It’s a massive, mammoth, gigantic Sunday night match going down at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park Sunday evening. The Rapids will host the North American champions, Seattle Sounders FC. The Sounders sit in 11th place in the league standings, but that’s in part because they expended so much energy on winning Concacaf Champions League.
That pragmatism paid off when the Sounders downed Pumas at Lumen Field to become the first MLS team to win this iteration of the continental tournament. It was an historic achievement, a step forward for the league and something every MLS fan can take a little pride in. But that was weeks ago.
The Sounders seem undeterred by their CCL run, unlike previous MLS teams who have seen the tournament derail their league season. They’re unbeaten in their last three and peeling themselves off the mat, climbing the standings.
They’re doing all of this without Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the CCL Final. It is a massive blow to their midfield as he was one of the best midfielders in MLS last season. But they’re coping just fine without him so far.
Part of that may be because they’re so imperturbable up top. Raul Ruidiaz is still scoring, Jordan Morris is still a blur of speed and Cristian Roldan is serving in fantastic opportunities from the right wing. The Rapids have a tall task in front of them Sunday night. It’s the self-proclaimed Kings of Concacaf coming to Colorado to square up against the Rapids and their 22-game home unbeaten run. Three points back up for grabs, here’s how to get them all:
Manage the Midfield
As I alluded to above, the Sounders have a Paulo-sized gap in their midfield currently. In his absence, manager Brian Schmetzer has turned to his utility knife of a player, Kelyn Rowe, the 16-year-old phenom Obed Vargas and their off-season addition, Albert Rusnak. I’d expect Rusnak to start, but there are question marks on who will start next to him. Rusnak is an attack-minded midfielder. He wants to get forward and be involved in the attack. The Rapids can neutralize him by taking care of the ball. Whether it’s Rowe or Vargas alongside him, the Rapids should be able to open up a few chances in behind him. Then, it’s about finishing the chances you’ve created.
Depth Tested Again
The Rapids nearly made it through their six-games-in-21-days run without losing anybody to injury or suspension, but then things took a turn in Kansas City this past week. Forward Gyasi Zardes came up pulling at a leg muscle. Live, it looked like a soft muscle injury. If he’s unavailable, the Rapids are down a Designated Player who was just beginning to gel and find rhythm with his teammates. At the back, the Rapids will see the left side of their backline look a little bit different Sunday evening. Late in the match against Sporting KC, Auston Trusty picked up a second yellow, so he’s going to be missing from the team sheet. To his left, Lucas Esteves will also be watching from the stands after he picked up a straight red card for the altercation late in the match. We know Steven Beitashour can fill in with aplomb at the wingback role, but it does take a little bit from the attack. The bigger question mark is where the Rapids turn without Trusty. We’ve seen them go to a four-man backline with two center backs, but not with Danny Wilson. Assuming Wilson starts next to Abubakar, the third CB spot could go to Gustavo Vallecilla.
Keep the Run Going
The Rapids are currently enjoying an unprecedented run of 22 consecutive games at home without suffering a loss. The league record is 30 games, so it’s a bit off in the distance. Right now, chasing the record isn’t the most important thing. If the Rapids take it one game at a time, focus on controlling what they can control, the record will take care of itself. Sturdy, defensive discipline and precise attacks in the box, the Rapids will be able to sink the Sounders and turn 22 games into 23.