MLS Playoff Preview: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders

6 Comments
  • Seattle winless in seven ahead of Wednesday’s match.
  • Colorado won last meeting, 5-1 on October 5.
  • Winner meets Portland in Western Conference semifinals.

Speculation Seattle had won MLS Cup with the purchase of Clint Dempsey was rash, but with the Sounders closing their campaign winless in seven, those prognostications look downright foolhardy. History (particularly MLS’s) is littered with examples of teams overcoming financial disadvantages. Seattle’s purchases of Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have shown: There’s no guarantee talent alone can deliver an MLS title.

Colorado’s in a position to prove that point on Wednesday, when the meet at CenturyLink Field in the Western Conference’s winner-take-all opening round (10:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN). While not the most hamstrung team in the league, the Rapids just signed their first Designated Player this season (Panamanian international Gaby Torres). Compare that to Seattle, who have had nine (NINE!) Designated Players in their four-year history.1 Not all Designated Players are created equal, but in the case of Seattle and Colorado, the contrast helps illustrate the divide between an MLS have and an one of the league’s have nots.

To counter that, Colorado’s built with youth. They added Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown in this year’s draft. Chris Klute was purchased from NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks last year. Clint Irwin’s emerged after an injury to Matt Pickens, and Shane O’Neill has held down a place next to Drew Moor in central defense. All five, completing their first seasons as MLS regulars, helped the Rapids transcend their predicted also-ran status. Unexpectedly, the team kept a regular place in the West’s top five.

In that sense, Colorado may have already accomplished what they set out to do, but matched up against a Seattle squad they routed at the beginning of the month, the Rapids have a chance to do much more. Win at CenturyLink on Wednesday, and Colorado not only secures a 36th and 37th game of the season, they also make Malcolm Gladwell’s precepts come to life, becoming the MLS David that toppled the well-funded Goliath.

Given the problems they gave Seattle on Oct. 5 (the 5-1 shellacking at Dick’s Sporting Goods part), there’s not reason this David might be Wednesday’s Goliath. All of the Sounder problems that were exposed in Commerce may still exist. Seattle’s defense is still a collection of average (at best) defenders that rely on a strong midfield and good goalkeeping. If Michael Gspurning isn’t his 2012 self and the opposition finds a way around Osvaldo Alonso, the Sounders’ backs are sitting ducks. The Rapids proved it on the fifth, and three days later (before the midfield and goalkeeping improved), Vancouver reiterated the point.

It highlights the obvious. Seattle just needs to play better. They did so in Portland (losing 1-0). They did so on Sunday against LA. But when a home draw is all you can get from your month’s best performance, your team’s in big trouble.

If Seattle somehow finds their former selves before Wednesday’s kickoff, everything we learned on October 5 becomes irrelevant. The seven-match unbeaten run becomes extraneous, and the turmoil and speculation that’s accompanied this unexpected collapse is rendered moot. The focus shifts to Portland.

But given we have no idea what this team’s “former self” is, what’s Seattle trying to return to? An abstract idea we’ve inferred from their individual talents – something that’s never been allowed to come together on the field. Ahead of Wednesday’s winner-take-all, injuries, call ups, and suspensions have left us no proof Seattle can become that juggernaut, let alone reverse the momentum the Rapids carry from Colorado.

Either Seattle paints a new picture for themselves or starts their offseason a month earlier than expected. Who would have thought do-or-die would come this soon?

1- Those nine Designated Players: Dempsey, Martins, Mauro Rosales, Shalrie Joseph, Christian Tiffert, Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez, Blaise Nkufo, Freddie Ljundberg.

Huddersfield seal fairytale promotion to Premier League

Getty Images
2 Comments

LONDON — Huddersfield Town have been promoted to the Premier League.

Let that sink in.

[ MORE: Wagner reacts to “fairytale” ]

The Terriers, for the first time in their history, will play in the PL and for the first time since 1972 they will be in the top-flight of English soccer.

German-American manager David Wagner has worked a miracle to turnaround a team who finished in 19th place in the Championship last season. They beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks on Monday after a tight, tense 120 minutes of action at Wembley Stadium, holding their nerve to seal an estimated windfall of $218 million next season and up to $372 million if they survive in the PL for another season.

All day long, and perhaps all season long, it has felt like Huddersfield were destined for promotion.

Huddersfield sold out their full allocation of tickets, 39,150, and their fans made the most noise all day long. There was no contest.

In central London Huddersfield’s fans piled on to the tube heading to Wembley for their day of reckoning.

“It’s his first full season as a fan!” said a proud mother decked out in a Huddersfield shirt as she hugged her five-year-old son proudly. “What a time to start!” replied a stranger, also a Huddersfield fan.

Excited chatter filled the 15 minute tube ride from Baker Street to Wembley Park as fans “I can’t believe it,” said one fan to another, quietly. “It will hit home when we get into the stadium,” his friend replied.

Steven Sunderland stood outside Wembley with his wife Melanie and their daughter Megan.

He summed up the surprise that Huddersfield were even one game away from the Premier League to start with.

“It would be amazing to play all of the big clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, clubs like that,” Sunderland said. “I never thought we would make it. No chance. I just thought if we make midtable, it would be an improvement on last season because we’ve been struggling with relegation the last few seasons. This season, David Wagner has got the team playing really well, best team spirit I’ve ever seen for a long, long time. The fans are really connected. It shows today, there are nearly 40,000 Huddersfield fans here today and they are up for it.”

Oh yes. Yes they were.

Amid dissecting the struggles of Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, talk of just going up to the PL for one year and then enjoying it “no matter how we do” was rife among the Huddersfield fans. One Terriers supporter puffed out his cheeks, gripping his can of cider nervously as he walked up Wembley Way.

Tense was the word of the day.

With the future of both clubs on the line, the game itself didn’t deliver end-to-end excitement. With an estimated $218 million on the line for next season and $370 million if they manage to stay up one year in the PL, the economic benefit for Huddersfield the club, and the town, will be huge.

When Michael Hefele headed wide and Isaiah Brown missed a glorious chance early on, you began to wonder if it was Huddersfield’s day. In the end none of that mattered.

Christopher Schindler stepped up and slotted home the winning penalty kick after Danny Ward saved from Jordan Obita as Huddersfield had reached the promised land.

Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle summed up his emotions after taking over the club and putting in a prudent plan for promotion involving loan players and a budget less than $12 million this season.

“I’m so emotional. To say I’ve been supporting this club since 1969, to be a Premier League team now – dreams come true,” Hoyle said. “It’s huge what it means for Huddersfield, we’re on the big stage. It proves you don’t have to blow your brains to get promoted. We’ve done it the right way.”

What impact will this have on the Yorkshire town?

Sunderland and his family summed it up perfectly as yet another underdog, just like Bournemouth, Blackpool and Burnley before them, has risen to the promised land.

“It is massive. It is the land of milk and honey if you like, the place where everybody wants to be,” Sunderland said. “It will be brilliant, for the town. Just that little bit of success makes a big difference. We’ve been on TV this season more times than we have been the last 10 seasons. Next year it will be high profile very week. Match of the Day, on TV… Champions League the year after!? You never know.”

What did Wagner have to say? He told ProSoccerTalk he wants Huddersfield to keep the identity he has helped build and nurture.

“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves. This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

They certainly are. Watch out, Premier League. Huddersfield are on their way.

David Wagner reacts to Huddersfield’s promotion

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — There will be an American coach in the Premier League next season.

David Wagner, 45, led Huddersfield Town to its first-ever promotion to the Premier League as the Terriers beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks after a tense Championship Playoff Final at Wembley which ended 0-0 after 120 minutes.

Speaking after the nail-biting win, Wagner was delighted that his team proved everyone wrong and came from nowhere to reach the top-flight for the first time since 1972.

“A lot of the pundits wrote us off before the season,” Wagner told Sky Sports. “Over the season I thought we could do a little bit more, I thought around Christmas when we’d played everyone we had a chance. What happened is an unbelievable story – a fairytale.”

The former U.S. national team forward has galvanized the club, linking the team and fans together with passion and a plethora of loan players from the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.

What he has achieved this season has left Huddersfield fans stunned as the former Borussia Dortmund II boss, who left the German giants in November 2015, has built a hardworking, organized team.

ProSoccerTalk asked Wagner if he will look at any of the smaller teams who have been recently promoted to the PL — the likes of Bournemouth, Burnley et al. — to follow a blueprint of how to plan ahead.

“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves,” Wagner said. “This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

They are certainly on their way and we will be hearing a lot about the Terriers in the days and weeks to come.

Huddersfield promoted to Premier League after PK drama

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — Huddersfield Town beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks in the Championship Playoff Final at Wembley on Monday to secure promotion to the Premier League for the first time in club history.

[ MORE: JPW on”miracle” for Terriers ]

In a tense, tight game Huddersfield missed big chances early on and Reading fought back valiantly but the Terriers won and secured an estimated $218 million jackpot for next season.

German-American manager David Wagner who got the better of Jaap Stam as his team won 4-3 on penalty kicks as Danny Ward saved Jordan Obita‘s spot kick and then Christopher Schindler scored the winner.

[ MORE: Wagner reacts to fairytale

A remarkable story as Huddersfield secured promotion to the top-flight of English soccer for the first time in 1972.

Huddersfield had the first big chance of the game as Aaron Mooy‘s free kick from the left found Michael Hefele but he nodded just wide after rising at the back post.

The Terriers continued to press and had a glorious chance to take the lead as Elias Kachunga got free on the right side of the box and his shot across goal looked destined to be tapped home by Isaiah Brown… but somehow he shinned the effort wide from one yard out.

At the other end Reading went close when Lewis Grabban dropped deep and curled towards the top corner but it flew just wide.

Huddersfield continued to pour forward in search of the opener as Nahki Wells’ cross was hooked clear and Reading, somehow, went in level at the break.

Reading started the second half well as John Swift burst into the box but his show was straight at Danny Ward who saved.

That effort sparked Huddersfield back into life as they twice surged into the box but couldn’t find the final pass at the crucial moment.

The game grew more tense as the clock ticked closer to 90 minutes with substitute Collin Quaner failing to get proper contact on Aaron Mooy’s cross.

Late on Reading pushed forward as Hefele made a wonderful last-ditch clearance with Yann Kermorgant lurking and Huddersfield lost captain Tommy Smith to a serious injury.

Seven minutes of stoppage time couldn’t find a winner, so the game went in to extra time but an extra 30 minutes failed to open up the game as Garath McCleary drilled a low shot wide and then Nahki Wells dragged a tired effort wide in the 116th minute and that was as close as either team came to scoring.

After 120 minutes it finished 0-0 and penalty kicks were needed to decide who gained promotion to the Premier League.

Huddersfield won on penalty kicks after Danny Ward saved Jordan Obita’s spot kick and then Schindler stepped up to send the Terriers into the top flight for the first time since 1972.

Marco Reus out several months with cruciate ligament tear

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Marco Reus has been ruled out for several months with a partial tear of the cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Reus suffered the injury in Saturday’s German Cup final and Dortmund says, “Further examinations will be conducted over the next few days to determine what course of treatment is required. Borussia Dortmund will therefore not make any precise prognosis on the possible length of the player’s absence.”

Reus, who had been left out of Germany’s Confederations Cup squad after a season plagued by injury, suffered the latest blow in the first half of Dortmund’s 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the German season’s showpiece in Berlin.

Dortmund’s win gave the 27-year-old Reus his first title in a career of persistent injury setbacks.