Thanks to Kevin Doyle, the Colorado Rapids know that a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Sunday will be enough to take them through to the MLS Cup final for the third time in their history.
Pablo Mastroeni’s men opened the Western Conference Championship with a 2-1 first-leg defeat at Seattle on Tuesday night after letting an early lead slip, but Doyle’s crucial away goal means their hopes of lifting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy on 10 December are still very much alive.
The 33-year-old Irish striker opened the scoring in the 13th minute in front of a 42,774 crowd at CenturyLink Field when Shkelzen Gashi’s dummy allowed him to pick up a pass from Jermaine Jones at the left edge of the area before looping a deflected shot over the top of Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Seattle equalised within six minutes through Jordan Morris before recently-crowned MLS Newcomer of the Year Nicolas Lodeiro went on to grab the second from the penalty spot shortly after the hour mark after being brought down in the box by Marc Burch, but the mood in the Rapids dressing room was far from despondent following the final whistle.
The club have already overturned a one-goal deficit in this year’s playoffs after rallying to beat the LA Galaxy on penalties in the conference semi-finals following a 1-0 second-leg win, and head coach Mastroeni believes they remain well positioned to pull off another comeback in four days’ time.
“What we wanted was to come here and find that goal – the road goal – and I think the guys did a fantastic job in the first half of pushing the game at times,” the former Rapids and USA midfielder told MLSSoccer.com after the match. “We sit here today in a better situation than a couple of weeks ago against LA [Galaxy].
“I think it was a great start obviously coming to this place obviously with the many variables that make it difficult to play here. I thought the guys handled themselves professionally. In the second half, I thought the guys executed the game plan to a 'T'. I’m very pleased with the performance.”
If the Rapids want to get the necessary result this coming weekend, though, they will likely need another strong performance from Doyle.
The former Reading man has not quite lived up to expectations in his first full season in the States, scoring only seven goals in 29 league games while recording two assists, but his display on Tuesday night showed precisely why he was brought over from Wolverhampton Wanderers back in May 2015.
Despite playing out of position in a No. 10 role for the fifth time in the past six games, the Republic of Ireland international proved central to nearly everything thing his side did going forward, impressing with his work rate when dropping into midfield while also completing 32 of his 36 passes to go with his goal.
He certainly won’t be confused for a playmaker any time soon, but his hold-up play behind Dominique Badji should be key to Colorado’s chances of turning around the tie this coming weekend.