Atlanta United will host Seattle at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Seattle, once the model to copy in MLS, has arguably been passed by Atlanta United, which is recently experiencing more success on the field and at the turnstile that its compatriots in the Northwest.
Matt Pentz, one of the best soccer journalists in the U.S., answered four questions about the game. Pentz (@MattPentz) writes about the Sounds for The Athletic, ESPN FC and The Guardian.
Q: What has happened to Seattle's offense this season?
A: Though the offensive struggles have been more extreme this season, the phenomenon isn't new. Seattle has lacked for an elite-level goalscorer ever since Obafemi Martins left in early 2016. Too much of the onus was placed on Nicolas Lodeiro even during the run to back-to-back finals. With Jordan Morris out for the year with an ACL tear and Clint Dempsey having lost a step, that's just been more obvious in 2017
Q: Is its the newest signing the answer, and how will he be used?
A: On paper, Raul Ruidiaz is exactly the type of player the Sounders have needed for a while now. Whether he's used as the lone forward in the 4-2-3-1 Brian Schmetzer has preferred or alongside Will Bruin in a revamped look, Ruidiaz provides an instant and reliable goal threat that will draw eyes away from Lodeiro and all of the others. Whether his addition alone is enough to save the season is another question -- I remain skeptical -- but Ruidiaz should be a really good signing in the long run.
Q: How does Seattle, which was the MLS attendance king, view Atlanta United and its totals?
A: With surprise, and with a touch of envy. Few in the Northwest expected Atlanta United to resonate at all in what had been stereotyped as a bad pro sports town, let alone on this level. Sounders fans are also coming to grips with no longer being the brightest, shiniest toy in MLS. The club has branded itself as the most ambitious, most innovative team in the league, but the fact is that it doesn't have as deep a pockets as an owner like Arthur Blank has. In that, Seattleites are definitely a little bit jealous.
Q: What is the matchup to watch and how do you think it will go?
A: Josef Martinez versus the Sounders center backs. At 33, three-time-defender-of-the-year Chad Marshall is starting to show signs of age. Roman Torres is back from the World Cup but banged up. Kim Kee-Hee has looked a good signing but has yet to face off against a forward of Martinez's caliber. I expect Martinez to ultimately break through and keep up his pace of nearly a goal per game; either way, it'll be an instructive test for Seattle's defense.