With the Colorado Rapids losing their point-per-game league advantage to Dallas after their win and the Rapids loss last week, getting three points at home is a must this Saturday as the Vancouver Whitecaps come to town.
I probably don’t have to tell you what happened last time these teams met on July 9th in Vancouver. In case you need a reminder, the Rapids dominated, despite being down early after a Kendall Watson header put the home team ahead. The Rapids took the lead back in the 59th minute and had all the momentum, until they didn’t, due to an Eric Miller red-card. What ensued was chaos as the Whitecaps took the lead back on a penalty kick that was soft at best, questionable at worst, only for the Rapids to storm back with an at the death goal by Axel Sjoberg.
If this game is anything like that one there’s going to be some true entertainment this Saturday. Though things are different this time around, as Vancouver was trying out a 4-4-1-1 at the time that gave them mixed results. Since that July 9th encounter the Caps have gone back to a more conventional 4-2-3-1.
There are also two major absences on each side. Vancouver lost one of their star young players in Kekuta Manneh the last time out against Colorado, while the Rapids will be without Micheal Azira after his red card expulsion in the last outing in New York.
These are just some of the aspects that go into this matchup. Here are our key matchups that could determine the outcome of Saturday evening's match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park at 7:00 pm MT.
Stopping Morales and Bolaños
The Rapids are coming off their worst defensive outing of the year and will be without a key cog in their defensive structure in Azira. To get back on track, it’ll be essential to stop veteran wingers Pedro Morales and Christian Bolaños. The two can get by their man in one-on-one play and dish in dangerous passes into the box. Without Manneh, stopping the two attacking midfielders is essential.
Marking Watson on set pieces
Kendall Watson is a tough customer. The All-Star central back is physical and one of the best defenders in MLS. As he showed in the last outing against the Rapids, he can be dangerous on set pieces as well when his side is on the attacking end. Marking Watson tightly on set pieces all game long will be key defensively for Pablo Mastroeni's side.
Jordan Smith pushing up the right flank
Jordan Smith is a dynamic full-back. He’s physical and a strong defender, he can also really run and create danger on overlaps attacking on the opposite end. With Marc Burch and Mekeil Williams struggling last Saturday, Smith will be a good test of form for whoever starts as the Rapids left full-back.
Getting Doyle to play like last time
Kevin Doyle played possibly his best game in his young Rapids career. So much so that MLSsoccer.com made a video entitled “Kevin Doyle’s masterpiece”.
The Rapids striker was everywhere; on the end of crosses with headers, holding up play brilliantly, scoring on timely runs, creating an almost assist and a crucial game-tying cross to Sjoberg. Doyle has to be lethal up front, as he was in Vancouver, for this Rapids offense to take off. Playing against the league's second-worst defense, per goals allowed, should help.
Taking advantage of the lack of pressure
Last time these two teams faced each other, Vancouver chose not to pressure the ball almost at all, deciding to sit back and counter. This almost resulted in disaster. However, a strategy of pressing all game long will usually hurt you at altitude. What Vancouver chooses to do will largely determine possession for Colorado. The Rapids have struggled in possession and creating quality chances the last few games with high-pressing teams.
Getting Gashi involved more
Gashi also had a great game last time out against Vancouver, even playing in more of a second forward role. Gashi was great because he was assertive, demanding the ball closer to midfield, playing further forward and even more centrally. He created an assist for Doyle but also came close to scoring himself on a few occasions. Getting Gashi to distribute and look for his shot early and often will be key for the Rapids attack.
For more on the Rapids offense, check out our analysis on what worked for the attack last time against Vancouver.