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MLS: Nashville SC at Real Salt Lake

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Pitch Pit: Graham Zusi v RSL’s Tate Schmitt from “In the Box”

A new match day series.

Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Pitch Pit! “Pitch Pit” is a Sporting Kansas City matchday series that will provide a brief and sometimes fun detail of each match’s biggest individual battle on the pitch pitting a Sporting player against an opponent he will battle from minute one to minute ninety. “Biggest” because the scuffle will go far in determining the outcome of the match. Soccer is played collectively, like no other sport. Yet, collective victory often comes when individuals win their battles.

Sporting Kansas City hosts Real Salt Lake today at Children’s Mercy Park. Kickoff is at 6:08 pm CST. The matches’ biggest battle will pit Sporting’s Graham Zusi v RSL’s Tate Schmitt. We’ll start with the nickname battle - Zeus v Taters. Ummmm, yah, Zusi wins that one.


Vitals Ht Wt Age MLS Seas Base Salary
Vitals Ht Wt Age MLS Seas Base Salary
Graham Zusi 5'10" 161 35 15th 650,000
Tate Schmitt 5'11" 161 24 1st 90,000

Wheres and What they Gots

Zusi is a right back in 4-3-3 setup, while Schmitt is a left wing-back /midfielder in a 3-4-2-1. Both are attacking backs who provide necessary width for their team’s attack and are thus vital in providing space and service for others.

Sporting fans know what Florida native Zusi brings to the table. Schmitt possesses good pace, quick feet, and strong skill on the ball. Defensively, the homegrown is average (despite his duel %) with generally good positioning. However, his youth means inexperience. Last week, Nashville SC did not challenge Schmitt with overloads, nor did Schmitt have to defend playmaker Hany Mukhtar being on the left.

Telling Stats

Stats Int Duel % KP DRB % xG G g+
Stats Int Duel % KP DRB % xG G g+
Graham Zusi 6 54.5 0 66.7 0.17 0 0.27
Tate Schmitt 7 56.3 4 42.9 0.35 2 0.12

Zusi leads Kansas City in Interceptions, Duels won %, and Dribble %, while “Taters” leads Salt Lake in interceptions. Ironically, considering Schmitt has two goals to Zusi’s none, Zusi has more than doubled Schmitt’s goals added (g+). Perhaps that stat reveals Zusi being more integral to his side and more proactive in his play - that veteran impact.


Zusi has been solid, if unspectacular for Kansas City in their 1-3 start to the season. Not much to talk about here, save for the right back keeping a Colorado Rapid onside leading to a goal in 2-0 loss two weeks ago.

Schmitt, however, has been fire. Man of the Match has been Schmitt’s MO after winning the honor in wins over Seattle Sounders and Nashville SC. In addition, Schmitt scored the match-winner in the win over New England Revolution, before doing same last week at home v Nashville. Yet, RSL’s surprise of the season so far did miss an open chance at the back post just before the half v Nashville.

Ink Links

“Not one moment”: Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi - The Blue Testament

Filled with confidence, Tate Schmitt and Real Salt Lake shine again (


Winning this battle may come down to who can keep whom busier defending. If right winger Johnny Russell (assuming he plays) and Zusi can keep Schmitt defending, Schmitt’s forays forward will be limited. And if Russell is on his game, the Scot can burn this pseudo-rookie. Even so, can Zusi stay alert to Schmitt’s sneaky back post runs? If not, another Schmitt goal (no matter other stats) could turn the tide of the match.

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