Wednesday night’s dramatic 3-2 comeback loss to Mexican power Club Leon in the Leagues Cup Final in Las Vegas, their club’s first-ever international final, was a gut-wrenching moment for the Seattle Sounders.

“Even watching some of the film was not easy because of the emotional drain of being this close to winning that game," head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters at the Starfire Sports Complex on Friday. "A couple of key moments would have changed the game. It was hard for them to watch.

“But they're not afraid of that, because they understand that's how they learn.”

Nicolas Benezet phrased it in blunter terms.

“Directly after the game everybody was pissed off,” said the French winger.

And their schedule has served up a bruising hangover cure: A nationally-televised visit to Children’s Mercy Park, a testing venue where the Sounders are 0-4-2 in their last six trips and haven’t won since May 2013, to face Sporting Kansas City – the current Western Conference leaders, running one point ahead of Seattle – on Sunday afternoon (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes).


It’s a big test for one of the most successful and resilient locker-room cultures in MLS.

“They are in front of us,” said Benezet of SKC. “That's the bad thing and it’s also the good thing because it’s like motivation. We have to beat them to be back on the top of the West, so that's the goal for us.

“We have to move on, we don't have any choices. We lost, we can’t do anything anymore. So we have to move on and win the next game.”

So the Rave Green plunge ahead, determined to grind their pain into future glory with a bounce-back result against a rival who stunned them 3-1 at their Lumen Field home earlier this year.

“I'm very proud of the team for having that type of mentality to push us through,” said Schmetzer. “We've experienced something that other teams haven't this year. We’ve lost a big game, and now it's the time to push through that and use that experience to be better so that when the playoffs roll around, maybe we've learned a couple things from the Leon game.”

As for the other half of this clash of West elites, Sporting took care to pay tribute to Seattle.

“Oh yeah. They're the team in Major League Soccer,” KC manager and sporting director Peter Vermes said on Friday, hailing Seattle as “very competitive” and “incredibly well-coached” during his media availability.

“Week in and week out you see how they play, how they compete. Their players are incredibly committed. So yeah, it's going to be, I'm sure, the best version of who they are. It's obviously a very tough game for us.”

While the Sounders have reached more MLS Cup finals than SKC lately, the two clubs have generally been pacesetters over the past decade, making their stadiums into fortresses and heightening the importance of home-field advantage in their most consequential matchups. A particularly bruising afternoon at CM Park in the summer of 2016 sticks out in Seattle history as the final straw before Sigi Schmid’s dismissal, the club’s only coaching change in their MLS era.

That angle helps power the race for the conference’s top spot, even if the New England Revolution maintain a pronounced pole position in the Supporters’ Shield table. And Sunday offers the proverbial “statement game” opportunity, with only one point separating the hosts and visitors atop the West. They’re also trying to keep the Colorado Rapids (third place) at bay.

“For both of us it's an important game, just because we're so close to each other when it comes to points and position in the table,” said Vermes. “From that point of view, obviously, it's a big game in that realm. I would also say it's a big game because we're playing Seattle. They're the best team in the league and everyone is trying to get to that level, everyone’s trying to compete at that level.”

If the Sounders are taking inspiration from the chance to regain first place, Sporting can just as easily plunk a similar target on them in turn.

“We know how good they are, how well they know each other. It's not going to be an easy game for us,” said hard-nosed KC veteran Roger Espinoza, an antagonist in many of these fixtures over the years. “I think we have the same amount of wins. So we know they're probably the best team in the league with New England right now.”