Match Preview: Atlanta United at Seattle Sounders

Just days after advancing to the U.S. Open Cup semifinal for the first time in club history, Atlanta United are back in action on the road this weekend as they face the Seattle Sounders. The two teams have faced off twice in their history and have drawn each time, so you can expect another tight matchup between two teams that are pushing to stay right at the top of their respective conferences. With Seattle boasting one of the best home field advantages in the league, it’s another big test for the Five Stripes away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The match kicks off at 3:55 ET from CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. Click here for all the ways to tune into the match.

Atlanta United (9-7-3)

After another win in knockout play, Atlanta United return to league action, eager to recapture the road form that propelled them up the Eastern Conference earlier this season to keep them within striking distance of the top of the conference.

As always, the attacking tone will be set by the tenacious Venezuelan Josef Martinez, who is back to his red-hot best with seven goals in his past four league matches. A brace on Sunday would be his fourth-straight brace in league play, yet another league record to fall before the man Atlanta fans call the King. Tito Villalba’s long-term injury will keep him out another week, and the match comes too soon for a return from Ezequiel Barco. But with Pity Martínez, an in-form Justin Meram, Julian Gressel and Dion Pereira all fit and ready to go, there are plenty of attacking options at Frank de Boer’s disposal. And look out for the possible addition of Emerson Hyndman, who thrived in his first appearance for the club on Wednesday with a key assist in the U.S. Open Cup. Expect to see the midfield pairing of Darlington Nagbe and Eric Remedi once again as Jeff Larentowicz serves his suspension from the red card he received at the end of last week’s Red Bulls match.

They sit in front of a back line that is eager to show their dip in form is just an aberration for a side that started the season as the best defensive unit in the league. While Florentin Pogba joins George Bello on the injury list, Leandro González Pirez will be back ready for action after serving his red-card suspension against Red Bulls last weekend. He and Miles Robinson have formed a formidable partnership in the center, and they’ll be hoping to recapture that form in Seattle. Look for some combination of Franco Escobar, Brek Shea and Michael Parkhurst to fill out the flanks in front of Brad Guzan, whose 8 clean sheets still puts him tied for the most in the league this season. Atlanta United has only conceded once to Seattle in two matches in team history –– keeping another clean sheet on the road would go a long way to securing a win this weekend.

Seattle Sounders (9-5-5)

Meanwhile, Atlanta United’s opponents on Sunday also sit in third place in their conference, and the Sounder’s 12-match unbeaten run at home in league play is second only to Atlanta United’s current home form in the league right now.

As has been the case for the past several years, so much of their threat going forward starts with their Uruguayan #10 Nicolas Lodeiro, who has 4 goals and a team-high 5 assists so far this year. His combination play with Peruvian striker Raúl Ruidíaz is one of the most potent attacking partnerships in the league, and it’s only made more complete with the return of Jordan Morris, who is expected to be available on the wing after returning from the Gold Cup with the U.S. Men’s National Team this summer. Meanwhile Spanish midfielder Victor Rodriguez adds technique, quickness and another creative passing outlet to an attack that Atlanta United will have to be on their game to stop this weekend, while youngsters Handwalla Bwana and Alex Roldan each bring quality and fresh legs off the bench if needed.

The defensive side of the ball starts in midfield for the Sounders, where another U.S. international, Cristian Roldan, is expected to return to the lineup after his stint with the national team at this summer’s Gold Cup. He’ll join one of Gustav Svensson or Jordy Delem in the center of the field to add defensive steel to Lodeiro’s attacking prowess. The flanks are where Seattle thrives, with fullbacks Brad Smith, Kelvin Leerdam, Joevin Jones and Nouhou Tolo maybe the best fullback corps in the league, while Stefan Frei remains one of the league’s premier shot-stoppers in net. But the midseason retirement of longtime captain Chad Marshall could leave a vulnerability in the center of the back line. The center back spots have been filled by committee with Roman Torres, South Korean Kee-Hee Kim and Ecuadorian Designated Player Xavier Arreaga –– Atlanta United will hope Josef Martinez’s smoldering form will be too much for the home team to handle.

It’s two of the best teams in the league going head to head in a matchup that has never produced a winner, so you know this will be another tight one you won’t want to miss. Make sure you’re cheering on the Five Stripes at 3:55 p.m. ET on ESPN Sunday; click here for all the ways to tune in.