Seattle Sounders forward Herculez Gomez returns Saturday to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where he holds a permanent piece of history.
On April 7, 2007, while playing with the Colorado Rapids, Gomez scored the first goal at the soccer-specific stadium in Commerce City, northeast of Denver near the airport. Now he is about to return for the first time wearing rave green, as the Seattle Sounders visit for an MLS Western Conference match.
“Good memories,” Gomez said. “It was a fun time. Exciting for the team, the city, myself as a player. We opened up a brand-new stadium. I was fortunate enough to score the first goal.”
The home team won that opener, 2-1, over D.C. United.
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“Cold day,” Gomez said. “I think it was the coldest day in recorded MLS history. It was a set piece, I did well to peel off my defender, (received) a good ball in, I knocked it down, far post. I think it was against Troy Perkins (current Sounders FC academy goalkeeper coach), if I’m not mistaken. Just fun memories of opening day and the buzz surrounding the new stadium, the new rebranding of the team.”
Gomez is one of several players in this match who have worn both jerseys.
Seattle midfielder Nate Sturgis make 31 appearances for Colorado in 2013 and ’14. And the Rapids roster includes three former Sounders: midfielder Micheal Azira was claimed in the waiver draft last offseason, defender Marc Burch left through the re-entry draft and midfielder Marco Pappa was traded in December for allocation money. Pappa is off to a fast start with his new team, scoring a goal and assisting three others — but he is out with a left knee strain.
“I really enjoy playing anybody that I know, and I’ve been in the league long enough to know a bunch of people,” Burch said. “I have a good time competing against my friends. I definitely have a few on the Sounders, and that will be nice to see. But when you get on the field you don’t really talk much. You play the game.”
The Rapids have been playing well so far. After finishing last in the West last season, they are third now. They are one of the toughest teams in the league to score against, and their offense has become dangerous.
“That’s really what’s changing for us,” Burch said. “Marco has been incredible for us this year. I think we’re a lot more dynamic. (Forward Shkelzen) Gashi is playing well on the outside. … Luis Solignac has been doing really well. I think we have a great core of players. We might be a team that surprises other people in the league right now, but really for us, we’re not surprised.”
That Colorado attitude also was noted by Seattle coach Sigi Schmid.
“They’re very confident right now because obviously they’ve won games,” he said. “They’ve gotten good results. So they’ve got a little bit of a swagger to them.”
That’s a quality that could also be building in the Sounders, who started the season with three straight losses before going 2-0-1 over their next three leading into this match.
“Any time you get on a run of unbeaten, you want to continue that streak,” captain Brad Evans said. “The most important thing is playing to zero away from home against a very good team, at altitude. … I think for us it’s a good thing that we’re still building into hopefully something special.”
COLORADO RAPIDS (4-2-1; 13 POINTS) VS. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (2-3-1; 7 POINTS)
6 p.m. Saturday, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park; Commerce City, Colorado.
TV: Channel 13. Radio: 97.3 FM.
Head to head: Seattle leads 13-3-2 overall and 5-2-1 at Colorado including wins in the last two visits. Seattle took the first two meetings last season before Colorado won 1-0 in Seattle. The Rapids visit CenturyLink Field on May 21.
Notes: Seattle forwards Clint Dempsey (groin) and Nelson Valdez (leg) were limited in training Friday and both are questionable for the match. Midfielder Erik Friberg (knee) also is questionable. … Colorado has allowed five goals, tied for fewest in the league. Both offenses average a goal a game. … Luis Solignac leads Colorado with two goals, Marco Pappa has three assists. Chad Marshall leads Seattle with two goals, and Andreas Ivanschitz has three assists…. Seattle rookie Jordan Morris scored his first MLS goal last week. Meanwhile, Jermaine Jones also scored last week in his first appearance with the Rapids. … Goalkeeper Tim Howard will not join Colorado until July. … Pappa is out with a knee injury. … Colorado has won two straight and three in its last four. Seattle is unbeaten (2-0-1) in its last three. … Colorado’s average home attendance is 12,972, lowest in MLS. The Rapids are 3-0 at home, while the Sounders are 0-1-1 away. … The Rapids played in snow and hail last weekend, but the Denver area forecast for Saturday calls for cloudy and temperatures reaching the upper 70s. … The assigned referee is Jorge Gonzalez.
Quote: “Their midfield defensively has played well. Micheal Azira has played well for them, along with (Sam) Cronin. Up front Solignac has started to come into his game, so that’s been powerful for them. Jermaine Jones had a good introductory game, so we’ll see how he does in Week Two. They’ve just been a pretty consistent team. They’ve got some size obviously when they come forward with set pieces with (6-foot-5 Bobby) Burling and that.” — Seattle coach Sigi Schmid
Next: Columbus Crew, 1 p.m. April 30, CenturyLink Field.