After a nail-biting draw in Southern California, the Rapids are back at home, where they have yet to lose a game and have won nine of twelve. The adversary this week is Orlando City, who, amazingly, are in the playoff hunt despite having won a single game in the last two months, possess a leaky defense and own a 1-5-5 away record.
If the Rapids want to win a title this year, specifically the Supporter’s Shield, this is the type of game you have to bring three points home from.
Orlando, however, is far from a pushover and has some enviable offensive talent that can be venomous in their attack.
As we do before every Rapids clash, here’s a breakdown of the game’s key matchups and storylines to look for going in.
Larin’s speed, movement, and strength
Cyle Larin is only 21 but he already has 29 career goals in 44 starts. If that doesn’t scare you, you might not be good at math. Larin is already the best player on this team. He has a dangerous combination of speed, ability to find his lanes and open space, as well as strength. He’s no pushover and WILL muscle his way through centre-backs and is a terrific finisher.
He’s undoubtedly a handful and a complete central-forward. Axel Sjoberg and the boys on the Rapids defense will have to stay glued to him all game. His hold up play is essential to initiating Orlando’s attack.
Brek Shea’s runs down the right flank
Can Marc Burch get a break? Really? When does it end? He was able to avoid Fabian Castillo when playing against Dallas, but Jack Harrison, Giovani dos Santos now Shea. Say what you will about the quality in MLS but don’t tell Burch there’s no talent on the right wing.
Shea is a mercurial talent, but he has been important to Orlando’s offensive production this season. His speed and size combined with real talent dribbling make him extremely dangerous when he finds space going forward. He also likes to swing inside and play more centrally; he’s one of the key focal points to this attack. Tight marking and not allowing him to get into pockets of space is crucial as he can create danger both as a passer and finding his own shot.
In his prime, the Brazilian phenom Kaka was without question the greatest player in the world, with a stunning combination of technique, pace and a shot that will be taught in soccer academies. Kaka isn’t that same devastating player, obviously, but his playmaking and ability to play on the wing or centrally, and his football sense is still supreme as is his first touch and on-ball ability. Kaka makes this team run, though Larin might be their most important player.
This will be an important test for Eric Miller, as a savvy, ultra-intelligent player like Kaka with his on-ball talent can set lots of dangerous traps for Colorado’s young defender. Miller will have to be disciplined to the max and not get caught in any bad fouls that can cost the team.
Taking a page out of the Solignac’s book
The Colorado Rapids need to feed their No. 9 this game. Kevin Doyle hasn’t been very noticeable in the last two games against Vancouver and Los Angeles but Orlando City’s defense should allow him to have a dominant game.
Think of this: former Rapid Luis Solignac tore up the Orlando defense last week, eventually finding the goal for the tie. Solignac, more specifically found space between the Orlando central-backs with ease, getting behind them consistently. In only 45 minutes, he had four shots, two on target and the goal. Doyle is capable of at least that and letting your star striker go to work will be key. Doyle needs more service in-between the central backs, allowing him to get forward and operate with space. He’s great in hold up play but can do so much more.
Marlon Hairston can hurt these full-backs
Orlando City’s defense is not one of the league’s best (that’s putting it mildly). They have allowed 41 goals in 23 games played, one of the worst tallies in MLS this season. Their wide backs, Luke Boden and Kevin Alston can be dangerous pushing forward, but they also haven’t looked like the sturdiest in defense when watching Orlando games this year.
Hairston, who has been moved around from one flank to the other, can hurt both Orlando’s full-backs, especially Alston.
The Rapids rising star has been on a real run as of late and this eastern conference adversary should help him continue his run of success.
Exploit the dead ball
Lately, the Rapids, surprisingly, haven’t created much danger on set pieces. Part of this I believe is that Marco Pappa hasn’t been in the lineup, taking away one option for the set-piece taker. With all 6-foot-5 of Bobby Burling back in the lineup and a master set piece taker like Shkelzen Gashi still in the lineup, you’d expect more.
Orland hasn’t been strong on dead balls this year and can definitely be exploited this way.