Casey will be a difficult matchup for Parke.
It was a battle for all 90 minutes (and beyond) when these two teams met here nearly


Rematch With Rapids is Sounders' Chance to End Two-Month, Nine-Match Winless Streak

Casey will be a difficult matchup for Parke.
It was a battle for all 90 minutes (and beyond) when these two teams met here nearly three months ago, and it took a perfect combination--rookie Alex Caskey's well-placed corner kick and Zach Scott's high-rising header, his first and so far only goal in four years in a Sounders FC uniform, to win it.

The stakes are much higher in the rematch: the Sounders were just four matches in, winless in two, then as now coming off a scoreless contest on the road. But they enter tomorrow night's match (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network) against the Colorado Rapids fourth in the Western Conference, having slipped only one place in the standings over the past two months despite going winless in nine consecutive league matches, a dubious franchise record.

It's no better to be Colorado's boots: coming off a disheartening 1-0 home loss to Vancouver on Wednesday in which they thoroughly outplayed the Whitecaps, the Rapids have lost three of their past four and are fourth in the West, five points behind Seattle, which has played one more match. Colorado hasn't played well away from home, winning only at also-rans Philadelphia and FC Dallas and dropping its other six matches.

With no players sitting out due to disciplinary action for the first time since May 23 (seven matches ago) and only one first-stringer, keeper Michael Gspurning, sidelined by injury, this is Sigi Schmid's best chance to field his ideal starting lineup since the season opener.

Some choices are obvious--Fredy Montero and a resurgent Eddie Johnson up front, Mauro Rosales creating on the right side of midfield, with the well-rested Ozzie Alonso patrolling and controlling possession in the center of the field. With all seven defenders at least relatively fit, there are no bad choices in back, but Marc Burch on the left, Scott on the right, and Jeff Parke and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado laying down the law in central defense, with Patrick Ianni waiting in the wings, sounds about right.

With Bryan Meredith, coming off Wednesday's clean sheet at Real Salt Lake, the default option in goal, the only real questions are attacking and left-side midfielder, with Caskey, Alvaro Fernandez, Brad Evans, Servando Carrasco, and rookie Andy Rose in the mix. If Steve Zakuani makes the 18-man active roster and the Sounders are comfortably ahead in the second half, he could see his first MLS action in 14½ months, possibly going against the player--Brian Mullan--who shattered his right ankle with a brutal, two-footed tackle in a match last April 22.

There's only been one meaningful change in the Rapids' lineup since they lost here, but it represents a real challenge for the Sounders' defense. Forward Conor Casey, a bald, bullish force up the middle and inside the box, missed April's match while rehabilitating a torn Achilles tendon. He suffered the season-ending injury last July in a wild 4-3 loss in Seattle, blaming the Sounders' old FieldTurf, which has since been replaced.

The 30-year-old has been a mainstay in Colorado since 2007, scoring 49 goals, 40 in a three-year stretch from 2008 to 2010. Casey returned to action in late April but battled a hamstring injury and struggled before breaking through with a goal last Saturday in a 3-0 domination of Portland, his first goal since July 9 of last year. He's scored twice in five matches against Seattle.

In Casey's absence, someone had to step up, and Colombian midfielder Jaime Castrillon has answered the call, starting all 17 matches and leading the team with five goals. Another first-year player, Argentine midfielder Martin Rivero, has been a dynamic playmaker, starting all 13 matches he's played and assisting on six goals. Tony Cascio has been a force in his rookie year; the midfielder has scored twice and set up two more goals in 13 starts.

First-year Colombian coach Oscar Pareja prefers to play a more attacking 4-4-3 formation, but he hasn't had the horses up front to make it work. Now, with Casey's return, he can pair him with striker Omar Cummings, a regular on Jamaica's national team who's averaged six goals a season in his six-year tenure in Colorado.

Veteran keeper Matt Pickens, in his eighth MLS sason, fourth in Colorado, kept the Rapids in the April loss, making a number of key saves as the Rapids were outshot 18-4. Scott's goal would only have tied the first meeting if designated villain Mullan hadn't been offside on his disallowed first-half goal:

If you haven't had enough of the Rapids, you only have to wait three weeks; the season series concludes in Colorado on July 28.

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