Match Preview: Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders
Despite the league switching to points per game to determine final regular season standings, and despite that lifting the Rapids from 11th to eighth, and despite the Sounders having already secured a postseason place, there remains much work to be done, writes Richard Fleming.
The Rapids are under no illusions. Yes, three wins in their final three games could elevate them as high as fourth, and a home game in the first round of the playoffs. At the same time, three losses could drop them to the bottom of the Western Conference, and their season would be over by dinner time on November 8.
Seattle came into the penultimate weekend of the regular season as leaders in the West. They secured a 12th consecutive postseason berth midweek with a 2-0 win over Vancouver, who are housed at Portland’s Providence Park. And the defending champions will not be taking their foot off the gas, with their sights now set on collecting as many points as possible in the hope of hosting MLS Cup should they reach it.
The Rapids will be aiming for their first win since returning from 31 days away due to a Covid-19 outbreak among staff and players. They were understandably well below par in the 4-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City last weekend, before a late own goal from Lalas Abubakar denied them a point in Minnesota on Wednesday night.
That performance in Saint Paul was vastly improved, and the expectation is that their final home game of the regular season will see another step in the right direction as they look to get their legs back under them for the final push.
Head coach Robin Fraser said: “This is obviously a very big game for us. We are getting down to that time of the year when points become more and more critical, and we are obviously facing one of the premier teams in the league if you look at what they’ve done over the last four years, and what they continue to do.”
Fraser is aware of the task in hand, and he is aware that the league’s decision to opt for points per game rather than points – while helpful when viewing the current standings – will count for nothing unless the Rapids return to the form seen prior to the month-long lay-off.
They have lost the last two, having won three of four prior to their season juddering to a halt for a third time this year. On the positive side, this Rapids side will be the freshest squad in the playoffs were they to get there, and will have played between four to five fewer games than their rivals.
They were scoring for fun in September but must find a way past a stingy Seattle side, one which has conceded just 18 goals in 19 games, the fewest in the Western Conference. Only Columbus Crew (17) has a better defensive record in all of MLS.
The Sounders welcomed back Raul Ruidiaz, Gustav Svensson, and Xavier Arreaga from international duty this past week. Ruidiaz returned with a bang, scoring one and assisting a second in the win over the Whitecaps. He is a significant threat, with now 10 goals on the season. Add to that Jordan Morris (eight goals and seven assists), and Nicolas Lodeiro (six goals and nine assists), and it is clear the Rapids must be defensively solid on Sunday.
It is unclear which of the injured players for the Rapids will be in contention. Kellyn Acosta and Braian Galvan have sat out both games since the return with unknown conditions, while Collen Warner limped out of the Sporting KC loss with what appeared a hamstring injury.
A win on Sunday would go a long way to cementing a place among the playoff places. Results elsewhere will also play into that scenario but with three games to go the Rapids have their fate in their own hands, and that is all they can ask.
Coverage of the Rapids against the Sounders is on Sunday from 6.30pm on Altitude and AltitudeNOW.