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Race for top seed in MLS Western Conference tightens up after SKC and Rapids wins

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The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs has already been locked down, but the top spot in the West remains up for grabs heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Both Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids claimed important victories on Saturday, closing the gap to three points behind current leaders Seattle Sounders. Peter Vermes’ side picked up a 2-1 win at Lumen Field against the Sounders, using a late winner from Johnny Russell to hand the Sounders only their fourth home loss of the season.

After winning two of its past four matches in league play, Sporting KC remains in the hunt for the No. 1 seed and now has a slight edge with one match in hand over both Seattle and Colorado.

“It’s good to have a good motivation every day because our objective is to finish first, for sure,” Sporting KC’s Remi Walter, who scored the opening goal Saturday, said. “Today [Saturday] we are happy because I think it’s a good win. Before the playoffs, we have four games more so we keep going. The most important thing is to be ready for the next game.”

The final road won’t be easy for Sporting KC, which next hosts the LA Galaxy on Wednesday before matches against Minnesota United, Austin FC, and Real Salt Lake. The Galaxy and Loons are both ahead of the red line in the West table for now, while RSL is outside of the final playoff spot by two points.

Austin FC has been well out of the playoff race, but will have nothing to lose in its showdown with Sporting KC at Q2 Stadium on November 3.

The Colorado Rapids officially clinched their playoff berth with a 2-0 home victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night, continuing an impressive season for Robin Fraser’s men.

Braian Galvan registered two assists while Dominique Badji and Diego Rubio both got on the scoresheet with goals. After taking one point from the Sounders in midweek play, the Rapids delivered a gutsy performance against the Timbers, who are still clinging onto their own place in the table.

“I was really proud of the approach that we had tonight,” Fraser said postmatch. “As we get closer to the playoffs, we’ve talked about the fact that concentration, discipline becomes more and more important as we finish the year and try to win something. The teams that win are the teams that, as I said, are disciplined and can concentrate and are disciplined and fulfill their roles. I thought tonight we did a good job. It was a pretty professional performance.”

William Yarbrough contributed with his 12th clean sheet of the season, which is tied for the second-most in MLS. It was only the club’s third shutout since the start of September, but it came at a crucial time with the Rapids now fighting for the No. 1 seed.

Up next is a trip to Supporters’ Shield winners New England midweek before final showdowns with the Houston Dynamo and LAFC. While Colorado doesn’t have the match in hand like Sporting KC does, it is playing full of confidence with a mix of youth and experience in its squad.

The Seattle Sounders are struggling at the worst time of the regular season, failing to win any of their last three matches.

2-1 defeats to Houston and Sporting KC now in the past week, paired with a 1-1 draw with Colorado has the pressure on Brian Schmetzer’s experienced group heading into the final stretch. Seattle has the toughest stretch of matches out of the top three teams in the West, traveling to LAFC on Tuesday before hosting the Galaxy on November 1 and visiting Cascadia Cup rivals Vancouver on Decision Day.

Raul Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro’s absences haven’t helped the Sounders at all in the past three matches and Schmetzer will hope both players can recover quickly. Ruidiaz has 16 goals scored in 25 league appearances for the Sounders this season, while Lodeiro has only featured in seven matches to date.

If both players are unable to participate down the stretch, veterans Will Bruin, Fredy Montero, and Cristian Roldan will become even more important at their respective positions. Joao Paulo is suspended for Tuesday’s date with LAFC, leaving Schmetzer without another key player in midfield.

“Maybe there was a little bit of that, we started slow in the first few minutes and Kansas City came with a motivation and energy,” Roldan said about the team’s lack of intensity in the defeat. “We certainly felt the goal but at the same time it lifted us. The point is that we started playing with more motivation, but the point is that we shouldn’t have to be scored against to start gaining motivation. And after the goal we couldn’t let the match slip like that. But this is all part of soccer, and we need to give credit to Kansas City.”

All three clubs will be back in action this week knowing they all are in the hunt for the No. 1 spot and a first round bye in the playoffs.

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