Colorado Rapids (4-3-1, 5th place in the West)
Head coach: Gary Smith, third year
Last week: Won at D.C. United 1-0
Last year: 10-10-10, missed playoffs via tiebreaker
KEY COLORADO PLAYERS
F Conor Casey — Big strong targetman is great at holding the ball and passing off to the playmakers. Has played with the USMNT a bit, and some expected him in the 30-man provisional roster. A bit out of form, but still a talent to watch in the league.
F Omar Cummings — Speedy Jamaican is really a dual-threat in terms of scoring and playmaking. Also hasn’t produced much recently, but certainly capable of taking a game over by himself.
M Mehdi Ballouchy — Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said the hot-and-cold Moroccan is the key for the Rapids. Without Osvaldo Alonso in the middle, his play behind the Colorado forwards will be crucial.
Seattle midfielder Freddie Ljungberg v. Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni — Two guys that have played at the highest level internationally will face off in the middle of the field. One of the most fouled players in the league (Ljungberg) could earn some dangerous free kicks against a guy known to get physical (Mastroeni).
Seattle forward/midfielder Steve Zakuani v. Rapids defender Marvell Wynne — Not many defenders in MLS will have the pace to keep up with the Sounders winger. Wynne, who has some national team experience, is one of them. Zakuani might also have to be up to task defensively in this matchup too.
Cummings v. Seattle defenders Tyrone Marshall/Jeff Parke/Patrick Ianni — The middle of the Sounders backline, like most in the league, isn’t known for having much pace. So the Rapids speedster will be looking, I’m sure, to get in behind for some easy chances tonight. Kasey Keller might be called on more than usual in this one.
I am yet to predict a Sounders loss this season, which gives me at least four wrong calls this season. I had a tough time picking this one, but considering all the factors, I think the home team will win.
Things to think about: the altitude, playing without perhaps your two best defender (Hurtado, Alonso), there will surely be more shuffling of the lineup, still no target man forward and the finishing against Boca was still sub-par.
Also, the Rapids have been underachieving in terms of their talent. Several guys have had spells with their respective national teams — some more extensive than others — and on paper it’s a pretty formidable looking side. Finally, they’ve had a knack about earning PKs, something Schmid mentioned this week in practice.
Here’s how I see it, but nothing would surprise me:
Colorado Rapids 2, Seattle Sounders FC 1
COL: 23′ — Cummings (Ballouchy)
SEA: 58′ — Montero (Evans)
COL: 71′ — Casey (PK, earned by Cummings)