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Five thoughts about Sounders navigating the Rapids

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Late goal allows Sounders to salvage a point and maintain Western Conference lead.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes getting home in one piece is all that matters.

The Seattle Sounders left Colorado with a valuable point Wednesday evening in a match that will not be on display in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. Aside from a cursory review from the coaching staff, it will likely be forgotten by the time Sounders fans laid their heads down to sleep Wednesday night, and the players touched down from their charter.

That’s not to say the result didn’t serve its purpose, of course. A draw on the road is rarely something to scoff at. Even head coach Brian Schmetzer — who ranks ties somewhere between being dumped by your high-school sweetheart and stepping on a thumbtack barefoot — was happy to take the point and fly. After the lackluster performance in Houston, a more resolute showing on the road at altitude on short rest was more than welcome by the Sounders after the match.

As Will Bruin said in the lead-up to the match, it’s down to the nitty-gritty. You take the road results however you can get them. With the Supporters’ Shield firmly — finally — out of reach, the summit of the Western Conference is the first priority. The Sounders have four matches left, two of them in less than a week after playing two in four days. But the grind is almost over, and the playoffs are almost here, which is where the real prize has been waiting all along.

One big point

Make no mistake, this is a big point. The Sounders did have a cushion coming into the match, leading Sporting Kansas City by five points and the Rapids by six, but a loss Wednesday would have made for some serious squeaky-bum time leading into this weekend’s match that could have theoretically sent the Sounders tumbling into third place. As it is, the Sounders maintain their breathing room, and a positive result on the weekend could nearly wrap up the top spot in West.

Late-game heroics

Schmetzer and the Sounders front office have sought to tamp down expectations for Léo Chú from basically the moment he touched down from Brazil. As a relatively unknown 21-year-old who had never effectively left Brazil, the Sounders wanted to provide Chú with as soft a landing as possible, lest the hype and anticipation overwhelm him should he struggle. The strategy seems to have worked, as Chú continues to ease his way into significant minutes, and provide a taste of what he can bring. With the Sounders chasing the result, Chú was deployed in his more natural winger position and was able to attack the Rapids backline, bringing a bit of physicality that belies his somewhat wiry frame. In the 81st minute, Chú was able to showcase both his speed and physicality, riding a challenge from Kelyn Acosta and creating space to send in a cross that was slotted home by Cristian Roldan.

Roldan Shows up when it counts

There’s an old cliche about the striker who doesn’t do much for 89 minutes, but can still play the hero by scoring in the 90th. That would be a harsh assessment on Roldan in this game, but for much of the match he struggled to exert much of an attacking influence. Much of that wasn’t his fault; the Rapids were disciplined defensively and difficult to break down. Still, when the moment was there, Roldan found a way. Scoring for the fourth time in five games, Roldan made one his now trademark runs from a deeper position, crashing the penalty area to get on the end of Chú’s fine run and cross.

Sounders Depth holding strong

Much has been written about the Sounders’ run to the top of the standings without having many of their star players for significant parts of the year. Schmetzer believes they’ve somewhat outperformed expectations, and he’s undeniably right. Still, he’s likely had enough of the short rosters and emergency call-ups. Just as the Sounders looked to be returning to full strength, Raúl Ruidíaz and Brad Smith went down to injuries, shortening the bench again. With another set of games on a condensed schedule, Schmetzer again had to juggle the roster, starting Fredy Montero as a nominal forward and bringing Will Bruin off the bench. The depth will again be tested with Sporting Kansas City in two days, and a road trip to LAFC three days after that. It’s anyone’s guess what a lineup in LA could look like, but first things first.

In other news

As noted, this one wasn’t much to write home about, but a result south of Seattle will be of interest, as the Portland Timbers managed to blow a two-goal lead, falling to fellow Cascadian rival Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 in Portland. The result eliminates the Timbers from Cascadia Cup consideration and greatly ensures George will continue to reside in the Puget Sound area for another year. The Whitecaps still have a chance to wrest the cup from the Sounders in the season finale, but it would take a blowout victory to do it.

Cascadia Cup standings

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD PTS
Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD PTS
1 Seattle Sounders FC 4 2 1 1 11 6 5 7
2 Portland Timbers 4 2 0 2 7 9 -2 6
3 Vancouver Whitecaps FC 4 1 1 2 5 8 -3 4