Sounders vs. Rapids Preview
Updated: Feb 27
The longest wait between MLS games in the history of the Sounders is finally (almost) over! After failing to make the playoffs for the first time last season, fans were left with a real sense of concern over the future of the team. In the season opener on Sunday, we will get our first real glimpse of the revived Sounders.
After an unlucky deflected goal escorted Seattle out of the Club World Cup earlier than hoped, the boys were left with an underwhelming preseason to prepare for their redemption campaign. Fortunately, even from the limited looks we have had at the team I believe there is real reason for excitement. Here are my top three reasons for optimism.
Youth Injection: It was notable that Jackson Ragen got the start over World Cup player Xavier Arreaga. Following some speculation about a trade during the off season, leaving him on the bench in a must win situation was certainly notable. Add in Josh Atencio starting in the midfield, Danny Leyva signing a five-year extension, and Obed Vargas returning to health following a season-ending back fracture, the youth movement is bearing fruit just in time for Seattle to balance out the aging of club legends like Nico Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidiaz. Lastly, U-22 Initiative player Léo Chú, who has underwhelmed in his first two years in the squad, has been noted in several player interviews as the most impressive player of preseason. Could this be his breakout season? I think this will be when we finally see the return on investment the club expected when they brought him in from Gremio.
The Return of the King: It is tough to overstate the impact of losing João Paulo last season. His ability to control the center of the pitch, dominate possession, and distribute from the defensive midfield was possibly the biggest factor in the Sounders reaching the Concacaf Champions League final. It was clear throughout the MLS season that his presence was missed, and no player on the roster was able to fully fill his role. In his preseason games he has looked fit and confident on the ball, and his pairing with Albert Rusnák looks much more natural than it did early last season. The ideal front six (Paulo, Rusnák, Lodeiro, C. Roldan, Morris, Ruidiaz) is a much more settled debate with JP available, and I would challenge anyone to name a more intimidating group in MLS.
Striker Potential?: Compared to the gauntlet of last season, the schedule Seattle will see is downright convenient. This is going to be essential to maintaining the fitness of the team, hopefully allowing Raúl’s injury-fraught hamstrings to stay healthy. Maybe the most shocking fact I learned in my deep dives for this preview is that even while missing large chunks of the season with injury, Raúl still led the team with 9 goals in MLS play. Only 9! No wonder Seattle lost so many close games: Raúl wasn’t healthy, and we couldn’t score without him. Enter Héber. Arriving via trade from NYCFC, Héber is ostensibly a big upgrade over Will Bruin and hopefully will provide Raúl-style poaching from the bench. The ability to sub Raúl off after 60 minutes without a massive drop off in goal-dangerous number 9 play should allow the Sounders to maintain their scoring threat deep in games. Add in a dash of the club’s all time leading scorer Fredy Montero (and maybe some two forward formations) and we can expect a serious uptick from the 1.38 goals per game last season.
To that end, I expect the Sounders to come out aggressive against the Rapids. Going a goal up early will settle plenty of team and fan nerves alike, and would allow the Sounders dominant defense to carry the team to victory. Colorado has shown they can score well in the preseason, but I do not think they have faced a defense that is as organized as Seattle. Against Al-Ahly, Seattle looked dominant at times, establishing possession in the middle of the field and creating chances. Two more weeks of preseason seems to have allowed the players to find a little more sharpness in front of net that was sorely missed in Morocco. Without much to go on, and with an MLS-sized pinch of early-season chaos thrown in, I expect the home team to take the win this week.
Aaron: I predict a 3-1 win for Seattle, with Héber scoring at least one in his home debut.
Zach: I'm thinking the Rapids don't get a sniff of goal, but make things tough for us. 3-1 seems a little high. 2-0 seems more likely to me!
Player Watch: Héber was the biggest signing in what was otherwise a quiet transfer window for Seattle. Looking at social media, it appears Raúl may be nursing another hamstring strain, which could severely limit his minutes or remove him from the gameday roster altogether for at least the first week. The door is wide open for Héber to have some big minutes and show the home fans how important he can be to this season.
Bet of the Match: First game of the season, Gyasi Zardes gone to Austin FC, possibly no Raúl or Albert and a dominant defensive showing in the Club World Cup? No to Both teams to score at +112 (FanDuel) seems juicy to me!