The MLS Cup playoffs are winding down, with the second leg between the Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders being one of the three remaining games in the 2016 season. A tense first leg in Seattle saw Colorado take an early lead via a deflected Kevin Doyle shot, only for the Sounders - crucially - to get back level shortly thereafter via Jordan Morris. Seattle got a much-needed win on a Nicolas Lodeiro penalty (attention Marc Burch: it was, in fact, a penalty), but the fact is that the Rapids just need a 1-0 win at home to guarantee that they’ll host MLS Cup.
Normally that would seem like a narrow set of margins. After all, one Seattle goal and the low-scoring Rapids will need to put two on the board just to force extra time. However, 1-0 at home is Colorado’s favorite result of the 2016 season. They’ve won 1-0 at home seven different times, including in the previous round of these playoffs. They’ve gotten a home result that would force extra time or outright give them a win in twelve of their eighteen home games this year, and beat Seattle 3-1 the last time the Sounders came to Colorado. The Rapids have also posted eleven home shutouts in 2016, and they’ve never conceded more than one goal at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
As such, Seattle knows just how vital getting a goal would be. They’ve been talking about applying pressure and hunting a win rather than showing up to kill the game for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, as Burgundy Wave points out, there’s a “real recognize real” thing going on with Jermaine Jones and Shkelzen Gashi. Look for the two of them to be each other’s first choice any time one has the ball. Those are Colorado’s scheme-breaking players, and if they link up often enough the Sounders will be in deep trouble.
Let’s start with Colorado, where the main question comes as a result of Sam Cronin’s suspension. Micheal Azira will take his spot as the most defensive player in the Rapids midfield, but the dominoes keep falling. Pablo Mastroeni could choose to keep Jones in as his #8, or move the USMNT regular up to the #10 role he was so effective in earlier this year. Dillon Powers would be the #8 in that case, but Mastroeni seems to - bizarrely, it must be said - prefer to use target man Kevin Doyle or versatile attacker Gashi as a #10 than let Powers into games in his natural position. C’est la Pablo.
Seattle has fewer issues. They’d like to be able to use Brad Evans as a starter, but he keeps picking up injuries (including the ankle injury that required a new tape job about 45 seconds after he subbed in during the first leg). The same goes for Alvaro Fernandez, who keeps being treated like a possibility to start and then keeps not playing (he made the 18 last week, at least).
With those two unlikely to play more than 30 minutes, the Sounders lineup is pretty straightforward. Well, at least as a list of names, anyway. Brian Schmetzer’s team plays a flexible brand of soccer, with Erik Friberg the key man to watch as far as what formation is being used at a given time. He’ll sometimes stay up ahead of Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan, with Nicolas Lodeiro on the right wing. That’s a 4231, but Friberg is not a traditional #10. He’ll look to break play up first and foremost, and he’ll cede attacking control to Lodeiro.
Other times, Friberg will drop off alongside Roldan, with Alonso dropping deeper, and the Sounders will play 433. That allows opponents to start their build-up earlier, but makes the Sounders harder to break down through the middle. It also gives Lodeiro more space to dart into, and he’ll often pop up as a central #10 as a result.
Location: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City, CO)
Kickoff time: 4:00pm Eastern (kickoff is reportedly at 4:18)
Available TV: ESPN (English), ESPN Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: WatchESPN (English), ESPN Deportes + (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
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