Colorado Rapids: Frei, Jones, Marshall, Torres, Mears, Alonso, Roldan, Morris, Friberg, Loreido, Valdez
Seattle Sounders: MacMath, Burch, Sjoberg, Watts, Miller, Cronin, Jones, Gashi, Doyle, Le Toux, Badji.
Two of Major League Soccer’s marquee teams lined up today in the first of two games to decide the Western Conference Final.
After Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready opened the night with a soaring rendition of the national anthem on electric guitar, the match started without a hitch (no redrawn penalty box lines needed).
The Rapids started the first half with a quick tempo, particularly on the counter. While the Sounders managed a dangerous attempt on net in the seventh minute, substitute Colorado keeper Zach MacMath protected the net admirably. Colorado quickly brought the ball back into play and sent six men on the attack, a blitz that nearly resulted in a goal after a well-placed cross by Dominique Badji.
Despite a failed first assault, it wasn’t long before the Rapids put together a successful attempt on net. Colorado midfielder Kevin Doyle scored on a high lob shot in the 13th-minute that sailed over the head of Seattle keeper Stefan Frei.
The goal silenced a normally raucous crowd at CenturyLink Field and killed any home field advantage Seattle may have hoped to carry into the game.
For five grueling minutes it looked like Seattle would lag behind indefinitely, but a sudden flash of speed and aggression was enough to press the attack well into Rapids territory and net the Sounders a goal when midfielder Jordan Morris recovered a rebounded shot off the post.
The goal was a watershed moment for the Sounders who finally started to look like the high-octane team we all love to watch. It energized the crowd and seemed to kickstart a lagging team. The Sounders continued to hustle into the thirtieth minute with two scorching shots on net, both saved in incredible fashion by Colorado’s Zach MacMath. The first was a burner along the turf to the lower left of the net while the second was a chip shot to the center right.
Tempers ran high following the equalizer, and a bit of drama unfolded near the sideline in the 34’ when Seattle midfielder Nicholas Lodeiro tripped Rapids defenseman Marc Burch. It was an unfair hit, but Burch - in a moment of hot-headedness - overreacted and swung his arm at Lodeiro’s face. What should have been an instant red card for Burch was called a yellow because the ref didn’t witness the swipe.
In the thirty-ninth minute Seattle midfielder Erik Friberg sent a gorgeous cross to forward Nelson Valdez who just narrowly missed a shot on net with an attempted leaping header.
In the final minutes of the first half play became notably more physical. Play continued a number of times after players collided and begged referee Chris Penso for a foul.
Tied 1-1 after the half, both teams seemed to dig in for a long fight. While Colorado still has a home game ahead, Seattle looked fairly cautious as they strove to keep the status quo while still on their turf and not fall behind before hitting the road. The strategy largely worked and even gave the Sounders a few solid attempts on net, though none converted.
Seattle found their chance to pull ahead when Colorado’s Burch committed another foul, this time in the penalty box. The resulting penalty kick was a rocket to the right that was evidently enough to misdirect MacMath as he dove left. Seattle goes up 2-1.
In the sixty-seventh minute Colorado captain Sam Cronin drew a yellow card, his second this playoffs which means he will sit out the second leg of the conference finals. Though not an overly aggressive move, Cronin did slide past the ball and into his opponent.
The remaining twenty-odd minutes saw Seattle and Colorado dig in and battle through the rain as they attempted to either hold the line or break through to tie it up, respectively.
By the time the final whistle was blown, both teams had taken their share of lumps during an intense match worthy of the hype. Though not as electrifying as the finals match to come, the first match in the Western Conference finals was a well fought contest featuring fantastic displays of both attack and defense throughout.
Seattle has historically been weak on the road during playoff games and will be thrilled with their positive result today. By taking an extra goal into the second leg of the contest they insulate themselves as best they can against a resurgent Colorado squad looking for redemption.
The MLS Western Conference Finals continues November 27th at 3pm CT. More information at mlssoccer.com.