United FC-Sounders FC Preview
Brian Schmetzer is excited to pit his wits against a new coach and an unfamiliar opponent when in-form Seattle Sounders face Atlanta United at Lumen Field on Sunday.
Western Conference side Seattle Sounders have won five of their opening six matches, drawing the other and keeping four clean sheets in the process to top the overall standings.
After facing a lot of familiar opponents over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Sounders now face a different type of test against Eastern Conference side Atlanta.
The Five Stripes lost 2-1 on their last visit to Seattle in July 2019, but a lot has changed in the near two years since, not least the arrival of a new boss in Gabriel Heinze.
And Schmetzer is relishing the chance to face a team from the East as the Sounders look to tighten their grip on top spot.
"I wouldn't say there's a tangible difference between the Eastern Conference and Western Conference," he said.
"What I would say is that each team within each conference has a distinct style. So, we as a coaching staff were excited to get a new opponent.
"There sure are a ton of comparisons between the sides. They're a tremendous franchise. We're a tremendous franchise. They want to win. We want to win.
"They've got great players. We've got great players. There's a lot of similarities there.
"Gabriel was an interesting hire. A lot of times the personality of the coach comes through the team."
Atlanta snapped a four-game winless streak with a last-gasp 1-0 victory over CF Montreal in front of 40,000 fans last weekend and now face the Supporters' Shield frontrunners.
Heinze is not treating Sunday's game different to any other, though, as United continue to recover from a difficult 2020.
"For me, there is not one game that is more important than the other," he said. "First, because I respect all the opponents and for me, the next game is the most important game."
Heinze also confirmed that Ezequiel Barco, Alan Franco and Jurgen Damm will all miss the Seattle match through injury.
Seattle Sounders - Brad Smith
Wing-back Smith rounded off the scoring in last week's 2-0 win against Los Angeles FC to make it three goals for the campaign, having failed to score in his previous 44 games.
Those three goals have come from 15 shots, hitting the target five times. That compares to just five attempts on target in his first three MLS seasons combined.
Atlanta United - Josef Martinez
With a trio of key contributors nursing injuries, there is even more weight on the shoulders of Martinez up top as he aims to improve on an underwhelming return of one goal in five games.
He has 78 goals in 89 career matches overall, however, and is still working his way to fitness after sustaining a long-term injury in the first game of last season.
- Seattle has a win and two draws in three all-time meetings with Atlanta United. The Sounders are one of two teams Atlanta has played but never defeated in MLS (D3 L2 vs. Inter Miami).
- The Sounders are the ninth team in the post-shootout era (since 2000) to open a season with at least 16 points in their first six games. Seattle is the one of two teams to do so more than once after getting off to the same start in 2019 as they went on to win MLS Cup (Also Sporting Kansas City: 18 points in 2012 and 16 points in 2000).
- Atlanta has recorded just one win in its last 12 away matches (D4 L7) dating back to the resumption of the 2020 regular season in August. Atlanta lost five away matches in the 2018 regular season en route to MLS Cup, but the Five Stripes have recorded 17 away losses in the two-plus seasons since.
- United leads MLS in possession, keeping the ball 60.3 percent of the time. The Five Stripes are the only MLS team that has won the possession battle in every match this season, keeping at least 55.0 percent in each match. Seattle has won the possession battle just once, holding 50.5 percent against Minnesota United in the season opener.
Updated May 22, 2021