Time after time this year, the Colorado Rapids kept pulling the rabbits they needed to out of the proverbial hats MLS was throwing at them. Most of those rabbits were at home, though. Even though they were the most dominant team in their home park in the league this season, the Rapids struggled -- a little at some points, a lot in others -- on the road. At home, they continually shut out their opposition and found the goals at the right time they needed them nearly every single time it mattered. (When your most disappointing home games are both 1-1 draws, it's hard to get too mad about the form.)
On the road, it was a different story. It wasn't all bad, of course. Their top record in MLS was boosted by a few very nice 1-0 wins over teams like Seattle and FC Dallas. But every so often, there was a game like the 3-3 draw in Vancouver, or the 5-1 loss at Yankee Stadium to NYCFC, or the 1-0 loss to Portland at the end of the season that put a dagger most of the way into their Supporters' Shield dreams. While you can always count on the Rapids to shine and make the moves they need to at home, away from The Dick it was difficult. We even saw that in the first round of the MLS playoffs, as the Rapids struggled to create and allowed the LA Galaxy to nick a 1-0 victory.
Now, the Rapids are going to be in probably the toughest road test of the season as their final stand away from home.
Simply playing in Seattle is difficult of course, but that's not the only reason I say that. After all, part of the Rapids' improbable lossless streak earlier in the season included a shock 1-0 win over the Sounders. But these are two teams in different circumstances than before.
I've gone on record as not being a fan of the move the team made for Tim Howard this year, but I was still hoping that he would remain the starting GK through the rest of the playoffs. As much as I love Zac Macmath, I would rather not ever see a young goalkeeper walking into the most important games of his entire career after a few months out in the cold.
Jermaine Jones has been worked to death by Jurgen Klinsmann over the embarrassing last two USMNT matches, and following almost 90 full minutes of action against the LA Galaxy in the Rapids' last match, he looked against Costa Rica like... well, like a 35-year-old who struggled with injury for the majority of the season. Matt Doyle described it best as "moving like he had to drag an elephant carcass around with him through his 71 minutes on Tuesday". With only a week's rest before the Seattle match, I would be amazed to see him starting that game and I highly doubt he would be able to play a full 90 minutes. While the Rapids showed this year that they are certainly capable of doing things without Jones, it is undeniable that they look far more proactive and creative when he is in the lineup, something we can't really say of any other attacking player on the team except for maybe Shkelzen Gashi.
Gashi, of course, is also in doubt for the game after the ankle injury he suffered against Los Angeles.
The missing Rapids players will hurt a hell of a lot, but this is also probably the hardest match-up the Rapids have seen this season.
Seattle is on fire right now. They didn't just take down the league darlings FC Dallas in their match-up, they demolished them. They lost the away leg, but rather comfortably after getting a road goal. The defense impressed as usual last round, but none of the players the Rapids faced against LA were anywhere near as dangerous as on-fire Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro. They score goals in bunches, the biggest nightmare for a Rapids team that, when they don't shut out their opponent, almost never win. Since the start of September, they've gone 5-1-0 at home and beat their opposition 8-1 over that period.
In short, this one is going to be tough. And against a team far better than LA, it might be hard to argue that a 1-0 loss is going to be good enough this time around.
This isn't to say that the Seattle match on Tuesday isn't a game that a result can be pulled from, or that the Seattle series isn't winnable. But if the Rapids are going to go into their penultimate (ideally) home match of the season with the chance for another 1-0 win to take them through, they're going to have to pull out the biggest rabbit from the smallest hat they've been handed this year. And that's where I've taken that metaphor so far that it dies.