With their win on Wednesday night, the Colorado Rapids have a record slightly better than Seattle's, as they are 8-7-6 +2 on the season. The Rapids aren't great on the road, which may make Seattle the favorite. Seattle comes into this game with a label that can be generously described as "inconsistent." That inconsistency can be told in different ways to measure their "form." By last six matches the Sounders are 9th best in the league. When judged on their last 10 matches the Sounders are 3rd best. Their roller coaster of results has its roots in lineup inconsistencies. There will again be a new lineup as Gspurning and Johnson played last week but are certainly out this week. There are also numerous players who are doubtful, questionable, probable, kinda and maybe as well.
Home games against teams with a chance at the Playoffs are now must-wins. The annual tradition of second half point gluttony (1.97 ppm) is a requirement for an appearance in the second season. Powering up on home cooking at the friendly confines is vital (10 of final 17 at home). A clean break away from an inconsistently average season needs to start now.
Three Questions with Burgundy Wave mastermind Chris will point out that the Rapids strengths are in a half dozen youth and a couple seasoned vets. They are also done with the early season injury bug they had.
SaH: O'Neill, Brown, Klute, Irwin and Powers are all youngsters with double digit starts. Why is this youth movement succeeding?
BW: To make a youth movement succeed, you need a little bit of luck, a little bit of good scouting knowledge and the right coach and veteran players for the job. The Rapids appear to have all three of those on their side at the moment, because every single young player on the team has turned out to be a hit when he's gotten on the pitch this year. O'Neill has been the biggest surprise, as a 19-year-old converted forward we weren't expecting much, yet the Rapids are 6-0-5 when he has started a game at center or right back, and that's no fluke. (I'm sure you all saw the U-20 World Cup where he was the only player worth watching in that awful Ghana loss.) I'm not sure that the youth movement that we've seen in Colorado can be called a true success yet, because a lot of the players are still very prone to foible and folly as one would expect. Deshorn Brown has misfired a lot on offense, Dillon Powers has been known to cough the ball up under pressure, and Irwin has had a bad game or three peppered in with the shutouts. Still, even being
It's also worth noting that those guys are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Colorado's youth prospects. Dillon Serna, a former U-20 National Teamer who only just got left out of the World Cup squad, has not seen a minute yet, but has looked wonderful in the reserves. Kevin Harbottle has torn up everything he's seen except for the first team this year, including scoring a wondergoal off a free kick in our friendly against Santos Laguna. We've yet to see the superb potential of Tony Cascio or Martin Rivero, etc. It's a very exciting team to watch, even if the expected chemistry and finishing issues have made for the occasional frustrating game or six. More than anything, the fact that all of these guys are playing at a decent MLS level so early on gives us gobs of hope for the future.
SaH: How did Attiba Harris go from journeyman to key to the Rapids season?
BW: I wouldn't say he's been a 'key' to the season, and in fact I'm of the mind that the Rapids are better off without him on the field. He has scored five goals to be sure, but he's been the type of player who is awful for 89 minutes of every game he's in, but every third game will score to make up for it. Which is to say, he's been the same old Atiba Harris, but the Rapids have continued to give him minutes unlike some teams, which give up on him fairly quickly or shelf him due to health issues. (Vancouver, looking at you!)
SaH: Can we have this version of Nathan Sturgis please?
BW: Nope, all ours! Honestly, Sturgis finally hitting that potential that everyone always knew he had is surprising us just as much as everyone else. Part of the reason he has succeeded is because he has been put into a more roaming role than the strict defensive role he played with some other teams, but I think he's just that archetype of player who struggles for five or six years to finally break through the wall, and then all of a sudden turns into someone special every game. It didn't hurt that with Colorado's injury issues earlier in the season, Sturgis was getting the load of minutes he needed to finally find himself.
Significant Absences (Injury, National Team, Suspension) - Only real significant absences through injury right now are Martin Rivero, who said after the New England game that he wasn't expecting to play in Seattle, and Diego Calderon, who was probably the most marquee signing the Rapids made over the off-season. Fortunately for us, Shane O'Neill's rise has made us miss Calderon a lot less, and the team has been coping without Rivero thanks to Sturgis and Powers playing so very well.
Projected Lineup - 4-2-3-1: Irwin; Wynne, O'Neill, Moor, Klute; Thomas, Sturgis, Powers; Labrocca, Harbottle; Brown
BW: Seattle has been injured just as badly as the Rapids were early in the season, which player are you guys missing the most out there?
SaH: Osvaldo Alonso was the biggest single loss. The club went a grand 2-4-1 in matches he didn't play. He's back now so that helps a lot. Shalrie Joseph is just a shell of himself. Since he was supposed to be the answer in the center of the park that's a big problem. But I'm going to go off board and say that the two minor injuries to Steve Zakuani are the most dramatic issues. It has forced a change of shape while also taking off one of the most creative players in the short history of the Rave Green. His bursts and strong short passing in space are gone. Seattle's issues with consistency in the lineup are reflected in their inconsistency in what the problem is from match to match. Zakuani would help solve matches where the problems have been "creating chances" or "scoring from chances." Of course he wouldn't help when the problem is "defending the net" or "don't fall for their thuggish crap."
BW: Injuries in mind, who's a lesser known Sounder to watch out for on Saturday that we may not have heard of in Colorado?
SaH: Since Joseph is almost certainly not fit enough to start there is a strong chance to see Servando Carrasco starting again. When he and Alonso are paired it works more like a double pivot, though Carrasco will be slightly more defensive. He does some things quite well. Most in the league probably just see him as a replacement level player who specializes in winning the ball back through hard tackles. That would greatly undersell what he's done this year. His passes are quite good and he's one of the best long passers on the team. He's helping dictate play in the attacking third from within Seattle's defensive third. That's just down right awesome. Sounders FC just have to get him the ball rather than have the center backs boot it. Carrasco is also a hidden free kick specialist and may be working his way to be the number one guy for direct kicks.
BW: Has losing Fredy Montero been of huge significance to the squad, or have other attacking players stepped up and taken the spots he normally would have?
SaH: I miss Fredy. The offense was dependent on two things that they no longer have. He would drop back into the role as a creator hitting passes that few other Sounders could even conceive as possibilities. Montero was also masterful at creating a shot out of nothing. Sometimes that was chipping a keeper from over forty yards out, or smashing a free kick, or chesting down a ball from a keeper to score while a defender was draped on his body. There is no one like that for Seattle now. Every attacking player has had do pick up that slack in different ways. Oba scores the breakaways. Mauro trying to do free kick magic. Alonso is the most frequent creator, but nothing like Fredy. He's about to sign with Sporting CP of Lisbon. So that's cool for him. Sucks for Sounders because there isn't any Allocation Money coming, nor will they have his rights if he were to return. Now I'm sad.
Projected lineup: Weber; Gonzalez, Hurtado, Scott, Yedlin; Burch, Carrasco, Alonso, Rosales; Neagle, Martins