This could be one of those "six point" games. Currently the Rapids are up on the Sounders, though with games in hand. In fact Seattle's next two games are of the six point variety. For there to be a significant shot at taking that 8 seed the Sounders need at least 4 points over those two matches.
Tonight with St. Blaise Nkufo's first start, first match at home would be a great time to get three. The injuries are starting to fade, but there will be no Leo Gonzalez, nor Brad Evans, nor Freddie Ljungberg. This will force a less than optimal lineup at LWB, CM and RW in the game. Who starts there (we expect Zach Scott, Nate Sturgis and are hoping for Miguel Montano or Sanna Nyassi) will help determine how this game is won.
Interaction between Blaise and the Rest - This is likely the most obvious but if Nkufo is going to be the saviour as so many have already decided he must, then how this first full competitive match goes will tell as a ton. It is important how he interacts not just with the other attacking players (Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani and who knows) but also how the defensive unit can react to having a true target man up top.
While Blaise' ability to complete the short to intermediate passes to the running youngsters and his skill at heading the ball on target is easy to recognize, his ability to hold the ball up and let the team form around him will be a real game changer. It will enable those long clearances to have a point, rather than a prayer. This change will mean fewer turnovers, more opportunities, and ideally more goals. Remember last year with just a Nate Jaqua? Now we will have the best Target man in the league.
Set-Plays - This may be reviewing old ground, but things have changed quite a bit for the Sounders. On defense the centerback pairing is now Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni rather than Tyrone Marshall and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. Overall the new pair is a little faster, with roughly the same ability to win the header. This change also means that Kasey Keller truly runs the defense rather than Keller and Marshall. Ideally, communication will be simpler. Seattle will also now have a big forward to man mark a primary target.
We should likely expect to see Nkufo and Casey bumping bodies at both ends of the pitch on corners and dangerous free kicks. Both are wide bodies who should be able to get a handful of goals a season off of set-plays. Seattle has lacked such a target for most of the year, and so we may see a solution to that portion of the scoring woes. Nate Sturgis will take corner kicks for the foreseeable future, while Fredy Montero will be the primary free kick taker within his range.
Substitution patterns - Sigi will only have one or two speedsters in the lineup at the start with Zakuani and the other being if he goes young on the right wing. How he uses his subs in order to continue to pressure the Rapids fullbacks will be important. This can't be a match where he takes Zakuani off early for Nyassi or Montano. The Sounders need to utilize their speed. It should be both a weapon at the start, as well as a weapon in the final 20 minutes. This can only happen through Sigi's coaching.
If we see a guy like Pat Noonan start I don't want to see him for a long period of time. It would at least allow both Sanna and Miggy to come on late. Which though it would add speed it would be when the Colorado side isn't quite as tired. I'm intrigued to see if we can see Nate Jaqua and Nkufo on the pitch for 10-15 minutes late, just because I think that though similar skilled it would be painful for the Rapids to cover both on a corner.
Jeremiah will provide inst-analysis in the gamethread
Arlo White has the radio call on 97.3 FM
Fox Soccer is carrying the game nationally on TV
GAMETIME IS 7:30PM