It's been almost two months since Brek Shea split the Sounders back line and netted the only goal in FC Dallas' 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders. As the rave green faithful filed out of Qwest Field (as it was known in those days) there was a palpable sense of discontent; this was supposed to be the year the Sounders broke through into the ranks of the elite, and yet here we were, nearly into June with Seattle performing very much like a team on the periphery of the playoffs. Key injuries had rendered Sigi Schmid's preferred system impotent and the Sounders were a team without anything approaching an identity. This was a team in a very bad way.
Fast forward to the present; the Sounders haven't lost since that rainy, windy night in late May, taking 18 of 24 points. The focus has shifted from a potential battle for the playoffs to a potential battle for the Supporters Shield. What's more, the Sounders have, over the course of this fantastic run of form, played some very attractive, very attacking soccer. To put it simply, this is as good as the Seattle Sounders have ever looked, in terms of both results and aesthetic.
And then there's the Colorado Rapids. The defending MLS Cup champions played on May 25th as well, earning a point on the road against the then streaking Red Bulls. At the time they looked very much like a team to beat in the league, but since then they've taken just 10 of 24 points, tumbling all the way to 5th in the Western Conference along the way. The Rapids are still quite likely a playoff team (and in a similar position to that which they entered the MLS Cup playoffs last season for good measure) but they're just not all that good and they're certainly not very much fun to watch.
I'll depart from the editorial voice here, because very little from here on out will be objective; I detest the Colorado Rapids. And for those wishing to chalk my feelings for the club up to lingering bitterness over Brian Mullan's season-ending tackle on Steve Zakuani, I assure you that A) I've gotten over it, and B) I felt this way well before the teams even took the field at the Dick. (And if there were ever a more appropriate name for a team's home venue...)
The style the Rapids play can absolutely be effective in terms of results. It's also just awful to watch. I'm not necessarily a soccer aesthetics snob; I think there's the potential for just as much beauty in kick-and-rush as there is tika-taka, so long as it's executed well. But what the Rapids do cannot, in any context, be enjoyable to watch, at least for those not emotionally invested in their success. It's crass, brutish and boring. Yes, they're capable of scraping out results. But the manner of their MLS Cup win is all the proof that is needed of their awfulness. They were technically outmatched for the entirety of the game but their conservative style kept them in the running and they ended up lucking into a win. They are an embodiment of everything wrong with the MLS playoff system. I recognize that this is a results business and were I a Rapids supporter I'd likely not be bothered by the way the team came about their success. But I'm not, and I watch soccer to be entertained, and the Rapids actively detract on that end.
Mullan is, of course, the elephant in the room. But to be quite frank, I've grown tired of hearing about him. At any rate, he won't be coming to Seattle, and in terms of on-field business that's probably a good thing. For all of his faults, Mullan is a good (and important) player and given the Sounders affinity for working the ball through the center of the field he'll be a big miss.Breaking down the Rapids back line will be the biggest test for Seattle, closely followed by their ability to deal with Conor Casey's physical play and Colorado's speed on the wings. The Rapids are a very direct team and Seattle have struggled at times this season keeping teams of such proclivity from making headway.
Bluntly, Colorado are the sort of team that the Sounders should beat and beat soundly but that play a style that cannot count them out. Given the talent and form of the two sides involved their shouldn't be even a modicum of doubt, but the Rapids are the kind of team that cannot be counted out. And I suppose that;s the entire point, and that results are what matter, and that I can't blame them for it. But it doesn't make me dislike them any less.