Sporting KC carries 262-minute shutout streak into matchup with Sounders
The two-time defending Western Conference champions will face the team currently atop the Western Conference table as Seattle Sounders FC travels to Kansas City to meet Sporting Kansas City on Sunday at Children's Mercy Park.
The Sounders represented the Western Conference in MLS Cup in 2016 and 2017, claiming the title in 2016.
Things have not gone well in 2018 for Seattle. The club is 0-3-0 with no points. The Sounders are the only MLS club without a point and also are the only MLS side without a goal.
The next lowest total is three goals by two different clubs.
Conversely, Sporting has a streak of five unbeaten matches, going 4-1-1 with 13 points, best in the Western Conference and second best in MLS. Kansas City has come on strong defensively recently, boasting a 262-minute shutout streak dating to March 24.
But contrary to past seasons, when Sporting limited opponents' scoring chances but had difficulty finding the net itself, Sporting has the third-highest goal total (12) in MLS.
"There's no easy game in Major League Soccer, especially against them," Sporting manager Peter Vermes said. "We understand that they're going to come here with everything they have. We have a good mentality for that. We understand that it's going to be a battle.
"We're building on defense on what we normally can do. In the early part of this season, we had some missteps. But I also know that if you're willing to face the mistakes that you made head-on, you have a chance to recover and do better quicker than some."
Sporting's most recent success came at the Los Angeles Galaxy, as second-half goals by Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell lifted them past the Galaxy 2-0.
Goalkeeper Tim Melia had a career-high and club regular-season record 10 saves. Sporting achieved the result without its leading scorer, Felipe Gutierrez, who is tied for the league lead with five goals. Gutierrez is listed as day-to-day with a hip injury.
Seattle will be without two key players who are suspended for Sunday's match for disciplinary reasons. Clint Dempsey, who led Seattle with 12 goals during the 2017 regular season, won't play this weekend because the MLS disciplinary committee added an extra game to his suspension for a red-card offense in a 3-0 loss at FC Dallas on March 18.
"I didn't think it deserved a red card, and I don't think it should have been two (games)," Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer said. "We have guys on the team that can deal with those kind of matters. We're trying to just push past it. We have to focus on Sporting KC."
Defender Kelvin Leerdam also will be out for his misbehavior on March 31 in a loss to the Montreal Impact. In addition to coping without Dempsey and Leerdam, Seattle likely will have to account for multiple injury absences. Forward Jordan Morris is out for the season because of an ACL tear, and midfielder Victor Rodriguez has yet to return to action after a knee sprain.
However, captain Osvaldo Alonso could make his return on Sunday after missing the club's first three games with a quad strain.
Playmaking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro will look to ignite Seattle's stuttering attack. Since he joined the Sounders in July 2016, no MLS player has created more chances than Lodeiro.
Sporting KC is 4-1-2 in the last seven meetings between the clubs dating to 2015. Sporting has won each of the last two home matches in the series by 3-0 scores.
The sides last met Aug. 12, 2017, when the Sounders posted a 1-0 home victory behind Dempsey's goal in the 36th minute. It was Melia's first goal conceded to Seattle in six appearances, as the goalkeeper wields a 4-1-1 regular-season record against the club with a 0.17 goals-against average.