Defending Major League Soccer champions Sporting Kansas City begin their second title defense today in Seattle, with the Sounders hosting the first game to MLS’s 19th season. With coverage beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET, the game will be broadcast on NBCSN, with a live stream available a NBC Sports Live Extra.
Having only lost starting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen during the offseason (retirement), Sporting return 10 starters from a team that claimed MLS Cup last December in a 10-round shootout win over Real Salt Lake – a group that includes U.S. internationals Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. After three straight seasons near the top of the Eastern Conference, Peter Vermes’ squad brings as much certainty as any team into the 2014 regular season. We know Sporting will be good.
Though they’ve made the playoffs every season since joining MLS in 2009, Seattle has become a wild card. As talented as team in the league, the Sounders could ride the likes of Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Osvaldo Alonso, and Marco Pappa to their first league title. After a terrible finish to the 2013 season that nearly cost head coach Sigi Schmid his job, the Sounders still have to find the right configuration for all their new parts. With title expectations clashing with last year’s humbling, the stakes have never been higher for Seattle.
Win on Saturday, and lingering doubts will be assuaged. A loss at home in the opener — even to a team as talented as Sporting — will immediately rekindle memories of last fall.
Dempsey, just returning from international duty, misses out on Schmid’s starting XI, as does first-choice left back Leo Gonzalez. For Sporting, Vermes is without his starting fullbacks (Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic), with Kevin Ellis and Josh Gardner getting opening day stars. Midfielder Lawrence Olum also gets the call, at Oriol Rosell’s expense, with the absence of Paolo Nagamura meaning Zusi will join Benny Feilhaber in midfield.
Seattle Sounders: Stefan Frei; DeAndre Yedlin; Chad Marshall; Djimi Traoré; Dylan Remick; Marco Pappa, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Lamar Neagle; Kenny Cooper, Obafemi Martins
Sporting Kansas City: Eric Kronberg; Mark Ellis, Aurélien Collin, Matt Besler, Josh Gardner; Lawrence Olum, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi; Jacob Peterson, Dom Dwyer, C.J. Sapong