Preview (November 25, 2016) – The Seattle Sounders defeated the Colorado Rapids in leg one of the Western Conference Finals 2-1 on Tuesday night. The Rapids will host the second leg this coming Sunday. With everything left to fight for in leg two, here’s what to look for.
Colorado Rapids vs Seattle Sounders Leg Two: Cronin Replacement, Wide Play, And Altitude
First off, both teams have to be feeling good about the way things went in the first leg. For Seattle, Jordan Morris was able to start and play most of the game. He had some good moments, and not just on the goal. Nicolas Lodeiro was all over the field. The team got the win.
For Colorado, they are only down one goal on aggregate and they’ve got an away goal. Shkelzen Gashi and Jermaine Jones were both able to start and play most of the game. They’re going home where they’ve got one of the best defenses in the league.
Sam Cronin’s Suspension
Last week I wrote that yellow card accumulation watch was going to play a big role in the first leg. Rapids Captain Sam Cronin will be unavailable because of a yellow card on Tuesday. He is the only player from either team that will be suspended.
Cronin is very significant to the Rapids defense. He’s the anchor in the middle. He provides tenacity and shields the back line. Jermaine Jones started next to him in the first game. Cronin’s consistency allowed Jones to go forward. Expect Michael Azira and possibly Dillon Powers to slot into holding midfielder roles.
This is still a major hit to Colorado’s defensive plan. Azira and/or Powers will need to step up big time on Sunday.
Both teams are now more familiar with the play makers on both sides. Furthermore, teams are usually more conservative in the first leg. Now, teams are going to be more desperate. The Rapids need at least one goal to advance. If Seattle gets one goal, Colorado would need to score two just to force extra time.
Seattle is going to focus in on Kevin Doyle, Gashi, and Jones. The unassuming Sebastian Le Toux got a few good looks in the first leg. Look for him and Marlon Hairston to try and get loose and create chances.
For Colorado, they’ve now got a taste of what Morris, Lodeiro, and Nelson Valdez. It will be interesting to see how the Sounders line up. Morris could be up top or out wide. Lodeiro’s movement was excellent, which means the Rapids will have to keep tabs on him.
The Sounders attack is still very much a funnel through Lodeiro. In that, I have to give a slight advantage to Colorado on this. More players in more positions that can do damage.
Strength At Altitude
Lastly, of course the altitude is going to play a role. These teams played their regular season matches early on in the season. Valdez and Lodeiro didn’t play in those games, meaning they aren’t used to the altitude. Combined with potential chilly weather, the elements very much give a huge advantage to the Rapids.
Look for them to take advantage of that. I say they wear down Seattle through the first half, then go for it in the second. Colorado’s got one of the best home defenses in league history and they are still undefeated in 2016 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Look for them to lock down Lodeiro and get a clean sheet at home.
Should the game go into extra time, that advantage will be more significant as Seattle begins gasping for breath.
I say Rapids 1-0, advancing on away goals. The first half will end scoreless. Colorado will score early in the second half, on the way to a prototypical 2016 Rapids 1-0 win. The Sounders will put up a huge fight, but I’m not convinced they’re going to be able to score against Colorado in Colorado.
If so, the Pids are hosting MLS Cup on December 10th.