Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja is edging toward the hot seat with 7 losses in his last 8 matches.
Today's match against the Colorado Rapids has certainly snuck up on us. It's the first competitive match in almost two weeks for the Sounders — a long dry stretch for a team used to multiple matches a week. And the last few days leading up to the close of the transfer window have been dominated by speculation about player movement, climaxing in the team's flurry of moves yesterday that sent Alvaro Fernandez to Chicago and brought Christian Tiffert and Mario Martinez to Seattle. Also, the Olympics are kind of distracting.
So maybe it's for the best that we're playing a team that we saw just two matches ago in an inspiring affair that saw our first win in 10 games and the return of Steve Zakuani to the pitch. That will mean that the scouting report can be brief, both for Sounder at Heart and presumably for the team.
The Rapids have not been nearly as idle in the interim. They've played three matches since their game in Seattle and true to their recent form, they lost them all. They've lost 7 of their last 8, in fact — their only win since May coming at home against the hapless Portland Timbers. That run has taken them from a team which was seriously contending with Seattle and Vancouver to be the third team in the West to a team with a very slim grip on making the playoffs at all. Our latest odds give them about an 8% chance to make the postseason, and it would likely have to be at the expense of the Galaxy who are starting to look like their vintage 2011 selves.
Much of the Rapids problems look to stem from the fact that they're trying to play attractive, flowing, on-the-ground soccer in a 4-3-3 with mostly the same personnel that defined previous versions of the team as a bruising, direct team in a 4-4-2 that lumps the ball forward. We've belabored the point here before, but Brian Mullan isn't a winger. And perhaps it's not coincidence that some of their worst play has come with the return of arguably their best player in Conor Casey. Because as a big, physical forward he least matches the desired new style.
The Seattle team that takes the field will notably be without Fernandez, who made his exit quickly enough that he might even take the field for Chicago this weekend. And his replacement won't join the team for at least another week. But this will still be one of the best Sounders starting rosters we've seen in a long time. Gspurning returns to goal after a long injury that coincided with a near total absence of memorable saves in the Seattle goal. While the influence of keepers is often overrated, it's nevertheless true that their influence comes at the most critical moments and it's hard to argue against the suggestion that the towering, long-armed keeper would have stopped at least a few of the balls that his replacements let in, and a few goals will often add up to significant points in the standings.
The pairing of Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero up top seems to be finally reaching a level of cohesion that we've been hoping for since the season began. Johnson's game winner in the MLS All-Star game versus Chelsea certainly won't hurt his confidence. Combined with a Mauro Rosales who seems drastically better when he has Adam Johansson behind him on the right sideline, we should be able to generate more than enough attacking threat to make up for the loss of Flaco on the left, whether his replacement is Alex Caskey, Cordell Cato, or someone else.
With 14 consecutive MLS matches against Western Conference opponents to close out the season, the race for playoff position begins in earnest. With their 3rd win in 3 games against the Rapids this season, Seattle could both make a move towards 2nd in the west and put a nail in the coffin of Colorado's playoff hopes. Though their next match is on Thursday, a home match against a Caribbean team shouldn't inspire too much caution. There's no reason not to press hard for a win in Colorado, even at altitude.