly good form, losing just one of their last six MLS games to round off the regular season.
They have an experienced squad of players, some of whom lifted the MLS Cup in 2013, and will fancy their chances despite being labelled as underdogs here.
SKC have some really dangerous attacking players and know they can unlock this Seattle defence, having proven their threat already this year.
This will be the first ever playoff clash between these two sides. Sporting Kansas City have been eliminated in the Knockout Round in each of the past two seasons. The last time they advanced through the first stage, they went on to lift the title.
Seattle Sounders star Clint Dempsey remains out with a heart problem and is unlikely to play again in 2016, while Andreas Ivanschitz and Dylan Remick are both sidelined through injury.
Sporting Kansas City are without Diego Rubio for the season, while Justin Mapp, Chance Myers and Brad Davis are all listed as ‘questionable’ ahead of Thursday’s game.
Seattle Sounders’ last five: W/W/D/L/W
Sporting Kansas City’s last five: D/W/L/D/W
Key Stat: Sporting KC are unbeaten in their last five meetings with Seattle in MLS (W3 D2), conceding just one goal against their opponents in that time.
Key Player: Nicolas Lodeiro – It’s impossible to highlight anyone else other than Lodeiro as the key man for this clash. The Uruguayan playmaker has been sensational since joining MLS in August and is the main reason behind the Sounders’ resurgence during the late stages of the regular season. His creativity will be vital if the home side are to advance to the Conference Semifinals on Thursday evening.
Seattle Sounders 2-1 Sporting Kansas City – This is likely to be the closest of all the midweek Knockout Round clashes to start the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Both sides are capable of winning this contest and will fancy their chances of going all the way if they can get through here. Seattle have home advantage on their side and have looked very impressive in recent weeks, but Sporting KC have big-game experience and will know how to cope with the occasion. This could go to extra-time, but ultimately, Seattle should edge it.