Having reached the MLS Cup in four of the past five seasons, the Seattle Sounders have seen their share of improbable victories.
But perhaps nothing can match Thursday's effort at Austin FC.
The Sounders were missing 10 regular first-teamers due to injuries and international call-ups, and in the middle of three games in eight days. The run of games will culminate with Sunday night's showdown with Sporting Kansas City in a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference.
So Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer played the second-youngest lineup in MLS history Thursday with five teenagers -- including 15-year-old emergency callup Obed Vargas.
The result? A 1-0 victory on substitute Raul Ruidiaz's 40-yard strike in the second half, his league-leading 11th goal of the season. It earned Ruidiaz player-of-the-week honors.
"The message to the group was we didn't come down here to play a bunch of young kids, to make it a good story," Schmetzer said. "'Oh, we played five teenagers and ... the Sounders didn't win.' That was never our intention.
"The winning culture of this club is always, 'I don't care who we put out on the field.' The expectation that we have as a coaching staff is that they No. 1, outwork their opponent. And No. 2, understand the tactics that we want. And the expectation in every game is we believe we can win."
The Sounders (9-1-5, 32 points), who had their league-record 13-game unbeaten streak to start a season snapped last weekend with a 1-0 loss at Minnesota United, will welcome an Sporting KC squad that also will be short-handed.
Kansas City (8-3-3, 27 points) will be without coach Peter Vermes and two unnamed players who have tested positive for COVID-19.
"They're the best team in the league," Vermes said of Seattle. "For both of us, it's a challenge. We don't have all of our players. But you keep trying to grind through an MLS season and make the playoffs. That's what we're trying to do."
Added SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia: "It's going to be a difficult game, but it's going to be a fun game. Both teams are jockeying towards the top of the table. We're looking forward to it."
--Field Level Media