Sounders to welcome Rapids back to CenturyLink Field for first time since playoff victory

Sounders FC vs. Colorado Rapids

MLS Regular Season
Saturday, April 26; 1 pm PT; CenturyLink Field
TV/Radio: Q-13 FOX (locally); ROOT Sports (regionally); KIRO Radio 97.3 FM; THIS-TV (KOMO2, Spanish); ESPN Deportes Radio, 1490 AM (Spanish)

It’s been nearly seven months and Sounders FC has played 14 matches since, but to Seattle Head Coach Sigi Schmid the team’s 5-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids last October still sticks out.

Even with Seattle’s 2-0 win that eliminated Colorado from the 2013 playoffs late last October, Schmid still uses that match as motivation for Sounders FC as it hosts the Rapids for the first time in the 2014 season on Saturday.

“The 5-1 still stings,” Schmid said. “We’re still thinking about that one.”

This season, Seattle and Colorado are among the top four teams in the Western Conference in the early stages of the year. Sounders FC is looking to harness the momentum from its three-game road unbeaten streak as it returns to CenturyLink Field for three consecutive home matches.

Over the past three games, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have risen to the top of the league’s goals and assists leaderboards, respectively, combining for eight goals and seven assists, including six goals and four assists in the last three matches.

In Colorado, though, they will face a different type of backline as the Rapids have an athletic foursome manning the back. However, that won’t change the approach of Seattle’s dynamic duo.

“We don’t change how we play. We link up. We create opportunities and we’ve got a good understanding of where we are on the field,” Dempsey said. “We figure out on the field how we break teams down depending on how the game is going.”

In recent matches, Dempsey and Martins have been called upon to pull Seattle up from early deficits and they have responded in kind. That has revealed the character of their partnership as well as the defensive resilience of the entire team. While that road success has helped Seattle climb to second in the West, the Sounders are looking to continue to make improvements to realize their full potential.

“We’re in a good rhythm. We’ve shown good character in the games that we’ve been playing as of late and it’s about continuing that moving forward, but also doing a better job keeping a clean sheet,” Dempsey said.

Under new Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni, the Rapids have shown their share of character, too, going 2-0-1 in three road matches to carry a 3-1-2 overall record. The longtime MLS standout and U.S. National Team midfielder has shifted some of Colorado’s tactics and found success doing so.

“He’s feeling his way through it and feeling his way through his team. He’s an experienced guy. He’s been around the league a long time and on the international level as well. He’s prepared himself and I think he’s done a good job so far,” Schmid said. “They’ve shifted around a little bit in terms of their formation. They’ve used also a lot of different players due to injuries and maybe coach’s decisions. We have to be prepared for a number of different things.”

Vicente Sanchez leads the Rapids with four goals, all of which have come from the penalty spot. Jose Mari added two long-range goals in one match and the Rapids have one goal each from forwards Deshorn Brown and Edson Buddle, both very dangerous strikers.

Combined with their newly-implemented diamond-shaped midfield and a stingy defense, Mastroeni has the Rapids firing on all cylinders and will need them all to be in sync to contend with a motivated Sounders team on Saturday afternoon.

“They beat us pretty decisively at their place and that will be something that we’re looking to make sure we don’t let happen again,” Dempsey said. “We need to make sure that we’re prepared for them because they do have quality going forward.”