The Seattle Sounders a few months ago stood in rarefied air. At the top of the Concacaf mountain, they looked around and saw no other MLS teams. They defeated Pumas over two legs to cap off their Concacaf Champions League run and become the first MLS team to win the most-coveted club trophy in North American soccer. It was a spectacular achievement that the Sounders and their fans will celebrate for years, decades, centuries; they’ll always be the first.
We’re all very happy for them. But the Sounders have also lost their last three matches, being shutout in all of them. To be fair to them, the first was a home game against their rivals, the Portland Timbers. The second was a road game against Nashville SC who have proven to be one of the toughest outs on their home pitch. The third, last weekend, was at Chicago against Gabriel Slonina who last season became the youngest goalkeeper in MLS history at 17 years and 81 days old. The 6’4 18-year-old has also been linked to moves overseas with clubs like Chelsea and Real Madrid.
All in all, they’ve had a tough go of it. Two road games, one rivalry match. They’ll probably be relieved to be back at home, and motivated to get a result just to keep pace with the Western Conference. It could be part of the fabled CCL slump that some teams endure after deep runs in the tournament, or it could just be a slump during the dog days of summer.
To make matters worse, the Sounders have been dealing with injuries that are depleting the roster. Their maestro in the midfield, Joao Paulo is done for the year after tearing his ACL in the CCL Final against Pumas. A guy who was tabbed to replace him, Obed Vargas, literally broke his back and has been unavailable. Raul Ruidiaz has been in and out of the lineup. When he’s healthy, he scores; he just isn’t always healthy. Their goalkeeper Stefan Frei is/was in the league’s health and safety protocols. It’s tough sledding for Brian Schmetzer’s crew.
Here’s what the Rapids can do Saturday night in downtown Seattle to pick up their second win at Lumen Field.
Many of the Rapids’ recent goals have come from the wings where they’re finished by strikers in the middle. Diego Rubio’s goal Saturday night was on a counter where Jonathan Lewis was wide and fed it to Rubio at the top of the box. The goal before that, Zardes against Orlando, was a low cross driven across the deck that Zardes redirected to the net. Seattle play with a pair of wingbacks who like to be aggressive, sometimes too aggressive. If the Rapids let their wingers do the work, they could have ample crossing opportunities to Zardes and Rubio. And even if it’s not them, they’ve found some success crossing the ball into Lalas Abubakar when he’s in the attacking area.
Expect Attacking Aggression
Given the absences of Paulo and Vargas, the Sounders have had to shake up their midfield. Last weekend against Chicago, Albert Rusnak played in the midfield alongside Danny Leyva. Rusnak is an attack-minded midfielder who wants to be given license to patrol whatever part of the pitch he wants. He has a great soccer mind, and he reacts to what he sees. That attacking expeditionary mindset can sometimes leave gaps in behind him. And that leaves the 19 year old Leyva to handle things in the midfield. Paulo played at an MVP level in 2021, so it wouldn’t have mattered who replaced him, they’d have struggled to replicate his performances. Combine that with a sense of urgency to score and win, I think the Sounders are going to come out of the gates with their hair on fire. The Rapids need defensive consistency and then lethal counter attacks.
5-2-3?4-3-3? They'll Adapt
The Rapids officially moved defender Auston Trusty to Arsenal before the road game against Real Salt Lake. That was three games ago. It’s a small sample size but they’ve gone unbeaten and have a shutout to their credit in those three games. It doesn’t seem to matter what the Rapids do with their formation, the guys don’t just find a way to make it work, they thrive. Maybe another center back becomes serviceable down the stretch and they revert to three at the back, but if they don’t, Wilson and Abubakar have acquitted themselves well. And the extra man in the midfield has helped the attack. Bryan Acosta has roamed the middle of the park, keeping tabs on everybody and everything within 40 yards of him. Then Rubio, Max, Priso, Warner have a little more flexibility to do their jobs. Sometimes their jobs are alongside Acosta, and sometimes they’re like Rubio pushing up the field and being the brains of the Rapids attack.