Each Major League Soccer team presents a different challenge. Though teams have some similarities, they also each have their own intricate details that make them unique.
For the Colorado Rapids, one of those hallmarks in 2012 is a 4-3-3 formation under new head coach Oscar Pareja, focusing around Omar Cummings as the center forward.
Cummings, in his sixth MLS season, offers that rare commodity of size and speed that has led him to 35 goals in his career, including two in the first five games this season.
“Omar has speed. He’s a very fast player so we have to make sure that we just try and keep him in front of us as much as possible and not get caught with a high line if we don’t have pressure on the ball. And just make sure that we know where he is because he’s a guy that they obviously look for,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s got to hold up the ball for their team and get other people into the attack.”
With Cummings flanked by Jaime Castrillon and Brian Mullan, they have a veteran attack that is fed by the central midfield that includes 2010 MLS All-Star Jeff Larentowicz and rising talent Martin Rivero.
With their formation and personnel in the midfield, Colorado works in direct conflict with the style that Seattle has utilized in previous weeks this season, clogging up the middle of the field and forcing the ball to the wings. There, Alvaro Fernandez can be expected to see a lot of the ball on the left side while the Sounders have used several options in the absence of Mauro Rosales on the right side.
“The past four games we’ve played, the play has come out of the midfield and it’s been free flowing,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “This one might be a little bit more congested and we’ll be finding the wingers and finding those gaps as their outside backs like to get forward.”
Their third midfield spot has been split between several players. Mullan has slid back in favor of rookie Tony Cascio and Pareja also looked to veteran defender Drew Moor last week against Real Salt Lake. Ideally, the Rapids would use the ever-steady Pablo Mastroeni, but their captain has missed the last three matches with headaches and is not expected to make his return in Seattle.
“They try and possess the ball through all parts of the field and they try and get a lot of passes in, a lot of touches, so you’ve got to sort of get through that,” Schmid said. “And a lot of times it looks like a 4-5-1 when they’re defending, so they get a lot of people behind the ball.”
While Colorado is dealing with the absences of Mastroeni and star forward Conor Casey, who has been out since suffering a torn Achilles last July in Seattle, the Sounders are dealing with injuries of their own. Both Rosales and defender Adam Johansson have been out since the 3-1 season-opening win over Toronto FC on March 17 and Schmid said they are more likely to return to the starting lineup against the Chicago Fire on April 28.
In the meantime, the Sounders will look to get back in the win column after suffering a 1-0 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes and drawing 0-0 with DC United. With 243 minutes since their last goal, the focus this week has been on putting the ball in the net.
“We haven’t gotten goals the last couple games, so we continued to work on it—put the guys in front of goal,” Schmid said. “We worked on our attacking play, as well, so it’s just a matter of executing and finishing. I think we have to do a better job of possessing the ball in our attacking end of the field, and I think that’ll help us get more chances.”
The continuing feeling is that once the goals come, the wins will follow. And when one win comes, even more will follow, as well.
“For us, these points are going to be vital,” Evans said. “We’re such a streaky team. When we get wins going, they seem to pile on.”
Kickoff is slated for 1 pm on KONG 6/16 with radio coverage on 97.3 KIRO FM.