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MLS Playoff Preview: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders

Oct 30, 2013, 4:47 PM EDT

Clint Dempsey AP
  • Seattle winless in seven ahead of Wednesday’s match.
  • Colorado won last meeting, 5-1 on October 5.
  • Winner meets Portland in Western Conference semifinals.

Speculation Seattle had won MLS Cup with the purchase of Clint Dempsey was rash, but with the Sounders closing their campaign winless in seven, those prognostications look downright foolhardy. History (particularly MLS’s) is littered with examples of teams overcoming financial disadvantages. Seattle’s purchases of Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have shown: There’s no guarantee talent alone can deliver an MLS title.

Colorado’s in a position to prove that point on Wednesday, when the meet at CenturyLink Field in the Western Conference’s winner-take-all opening round (10:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN). While not the most hamstrung team in the league, the Rapids just signed their first Designated Player this season (Panamanian international Gaby Torres). Compare that to Seattle, who have had nine (NINE!) Designated Players in their four-year history.1 Not all Designated Players are created equal, but in the case of Seattle and Colorado, the contrast helps illustrate the divide between an MLS have and an one of the league’s have nots.

To counter that, Colorado’s built with youth. They added Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown in this year’s draft. Chris Klute was purchased from NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks last year. Clint Irwin’s emerged after an injury to Matt Pickens, and Shane O’Neill has held down a place next to Drew Moor in central defense. All five, completing their first seasons as MLS regulars, helped the Rapids transcend their predicted also-ran status. Unexpectedly, the team kept a regular place in the West’s top five.

In that sense, Colorado may have already accomplished what they set out to do, but matched up against a Seattle squad they routed at the beginning of the month, the Rapids have a chance to do much more. Win at CenturyLink on Wednesday, and Colorado not only secures a 36th and 37th game of the season, they also make Malcolm Gladwell’s precepts come to life, becoming the MLS David that toppled the well-funded Goliath.

Given the problems they gave Seattle on Oct. 5 (the 5-1 shellacking at Dick’s Sporting Goods part), there’s not reason this David might be Wednesday’s Goliath. All of the Sounder problems that were exposed in Commerce may still exist. Seattle’s defense is still a collection of average (at best) defenders that rely on a strong midfield and good goalkeeping. If Michael Gspurning isn’t his 2012 self and the opposition finds a way around Osvaldo Alonso, the Sounders’ backs are sitting ducks. The Rapids proved it on the fifth, and three days later (before the midfield and goalkeeping improved), Vancouver reiterated the point.

It highlights the obvious. Seattle just needs to play better. They did so in Portland (losing 1-0). They did so on Sunday against LA. But when a home draw is all you can get from your month’s best performance, your team’s in big trouble.

If Seattle somehow finds their former selves before Wednesday’s kickoff, everything we learned on October 5 becomes irrelevant. The seven-match unbeaten run becomes extraneous, and the turmoil and speculation that’s accompanied this unexpected collapse is rendered moot. The focus shifts to Portland.

But given we have no idea what this team’s “former self” is, what’s Seattle trying to return to? An abstract idea we’ve inferred from their individual talents – something that’s never been allowed to come together on the field. Ahead of Wednesday’s winner-take-all, injuries, call ups, and suspensions have left us no proof Seattle can become that juggernaut, let alone reverse the momentum the Rapids carry from Colorado.

Either Seattle paints a new picture for themselves or starts their offseason a month earlier than expected. Who would have thought do-or-die would come this soon?

1- Those nine Designated Players: Dempsey, Martins, Mauro Rosales, Shalrie Joseph, Christian Tiffert, Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez, Blaise Nkufo, Freddie Ljundberg.

  1. talgrath - Oct 29, 2013 at 5:03 PM

    I think the Sounders can pull this one out, they looked a bit like what we expected from them on Saturday, even if it still wasn’t quite good enough (and they had a little help from the refs). I could be wrong though and there’s no doubt Colorado will come in confident and hungry. If the Sounders show up and put on their high pressure attack shoes I think they will win this one handily though.

  2. dws110 - Oct 29, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    A footnote? Classy!

  3. ndnut - Oct 29, 2013 at 7:49 PM

    On the footnote, Tiffert was a disappointment and Joseph was a full-blown disaster. I drink a Diet Coke to Martins and Dempsey not meeting the same fate(s). Cheers!

    • charliej11 - Oct 30, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      You are not going to include NKufo in there ?

      He scored one hat trick game…and that was about it. Granted it takes a while for guys to get adjusted to MLS, but when they cut him after 1/2 year, no one wanted him….as in retire please you aren’t good enough.

    • dws110 - Oct 30, 2013 at 6:02 PM

      Gotta disagree with you on Tiffert…the guy had 12 league appearances before he was unceremoniously shown the door in preseason, and what we saw in those 12 games wasn’t dissapointing at all.

      Personally, I’d rather have him in Seattle as a DP than Rosales.

  4. mkbryant3 - Oct 30, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Shalrie. Wow. What was the thinking on that one?

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