Round 11 vs Colorado Rapids
Like San Jose, Colorado is another of the original MLS teams. Twice appearing in the MLS Cup final but coming up short both times. They also sport a US Open Cup in their trophy case, but it’s a bit dustier than the Sounders, as it came in 1999. Two interesting historical points link the Sounders and Rapids. The first is a personal side note, and US Mens National Team back up Goaltender, Marcus Hahnemann. Hahnemann helped the A-League Sounders to back-to-back titles in ’95 and ’96. Directly after their second championship in ’96 against the Rochester Rhinos, I met Hahnemann. Actually it was more like the Mean Joe Greene, Coca-Cola add from the ’80′s. He threw me his sweaty water bottle. Yes, I did take a swig, and kept it as a proud souvenir. The second connection is Sounders current Technical Director, Chris Henderson who is still the Rapids all time assists leader with 53.
The Rapids are a team of two faces. Always as good as any team in the league, but not always in form. Sounds a little familiar. The bad face, is their two main goal producers, Conor Casey, and Omar Cummings, who can light up the score board with the best, but have not been in top production form. Meaning they could be due for a break-out game. The good face, is a brilliant face. Conor Casey was left off the US Mens National Team World Cup squad, barely. Some say he should be there. He was the 2nd leading scorer in MLS last year and has struggled this year. Showing how quickly a player goes from being in form to out of form. Edson Buddle, for LA Galaxy is amazingly in form this year, so he’s on the plane to South Africa while Casey stays home. Is that fair? To be continued . . . My World Cup posts are coming soon.
Now back to the main event. Those two, Casey and Cummings have not been in form but both are strong, quick and able to score in multiple ways all around the attacking end. They are backed up in midfield by US World Cup 2006 standout Pablo Mastreoni. Their defense is also strengthened by another US standout, Marvel Wynne, who played well for the US in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Rapids have the skill and intensity to be a MLS Cup contender, but they have not yet found that playoff bound groove.
Seattle comes to the Rapids home pitch in Commerce City, Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. They bring baggage of similar sounding issues to Colorado. Difficult time finishing up front, great potential, but struggling to find their form. So the game presents a perfect test for one team to rise above the other and attempt to gain mid-season momentum. Seattle’s electric defeat of the Boca Juniors 3-0 in their mid-week friendly, hopefully sparked the team into preparation for Colorado’s physical toughness.
What the Sounders need to do is play with intensity from the start. Rather than sit back as they did against San Jose. Push the ball wide, create passing lanes in the Rapids defense, and get their chances on net. Make the Rapids Keeper have to work. If we keep him busy, good things will happen. If we let the Rapids dictate the pace and possess the ball, it could be another frustrating night for Sounders FC. This is not a “must win” game, but it is a “should not lose” game. A draw tonight would be well received.
One player on the Sounders who could step up tonight to help the Sounders cause is Fredy Montero. He may not be a pure goal “finisher” as some have stated about him. His new role could be possibly more beneficial. During the Boca Juniors match, he did not score, but he was a disruptor. Tonight in the game against the Rapids his disruptor role could change the game. It would force defenders to play him more tightly, but leave more Sounders unmarked. It would also leave the Rapids defense unsure where Seattle’s attack will come from. That could also help give the little extra moment for Zakuani, or Ljungberg to come in on goal or set up an assist. Montero’s disruptor role could become defined for him tonight. No pressure for him to finish, just put pressure on the other team all night long.
“I don’t think we’ve walked off the field being an outplayed team. We’ve got to keep working and keep our belief in ourselves, and the team spirit has to remain there”.
Sigi Schmid, after round 11”s 1-nil loss to the Colorado Rapids.
LA Galaxy being the exception. The Sounders have played on the pitch as eloquently as Sigi speaks after a tough loss. Falling to 3-5-3 is not how anyone saw this team. It is a deep hole. The Sounders are responsible for digging that hole. Goals are all that could fill the empty void players, coaches and fans are feeling. Because the on-field play is good enough to deserve a better record. Sigi is right. If the players keep their belief up, the way they are playing will earn better results.
Two players on their way to Sounders FC may help gain those results. One is coming back from injury. The other is new to join Sounders FC. Nate Jaqua will rejoin Sounders FC in a week or two after recovering from a pre-season injury. He provides a tall target up front. A focus up top that will free Montero from his current do everything role.
After the World Cup, Blaise Nkufo, the Swiss National Team striker joins Sounders FC from his former club FC Twente. Blaise Nkufo, /Blaze Koo-foe/ has banked 114 goals for FC Twente, which brings a lot of hope to Sounders FC’s late season form. No one man on his own can win a title. But he can provide a spark of hope and distraction from frustration. Nkufo brings experience, and an excited spirit to the team. He will be fresh from South Africa. Every player asking him the same questions as press, “what was it like?” To the delight of all involved he will offer a distraction to all the usual questions about a disappointing season. He will be covered in microphones, while the rest of the team prepares. That is just what this team needs. Distraction from disappointment and consistent work on game preparation. That will keep the team spirit up and allow for good results to come. Blaise will likely give the same on field distraction as he does off field. Defenders will swarm Nkufo, like press junkies, leaving Montero marked by one defender instead of 2 or 3. Ljungberg will have a tall target to provide him more ground and air options.
There are no guarantees in sports. There is hard work, which allows the selfish belief in hope for great results. In that type of sweat and hungry spirit there often lives a spark that makes those great results come true. Sports is about watching the impossible become real. Soccer is the essence of that truth. This young team knows how to win. They play like a winner. Following the advice of their coach and incorporating two difference makers gives credibility to Sigi’s post-match comments. All the elements exist for this team to find itself on a championship course. If the players continue to work hard and believe the results will come.