Keys To Sounders' Path To First MLS Cup: Newcomer And Numbers

Nov 25, 2016

The Seattle Sounders play the Colorado Rapids Sunday afternoon in Colorado in the second leg of the Western Conference Finals. The Sounders won the first match Tuesday night, 2-to-1.

Sports commentator Art Thiel talked with 88.5's Kirsten Kendrick about what needs to happen to send the Sounders to their first MLS Cup.

Star Players Prevailed

Thiel said it was fitting that two of the team's star players, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, were the ones who scored the goals in the first leg of the conference finals.

"This is why you have star players," he said. "Because they came through against a very tough Rapids team.

"In the 19th minute, Jordan Morris, the former Mercer Island star and Stanford star, scored on a rebound off the near post.

"And then in the 60th minute, Nicolas Lodeiro nailed a penalty kick for a 2-1 advantage that held up throughout a very intense game in front of 44,000 very soggy fans."

Filled Big Shoes

"These are the two that replaced the two biggest stars on the Sounders team." Thiel continued. "Obafemi Martins was lost to playing in China in February. And then Clint Dempsey went out this summer with a heart condition.

"That's a big blow to any team. But the Sounders have overcome that because Morris was such a substantial contributor in his rookie year. He was named MLS Rookie of the Year, followed by an award called Newcomer of the Year that went to Nicolas Lodeiro.

"He came in July from Uruguay. Just 27 years old. In his prime. He has been a very powerful influence on the Sounders and has been, now with this goal on Tuesday, the all-time leading scorer in the playoffs for the Sounders in one postseason.

"So it was very impressive on the part of these guys to deliver the goods when it was most needed."

Numbers Game

Thiel said the Sounders will need another good game out of Lodeiro and Morris, as well as the rest of the starters. They must score at least one goal.

"The Rapids are very, very good at home," he explained. "They have this incredible record: they've won 11 games, lost none and tied six this year at home.

"And, on top of that, they were 14-0 in games that were decided 1-0. And that's what the Rapids are going to play for [on Sunday].

"If they win 1-0, the road goal [that they scored in Seattle] counts as the tiebreaker in a series that's tied with one win apiece. So, if the Sounders don't get a road goal they'll lose in a 1-0 game.

"And that's going to be the Colorado strategy: deny, deny, deny and then sneak one in. So, that's what the Sounders have to overcome on Sunday. They've got to get a goal somewhere."

Altitude Advantage

"One of the reasons [the Rapids] have such a great record is because most teams run out of gas playing at the 5,200-foot-level at Commerce City, CO.," Thiel pointed out. "So, it's an advantage that they exploit by being a defensive-oriented team.

"And the Sounders have to prevail probably, again, through Nicolas Lodeiro. He's a Uruguayan who's played many, many games at the high altitude of the Andes [Mountains].

"There are stadiums at 7,000, 8,000 and 9,000 feet in the Andes. So this is no big deal.

"When we talked after the game [Tuesday] he said, 'Altitude? No! I've played at many other stadiums besides Colorado.'

"He just completely dismissed the threat of altitude being a problem for him. Now, the rest of the Sounders are going to be playing in a short-rest week, so it's going to be more difficult.

"They need a superstar and he's the best player on the field for both teams."

First MLS Cup

"If they prevail, the Sounders will be in the MLS Cup for the first time in their history," Thiel said. "They will play the winner of the Eastern Conference final between Toronto and Montreal.

"If Montreal prevails - and they did win their first game 3-2 - that means the Sounders will host the MLS Cup.

"So I would advise all Sounders fans to spell go G-E-A-U-X and say 'Geaux, Montreal!'"

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.