MLS Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg – Victory Way, Commerce City, Colorado – COLORADO RAPIDS v. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC

by Charles Therrell (DISK DOKTOR)

Greetings to my brothers and sisters in Green. Sounders travel to the suburbs of Denver for an afternoon matinée showdown with Colorado Rapids in the MLS Cup Semi-Final second leg. To say 2016 has been a tough year for the Sounders would be a gross understatement. We lost 15 players in the offseason including Martins, Pappa, Rose, Neagle, and Barrett. We endured a bitterly difficult stretch in the league from mid-May through the end of July where we won only two out of 12 matches (2-2-8). We crashed out of the CONCACAF Champions League in the Quarter-Finals 5:3 on aggregate to one of the best teams in Western Hemisphere, Club America of Mexico City. We crashed out of the US Open Cup in the Quarter-Finals with a late 4:2 collapse in Los Angeles. We failed to win the league. We lost two of three matches in the Pacific Northwest Derby to the wretched Treecutters from Portland. We lost Sigi Schmid, the only manager that the MLS iteration of our side has ever known. Our stalwart skipper, Brad Evans lost his place in the first team. One of our best centre-halves, Roman Torres, was injured for a fair portion of the season, limiting him to nine appearances in the league. And we lost our finest striker, Clint Dempsey, whose heart ailment forced him out of the team near the very end of the season, threatening not only his decorated career, but his very life. When Brian Schmetzer took over the side in late July, it was as if it had been nothing but steel grey skies and rain for five months. And then we signed Nicolas Lodeiro, and it was as if the sun had come out for the first time in a half-year. We have a striker in Jordan Morris who has scored an impressive 12 goals in his first professional season. Since Schmetzer’s re-appointment we have gone on to great things. We finished the season by dramatically qualifying for the MLS Cup in the very last league match. Under Schmetzer’s caretaking, Sounders lost only two of the last 14 matches in the league, and his reward was to be named the club’s permanent manager. We’ve lost only once in four MLS Cup matches, leaving our number, our Green Family, wondering if there could be some manner of redemption after all that was lost by securing the Sounder’s Holy Grail, the MLS Cup. We are literally two matches away from doing that which we have never done in our eight years of membership in MLS. Two matches. To the Green Family, encompassing ECS, Eastside Supporters, Gorilla FC, my brothers and sisters of the Fog City Faithful in Mountain View, The Haight, and Pill Hill, The North End Faithful, and any and all of the rest of our supporters groups in the state of Washington and beyond the Evergreen, I call upon you to give your absolute very best. It is all hands on deck. Whether you be at the ground in Commerce City, at the local pub with your brothers and sisters in Green, or at home following on your tele, lend every bit of energy you have to spare to the effort at hand. Raise your glasses as the match begins and join me in the auld toast: TO THE SEATTLE SOUNDERS FOOTBALL CLUB…AND VICTORY!!!

The Good News

We are still unbeaten against Colorado in MLS Cup play with a 2-0-0 record. Anderson could be eligible for the substitute’s bench if he passes a late fitness test. The rest of the side (barring Dempsey) is fit and eligible for selection. Although MacMath is a good keeper, he is not in the same class as the injured Tim Howard. Cronin is out this match due to accumulated bookings, and the Rapids will miss his experience and quality. Sounders have rounded into top form over the last month or so, and look very strong indeed. The current aggregate is 1:2 in our favour. If we manage to score even once in Colorado, that would make the aggregate 1:3 in our favour and would require three goals from the Rapids to win the tie. Should we go ahead in the second leg 0:2, the aggregate score would be 1:4 and require four goals for Colorado to win – at that point the cup tie would likely be unrecoverable for Rapids. Sounders advance with a draw of any kind. The weather forecast for Commerce City is 51ºF, mostly sunny with no precipitation, and a westerly wind of 15 mph driving toward the east end of the Victory Way ground. With five Colorado players carrying bookings (Badji, Doyle, Jermaine Jones, Watts, and Burch) they will have to show considerable restraint to avoid suspension should Rapids go through. This can only be an advantage for us.

The Bad News

The Rapids have enough quality and experience to take advantage of any sort of letdown from the Sounders. In the league this season, Colorado were unbeaten at home in 17 matches (11-6-0). Our away record in the league was 4-4-9, though to be fair, most of that was compiled before the massive impact of Lodeiro’s arrival. It will require our best effort to defeat this team. Although we won 2:1 in Seattle, Colorado scored an away goal. This means that should we lose 1:0 in the second leg, leveling the aggregate, Colorado would advance on the away goals rule. The driving westerly wind could generate mayhem for the side defending the eastern goal. The altitude, at over 5100’, could factor into the result. The tie is only separated by one goal – this makes a result extremely difficult to predict. Alonso is a physical player and is carrying a booking into this match. Should he be booked this afternoon, he would miss the final. Roldan and Frei are in the same disciplinary boat as Ozzie. The match referee is Ricardo Salazar. This lends an uncomfortable level of unpredictability to this vital cup tie. To be fair (and when it comes to Salazar, it is very, very, very difficult for me to be fair), he was the referee in the Quarter-Final 1st leg when we beat the Dallas 3:0.

Know Thine Enemy

Goalkeeper: With Howard injured in Columbus, playing for the Yanks, MacMath becomes the starter for Colorado. He is experienced with over 100 professional appearances, but has no honours to show for it. His understudy is John Berner, a 25 year old with 47 pro appearances.

Defence: Eric Miller is a domestic product, solid if unspectacular. Sjöberg has less than 100 appearances, but has won honours at lower levels. Burch has over 200 pro appearances and has won two domestic titles.

Midfield: Watts has over 50 pro appearances and has spent time with USA U-17s. Jermaine Jones is a steady member in the current Yanks midfield, and a veteran player of the German league. He has 67 United States caps with four goals. Cronin is suspended this match, and will likely be replaced by one of these three midfield players from the substitute’s bench last week: Pappa has played nearly 200 pro matches, and has 51 caps and 11 goals for Guatemala. Pappa won the League and the US Open Cup when he was with the Sounders. Powers has nearly 100 pro appearances, and was a one-time MLS Rookie of the Year. Azira, another former Sounder, has nearly 100 pro appearances, and has won a USL Cup, a MLS League Championship, and a US Open Cup – the latter two titles while playing in Seattle.

Forward: Le Toux has the better part of 300 pro appearances with over 80 goals, beginning at Lorient in France with the rest of his career played in MLS. Doyle has the better part of 500 appearances as a pro. His exploits for his clubs as well as Eire are legendary. Gashi has over 200 pro appearances with over 80 goals. Gashi adds a list of honours from Swiss football and over 10 caps for Albania.  Badji has over 50 pro appearances.

Familiar Faces

Burch played 49 times for Sounders FC. Le Toux played 75 times for the two most recent iterations of the Sounders, scoring 25 goals. Marco Pappa played 55 times for the Sounders scoring nine goals, while playing 52 times for Guatemala. Michael Azira played 25 times for the Sounders first team.

Selections for Last Match

Colorado: MacMath, Miller, Watts, Sjöberg, Burch, Cronin, Jermaine Jones, Le Toux, Kevin Doyle, Gashi, Badji.

Bench: Berner (gk), Burling, Mekeil Williams, Pappa, Powers, Azira, Hairston.

Sounders FC: Frei, Mears, Torres, Marshall, Joevin Jones, Alonso, Roldan, Lodeiro, Friberg, Morris, Valdez.

Bench: Miller (gk), Scott, Fisher, Ivanschitz, Evans, Fernández, Gómez.

Injury List

Colorado –

OUT: Howard (adductor), Serna (knee surgery).

Sounders FC –

OUT: Dempsey (irregular heartbeat).

MATCHDAY DECISION: Anderson (hamstring).

Discipline

Colorado: Cronin suspended this match (accumulated bookings). Badji, Doyle, Watts, Jermaine Jones, and Burch are carrying bookings into this match.

Seattle: Alonso, Roldan, and Frei are carrying bookings into this match.

Fun Fact

In 2006, the company known as Dick’s Sporting Goods signed a 20-year deal for the naming rights to the Victory Way ground. Ten gets you twenty that their ground will never be referred to as Dick’s Park by Colorado supporters. Sort of. According to Wikipedia, the stadium is also known as “The Dick”. Was it our lads that coined that? The moral of the story: Corporate naming rights for stadia rarely (if ever) inspire the fans of professional sports clubs and can sometimes be awkward or even embarrassing. Secondary moral: Cash can buy you many things – dignity isn’t one of them.

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