After a 15 day break, Colorado Rapids will face two vital games in the next five days starting this Saturday against Seattle Sounders FC and concluding next Wednesday against San Jose Earthquakes. The formula is simple for the Rapids--defeat Seattle and San Jose and the ticket is punched for the playoffs. But when examining both matches, they present unique challenges for the Rapids as the look to clinch their first playoff berth since 2011.
I am not sure which match will be tougher. Seattle is playing the best soccer in the league and has owned the Rapids since their entrance into MLS. The Rapids have claimed one win over the Sounders and in general have not even played well against the team.
Over the last two seasons the Earthquakes have had the Rapids number. The Rapids have a 0-4-1 record in the last two season and have been outscored 13-5. The Rapids last victory over the Earthquakes was in week 26 of the 2011 season.
Needless to say, both the Sounders and Earthquakes present difficult, albeit different, challenges. Here is a look at these two important games:
Colorado Rapids vs Seattle Sounders, October 5
The Rapids are still in a good run of form over their last 10 (5-3-2) and have integrated new players into the fold and have seen established Rapids players come back into form. The team is very healthy and the goal scoring issues are not as much of a problem as they were in the early part of the season
The Sounders have owned the Rapids ever since they joined MLS. It has not even been close. They dropped a 1-0 decision to the Sounders earlier in the year in Commerce City and tied Seattle at Century Link 1-1 in the summer. A result is critical, and preferably all three points for the boys in Burgundy.
Oscar Pareja has used a 4-2-3-1 for the bulk of the year with good success. There is no reason to change that and with the right personnel package he can stretch the Seattle defenders and use speed on the wings to push the ball forward. Against Seattle:
(G) Clint Irwin
(D) Chris Klute, Drew Moor, Shane O'Neill, Marvell Wynne
(DM) Hendry Thomas, Nathan Sturgis
(M) Gabriel Torres, Dillon Powers, Vicente Sanchez
(F) Edson Buddle
Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes, October 9
Again, the Rapids are on a good run of form and should have defeated the Earthquakes in Commerce City in June if not for two defensive breakdowns. And since that match, and the 3 game losing streak around it, the Rapids have played significantly better and this is not the same Rapids team that the Quakes met this summer.
As good as the Rapids have played, the Quakes are on quite a run of form as well. They have three wins in their last four and are playing their physical, and somewhat dirty, style of soccer that saw them capture a playoff berth last year.
Buck Shaw Stadium is a narrow and shorter pitch which negates some of the Rapids speed advantages, which can hurt players like Torres or Deshorn Brown. It benefits the more physical players and those who may not be the fastest on the pitch but offer a creative flair. Against the Earthquakes I would like to see:
(D) Klute, Moor, O'Neill, Wynne
(DM) Thomas, Powers
(M) Nick LaBrocca, Sanchez, Atiba Harris
The math is simple for the Rapids: win against the Sounders and Earthquakes, and the Rapids are in the playoffs. There are still a number of other scenarios that get them there, but it would be nice to take the final two Vancouver matches to worry about seeding and getting ready for a push for a second MLS Cup.