Preview (November 21, 2016) – The Seattle Sounders are set to host the Colorado Rapids tomorrow night. It will be the first leg of the 2016 MLS Cup Western Conference Finals. Here’s what you need to know to get ready.
Seattle Sounders vs Colorado Rapids Preview: Injuries and Yellow Cards Will Be Key
Both teams come in with nearly two weeks off from their last game. Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer will try to get his dynamic attack to keep rolling. On the other side, Rapids Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni will inspire his team to a typical Rapids road clean sheet. Obviously, road goals are key in this leg. But there’s more to how Seattle will try to score and how Colorado will try to defend.
Injuries On Both Sides:
MacMath certainly isn’t the same player Howard is, but he was good early in the season. If the defense steps up (and they’re all healthy), they should be good to go.
Shkelzen Gashi was taken off during the second leg of last round with an ankle injury. He is doubtful for this match. Marco Pappa is also questionable for the match, and could be a game time decision. Mastroeni did say that he would be “airing on the side of aggression” with Pappa.
This hurts the Rapids attack big time. Gashi has been a one man wrecking crew at times this season. They won’t have that individual brilliance on the field. They will have to rely on the counter attack and creation from Jermaine Jones. With two slower center backs, Dominique Badji and Kevin Doyle running the channels will have to get it done.
Fortunately for Seattle, they’v got options. If Morris can’t go, Nelson Valdez has remembered how to score goals. He could play up top. Ivanschitz hasn’t played in the playoffs in 2016. The Sounders have been winning without him. If anything he’ll provide a boost.
Yellow Card Accumulation For Leg Two
Here’s the cliff notes version of the MLS Cup Playoff suspension rules: Once a player gets their second yellow card, they are suspended for the next playoff game they are eligible for. If they get a red card, they’re also out for the next game. This resets for the final though. Only a red card in the second leg of the conference finals will get you suspended for MLS Cup.
So, who’s on yellow card accumulation watch? For Seattle, it’s Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan, and Stefan Frei. For Colorado, it’s Badji, Jared Watts, Jones, Gashi, and Sam Cronin.
Both teams have two critical players at risk of missing the second leg: Alonso and Frei for Seattle. Jones and Cronin for Colorado. This might be where the Rapids have an advantage though, should the game become a yellow card fest. Brad Evans might be the only viable replacement for Alonso.
Evans is a good player, but Alonso kept Seattle afloat for over a month in the summer. One could argue he’s a Best XI player and the best holding mid in MLS. Tyler Miller is Frei’s back up. He’s a rookie and played one game all season. Should either of these guys get a yellow, that’s a huge advantage to Colorado in the second leg at that position.
Colorado has more players at risk, but they also have viable back ups. If Watts gets a yellow, Bobby Burling will step in seamlessly. If Badji, Doyle can move up to forward. Losing Cronin (their captain) would be a big loss, but Dillon Powers can step in and won’t be bad.
Jermaine Jones is possibly the most valuable player on this list however. If he gets a yellow, there’s no clear replacement for what he does on the bench. That will be especially true if Gashi isn’t healthy.
Considering the injuries, I expect Colorado to let Seattle have the ball and counter. Wing play for Colorado is going to be critical with Seattle pushing numbers forward. Look for them to defend Nicholas Lodiero with numbers. Marlon Hairston on the wing will be critical.
I think it will be a 1-1 draw. Seattle’s got enough weaknesses at the back for the Rapids to get a few half chances and bury one of them. But I don’t think they can defend for 90 minutes unblemished. Lodiero is going to create something.
Set pieces are going to huge on both sides. Also look for wing play (turnovers and opportunities coming from open space) to also play a role.