SEATTLE (AP) –
SEATTLE (AP) – The Seattle Sounders will go to Colorado needing only a draw or a win to reach the MLS Cup final for the first time.
The Rapids are perfectly fine heading home for the second-leg of the Western Conference finals knowing a win will send them to the championship match, too.
“We’ve given up the least goals I think in the history of the league at home,” Colorado coach Pablo Mastroeni said. “We’re very comfortable in the position that we are in.”
Nicolas Lodeiro scored on a penalty kick in the 61st minute and the Sounders beat the Rapids 2-1 on Tuesday night in the first-leg of the conference finals.
Seattle will take an important one-goal advantage into the second match of the two-game series on Sunday in Colorado. But the Rapids picked up a crucial road goal which could serve as the tiebreaker if the aggregate-goal series finishes tied.
A win or a tie by Seattle on Sunday would put the Sounders in the final. But that won’t be easy in the thin air of Colorado, where the Rapids are 12-0-6 this season and have allowed a total of seven goals all season in MLS competition. But Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer was quick to counter that stat. Since he took over in late July, the Sounders have failed to score only once in 18 matches.
“There are a lot of scores that go in our favor as well,” Schmetzer said.
Lodeiro caused issues all over the field for Colorado before drawing the penalty 15 minutes into the second half. A deflected ball rolled to Lodeiro in the penalty area and he was taken down by Marc Burch, a call Mastroeni thought was wrong but Burch didn’t dispute. Lodeiro sent goalkeeper Zac MacMath the wrong direction and scored his fourth goal of the playoffs.
After a 16-day layoff due to a break for international competition, what was expected to be a defensive struggle was instead a lively showcase that featured chances on both ends.
Kevin Doyle gave Colorado an early advantage when his shot in the 13th minute deflected off Seattle defender Chad Marshall and past goalkeeper Stefan Frei, stunning the 42,774 in attendance for the Sounders’ third appearance in the conference finals. Doyle was able to get free thanks to a smart decision by Shkelzen Gashi letting the pass from Jermaine Jones run through.
Gashi was a surprise starter for the Rapids after suffering an ankle injury in the semifinal round win over Los Angeles.
Seattle responded almost immediately with Jordan Morris pulling the Sounders even in the 19th minute jumping on the rebound of Cristian Roldan’s shot that beat MacMath but ricocheted off the post. Seattle was unsure if Morris would play after suffering a hamstring injury in the second game of its semifinal win over FC Dallas. The injury kept Morris from joining the U.S. national team for its qualifying matches against Mexico and Costa Rica.
MacMath did his part making his first start since Sept. 3 with Tim Howard out for the year after having surgery for an adductor injury suffered with the U.S. during the loss to Mexico. MacMath made four saves, none better than a sequence midway through the first half where he pushed aside a header from Lodeiro and off the ensuing corner kick smothered Nelson Valdez’s shot at the back post.
“I think he had a pretty good game,” Mastroeni said. “It’s not easy stepping into the season at this point.”
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.