The Colorado Rapids will take on the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
The Rapids and Sounders met twice during the regular season. Colorado won 3-1 on April 23 and 1-0 on May 21. While that’s a somewhat encouraging history if you’re a fan of the Rapids, it’s probably best not to take much stock in the results.
This time around, the Sounders are a completely different team. They fired longtime manager Sigi Schmid on July 26 and let assistant Brian Schmetzer take the reins. Then on the last day of July, Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Ladeiro made his MLS debut with the Sounders. The result is a Seattle team that’s found new life.
The Sounders climbed from ninth in the West to fourth in 14 games. They knocked off Kansas City 1-0 in the knockout round, then upset F.C. Dallas on aggregate 4-2 in the semifinals. Ladeiro has sparked that resurgence. He racked up four goals and eight assists in the regular season, then scored three against F.C. Dallas. He’s quick, skilled and creative.
Oh, and he celebrates goals like this:
The Rapids are equipped to handle Ladeiro and the Sounders’ attack. They’ve played the best defense in the MLS all season, no matter who was in goal. On Tuesday, Zac MacMath will start in place of Tim Howard, who’s out for the season. It’s not a stretch to say he’s the most talented backup goalie in the MLS.
MacMath started 17 games at the beginning of the year and limited opponents to just 0.76 goals per game. Colorado needs him to play at that level. They’re two games away from the MLS Cup. If you see Ladeiro doing the shoe-phone celebration in that time, the chances Colorado advances aren’t great.
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