Four of the Seattle Sounders' final 10 matches of the 2021 MLS regular season are against Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids, the second- and third-place teams behind them in the Western Conference standings.
Through three of those four matches, the Sounders have taken seven out of nine points.
As the top of the Western Conference jockeys for first place and the all-important first round postseason bye, the Sounders have stepped up when it mattered most. They headed to Commerce City, Colo., on Wednesday to take on a Rapids side at altitude and found a late equalizer from Cristian Roldan to not only earn a vital point, but keep Colorado from gaining ground.
“I have gone on record to say that a tie is like a loss,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “This one feels a little different because we went behind against a really well-coached, good team. The guys fought back. Léo Chú gave you a little of what he can bring, breaking guys down on the dribble. Cristian’s tenacity again…he persevered over the course of a hard game and got to the ball first in front of his own player, two other defenders and the goalkeeper because of his desire to score, his desire to do something good.”
For Roldan, it was his sixth goal of the season, but his fifth in his last six appearances for the Sounders in all competitions. In the long-term absences of Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris and the short-term injury to Raúl Ruidíaz, Roldan has been Seattle’s savior, perfecting the art of the late-arriving run into the box and burying opponents with his off-the-ball movements.
“They’re a good team, you have to respect their passing ability,” said Roldan, who said he joked in the locker room with Fredy Montero about who got the final touch on the goal. “Their center backs are pretty good passers. It makes it difficult to press them, but in the end we’re happy with a point. Once the game settled, we were able to catch our breath and play a little bit smarter.
“We felt like there were three points on the table, and we felt like we were creating enough and then their goal happened,” he continued. “That’s when the circumstances changed. Then you’re happy with the point. But initially, we thought that there were three points to be gained. Goals change game, goals change scenarios.”
The Sounders seized their opportunity and moved one step closer to locking up the No. 1 seed in the West and ensuring that the path to MLS Cup goes through Seattle. Their final major test at the top of the conference comes in quick succession on Saturday when they host Sporting Kansas City (12:30 p.m. PT; Univision, Twitter, FOX 13+, Prime Video, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS), who are six points back and with a match in hand.
Seattle came away with a massive 2-1 win on the road a month ago and will try and channel that same performance this weekend.
“We’ll probably follow the same type of game plan that we played against Kansas City a couple weeks back,” said Schmetzer. “It’s a little easier when you play an opponent recently. Kansas City really hasn’t changed in the last two weeks. We’ll revisit what we did well against them in Kansas City.”
Added Roldan: “We need to make use of our chances. They will come prepared, so we need to be prepared for a battle.”
For now, though, the Sounders can return to Seattle and prepare for Saturday knowing that they’re taking home their most valuable road point of the entire season, given the circumstances, their opponent and the playoff implications.
“This was a critical point for us,” said Schmetzer, “both in the standings, but up here [in our heads] probably more so than a singular point.”