About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
The defending champions are in good shape to make a strong run at the title once more in 2014. Sporting returns 10 out of 11 starters, including all four pieces of the MLS best back line two years running. The most notable difference is Eric Kronberg in goal, replacing the retired Jimmy Nielsen. Other differences include the addition of Sal Zizzo on the wing, who may or may not start in this opening match, and Andy Gruenebaum as backup keeper. There should be no difference in the high-pressure offense that brought Sporting Kansas City so much success in 2013.
The Sounders went through an offensive makeover this offseason. The loss of Eddie Johnson to DC United changed the way they advance the ball. Instead of using his aerial ability, they will now push Clint Dempsey as a center attacking midfielder with Martins and Cooper up top. The attack will now go through a series of passes through the middle to get it to those two forwards. Now, whether Dempsey will play on Saturday remains to be seen. He spent the preseason on loan to Fulham and just played in a national team match on Wednesday. The jet lag may push him out of the starting lineup for Saturday.
Who to Watch
Sporting Kansas City- Eric Kronberg
The new Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper has been put into a less than ideal first game as starter. Seattle's crowd is going to be raucous and the Sounders' attack is still very strong. It will be interesting to see how Kronberg rises to the occasion in his first match as full-time starter. One thing Nielsen was extremely good at was directing the back line and having them form a solid defense. Kronberg's ability to communicate effectively with his back line will be a huge part in how he transitions into the starting role.
Seattle Sounders- Kenny Cooper
Kenny Cooper is the brand new piece in the Sounders' attack, complementing Martins up top. It will be interesting to see him adjust to the new environment in Seattle and to a different attack than FC Dallas'. His job will be to effectively bully past the physical Sporting KC back line and to be ready for the service that he and Martins will be receiving from the center midfield. If he does not have a good game then the Sounders may be able to rely on Martins to get some scores for them but if he has a good game as well as Martins then Sporting KC may be in trouble.
How they will win
Sporting Kansas City
With Seattle's back line being very new, Sporting KC needs to catch them in their early season form and to make them pay before they gel together. The best way to do this is to push the attack forward and to catch the Sounders' back line in a flux, capitalizing on early season mistakes. With the way that Sporting KC's front line has been playing for the past year, they hold an advantage over the Sounders because they have been playing together longer and can hopefully overtake a new back line. It won't be easy since the defenders the Sounders brought in are very good, but hopefully Sporting can catch them before the rust wears off.
The biggest deficiency on Sporting KC right now has to be Seth Sinovic. Sinovic is probable for Saturday but he is also recovering from a bit of an injury. A strong attack like Seattle can cause trouble for Sinovic is he is not 100% on his game. The Sounders need to push on Sinovic's side, then force it into the center when Sporting needs to compensate. The Sporting back line is a tough nut to crack and a new attacking formation is going to have a hard time scoring early, but they can do it if they can overwhelm Sinovic.
Sporting Kansas City: Kronberg; Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic; Rosell, Nagamura, Feilhaber; Zusi, Dwyer, Sapong.
Seattle Sounders (From Dave Clark): Frei; Remick, Marshall, Anibaba, Yedlin; Alonso; Pappa, Evans, Neagle; Martins, Cooper.
Sporting Kansas City 2-1 Seattle Sounders
I see Sporting KC pulling this one out because a team that has been playing together for longer is going to have more chemistry than a newer team, especially early in the season. This, I believe, will play into Sporting Kansas City's hands.
It's been three months. The march to defend the title begins now.