By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 22, 2021) US Soccer Players – When the MLS schedule delivers, it really delivers. Following a 1-1 draw at 3rd-place Colorado, the 1st-place Seattle Sounders host 2nd-place Sporting Kansas City on Saturday (Univision – 3:30pm ET). Later that night, 4th-place Portland is at the Rapids (ESPN+ – 9pm ET). What sets the stage for the weekend happened on Wednesday.
The Sounders were in Commerce City, facing a Rapids team looking to bounce back from a desultory performance against Real Salt Lake last weekend. Colorado lost 3-1 at RSL in an uncharacteristically poor showing. It gave Real Salt Lake the season series and the Rocky Mountain Cup. Getting something from the Sounders match wasn’t just about officially securing a playoff berth with a victory. It was about avoiding a slide-in form and a loss in confidence with the playoffs approaching.
Seattle also lost last week, 2-1 at Houston, one of the bottom three teams in the conference. Though the Sounders had already booked its place in the postseason, locking down a number one seed and extending the Supporters’ Shield race against New England were still on the agenda.
The proceedings in Commerce City were predictably tight and tense, with two well-coached teams battling for any edge. The soccer wasn’t an advertisement for the best MLS could offer, but the 1-1 scoreline did reinforce a few already understood truths about the two clubs.
Seattle’s depth remains strong. Without Raul Ruidiaz and Brad Smith, head coach Brian Schmetzer went to his bench to fill the gaps. The club is as healthy as it has been all season but can still lean into its roster when necessary.
Colorado felt aggrieved by the lack of a VAR review for an offside call on the Sounders’ goal, but the Rapids once again showed it can compete with the best in the West. Though Colorado doesn’t have a win over either Seattle or Sporting this season, Wednesday’s draw should be a confidence boost going into the match against Portland.
Last Saturday, the Galaxy ended Portland’s run of six games unbeaten, five of them wins. Those results pushed the Timbers past everyone but the top three teams in the conference. Looking for a quick turnaround at home against Vancouver on Wednesday, Portland didn’t get it. Instead of continuing its pursuit of home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Timbers are suddenly struggling for results.
After going up 2-0 in the 42nd minute, the Timbers conceded three goals to the Whitecaps and lost the game. Whether that bodes ill for the postseason, Portland would rather have a home game in the first round than go on the road. The Timbers need to fend off challenges from the Galaxy, Minnesota United, and others to get that home game. Confidence matters at this point in the campaign. Another loss could erode whatever surplus the club has left after back-to-back losses.
Following the MLSPA’s most recent release of MLS salary information, the achievements of the 2021 Rapids are coming into sharper focus. Head coach Robin Fraser is succeeding despite having the lowest payroll in MLS. More than a revolutionary turn with a budget roster, Colorado’s push into the top of the conference is an argument against the conventional thinking that Designated Players win championships.
That’s where Colorado saves money. The club has a single Designated Player on the books, Danish attacker Younes Namli. Instead, they’re relying largely on journeyman players who play their given role perfectly in Fraser’s system. Normally, that’s a recipe for hoping to nab a playoff spot on Decision Day. For Colorado, it’s a workable model.
Sporting Kansas City has the full complement of senior DPs. Unfortunately, their DP striker is out for the near future. The club announced on October 9 that Alan Pulido would miss 3-5 weeks following knee surgery. Idle midweek, Sporting had time to consider its options.
Khiry Shelton is the natural replacement for Pulido, with Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell helping to carry the attacking load. Without their lead striker, Sporting KC will adjust. They’ve shown an ability to play to situations, staying near and briefly at the top of the table in a season where the Sounders broke out early.
Winning without the best lineup is a familiar situation for teams nearing the end of a long season. There are no givens in the MLS Cup playoffs. Almost certainly, one or more of the current top four in the West will see its season end in the opening round. Upsets, such as they are in a league with so much parity, happen.
For the moment, Seattle, Sporting, Colorado, and Portland are the top teams in the West. On paper, they have the best chance to run the table and reach the MLS Cup final. This weekend will give us just a little more evidence for which of them may be able to pull that off.
More From Jason Davis:
- NYCFC looks for a home advantage
- New England on the way to the Supporters’ Shield
- What will the winter World Cup mean for club seasons?
- At closer to full strength, Minnesota United tries for a late season push
Photo by Katie Cahalin – NYCFC