After their first road win of the season at Nashville SC last Sunday and their 6-0 U.S. Open Cup win over Union Omaha at home Wednesday evening, Sporting Kansas City are on a much-needed roll. If… and it is a big “If”… Sporting can get three points in Seattle today, the odds of making the playoffs will be a few steps ahead of where they were just last Saturday. A few significant steps.
Wingers Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell are playing well. Striker Khiry Shelton is coming off a couple of good performances. The backline – no matter its configuration – is, well, limiting mistakes to a degree. The performance of Kansas City’s midfield will be the determining factor against Seattle Sounders after the 2:08pm CT kickoff at Seattle’s Lumen Field.
Fortunately for Sporting, Seattle’s midfield will be short its usual #6 as Obed Vargas is injured. However, beware #10 Nicolas Lodeiro, and perhaps more importantly, positionally #8 Albert Rusnak, who dons #11 on his back.
Likely tasked with limiting Rusnak will be KC veteran #8 Roger Espinoza. Espinoza was held back Wednesday night in the Open Cup match, as was sometimes #6 Uri Rosell, so they should gain the start in Seattle.
It is veteran vs. veteran in the midfield trenches.
Wheres and What they Gots
Though sometimes deployed at the #6 this season, Espinoza will likely be at one of the #8s for Kansas City in its 4-3-3 (though Manager Peter Vermes could put out a 4-2-3-1 or other variation). Espinoza is still much of a bulldog in the midfield, hounding opposing playmakers or lynchpins like Rusnak.
As a deep lying #8 for the Sounders, Rusnak’s vision and surprising defensive acumen has been key to Seattle’s Concacaf Champions League title and its lately MLS resurgence (4-1-1 in their last six).
See mlssoccer.com’s analysis on Czech Republic native Rusnak and Seattle here: Rusnak signing a masterstroke by Sounders, the magic is missing in Philadelphia & more from Week 15 | MLSSoccer.com
Espinoza, perhaps unnoticed by some, has always been a good passer in the attacking half. To wit, the former Honduran international is 5th on Sporting in key passes. It may be more surprising that he is 3rd in accurate forward zone passes as well with 275 in 1144 minutes. That raise your eyebrows? Wait… Espinoza is also 3rd in the side in shots on target. Yah, you read that right.
Defensively, the future Sporting Legend is 1st in tackles (and yellow cards) and tops in interceptions.
Designated player Rusnak is 2nd for Seattle in pass percentage and 5th in key passes. As far as accurate forward zone passes, Rusnak conquers Espinoza with 301 in 966 min, which leads the Sounders. A further key statistic is that Rusnak has committed only 10 turnovers.
Espinoza added to his lore last week in Nashville as his intervention about Nashville’s penalty kick allowed time for VAR to overrule the spot kick due to an offside. Vintage Espinoza.
I thought I loved Roger Espinoza before tonight but... pic.twitter.com/5kz01SlnRS— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) June 20, 2022
See above link for Rusnak
If Espinoza can smartly use his physicality and be at the top of his tactical defensive game to impact Rusnak’s mindset and dull Rusnak driving much of Seattle’s movement forward, Rusnak will be unable to eliminate Sporting’s midfield (and perhaps backline) with his insightful passing from deep. Consequently, Sporting may be able to take advantage on the counter.