COMMERCE CITY, COLO. – Seattle Sounders FC is one mile up and two starters down.
That combination of elevation and absence could be relevant tonight when the Sounders visit the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver, elevation: 5,164 feet.
“But the thing is,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said, “altitude affects you most in that 48- to 72-hour period. (We planned) to get in there so that we’re within about 24 hours of the game. (We try) to get in as late as possible, and play the game and get out. Certainly, it’s there and it’s present. You can’t say it’s not. But also, the first day of it is less of an impact on your body physically.”
The larger concern could involve the two starting midfielders who are back nearer to sea level in Seattle: Freddie Ljungberg and Brad Evans.
Evans is out with a left-ankle sprain suffered one week ago in the Sounders’ 1-1 draw at Dallas. Meanwhile, Ljungberg will miss his second consecutive game while recovering from migraines.
“(Ljungberg has) had a history of these,” Schmid said. “He knows what it takes to come back. He doesn’t get them all that often. It’s something that usually happens every year to two years. So right now it’s just a matter of him knowing his body, and us being careful so that it doesn’t become a long-term thing.”
Sebastien Le Toux is likely to fill at one midfield spot, while Peter Vagenas traveled with the team and could make his Sounders debut at the other.
The game is a big one for both sides as Seattle clings to second place in the Western Conference, while Colorado is in striking distance three points behind. That means a Rapids’ win tonight would pull them even with the Sounders even though they have played one fewer game.
“They’re a team that’s gotten some good results on the road,” Schmid said. “Conor Casey has had a good season for them so far. They’ve gotten good flank play from Terry Cooke and others; and Colin Clarke on the opposite side obviously has done a lot of good things for them.
“So, they’re a team that you’ve got to worry about.”
This is the first MLS meeting between the teams, but there are several connections linking them.
• Rapids midfielder Ciaran O’Brien is a former star at Decatur High School in Federal Way. Two seasons ago, he played with the Tacoma Tide of the Premier Development League. He went on to play with the USL Sounders last season while on loan from Colorado. His brother, Leighton, is a former USL Sounder now playing with the Tide. And their father, Fran, is a former Tacoma Stars player and Tide coach.
• Colorado’s reserve keeper, Person Burpo, played for the USL Sounders from 1997-05. He is 1-1-2 in four starts this season, but Matt Pickens is listed as the likely starter tonight.
• Casey, who scored 11 goals last season and has five this season, attended the University of Portland (1999-2000), where he was a teammate of Sounders assists leader Nate Jaqua.
• Sounders technical director Chris Henderson played seven seasons with the Rapids (1996-98; 2002-05) and holds the club records for games played (178), games started (170), minutes (14,784), assists (53), shots (342), shots on goal (151) and fouls.
• Sounders defender James Riley is a native of nearby Colorado Springs.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
Sounders FC gameday
SEATTLE (4-2-3; 15 pts.) AT COLORADO (3-2-3; 12 pts.)
6:30 p.m., Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colo.
TV: KONG 6/16. Radio: 97.3-FM, 1210-AM (Spanish).
Head to head: This is the first meeting. The Rapids, who visit Qwest Field for an MLS match on June 28, will play the Sounders on Tuesday at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila in a U.S. Open Cup play-in game.
Team leaders: For Seattle, G 3 Fredy Montero; A 4 Nate Jaqua; Sh 22 Montero; SOG 6 Montero/ Steve Zakuani. For Colorado, G 5 Conor Casey; A 3 Omar Cummings/Colin Clark; Sh 28 Casey; SOG 9 Casey/Cummings.
Scouting report: Under second-year coach Gary Smith, Colorado is tied for third with Houston in the Western Conference. The Rapids feature two U.S. National Team veterans: Pablo Mastroeni and Cory Gibbs. Casey, is tied for third in MLS with five goals. Clark has assisted on all three of Colorado’s game-winning goals. The Rapids are tied for eighth in the 15-team league in goals scored (11).
Notes: If the Rapids win, they will catch Seattle in the standings, with one game in hand. Both teams are 1-0-2 in their last three MLS matches and are coming off ties. ... Seattle is 1-1-2 on the road. Colorado is 2-0-1 at home. ... Sounders starters Freddie Ljungberg (migraine) and Brad Evans (ankle) and reserves Zach Scott (abdominal strain) and Chris Eylander (knee) did not travel. ... Seattle is tied for second in MLS in fewest goals allowed (six). Kasey Keller rates first among keepers, allowing 0.41 goals per game. He is second in shutouts (four) and wins (four).
Next: Tuesday, vs. Colorado, 7 p.m., Starfire Sports Stadium, Tukwila.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune