Another week, another tough matchup for the Colorado Rapids, who will have to travel to southern California and take on powerhouse Los Angeles Galaxy. The Galaxy, as has been their MO, started off slow and are now bringing home the results and nipping at the Rapids' heels for that second playoff seed.
Bruce Arena’s side is one of the most experienced and talented (not to mention expensive) in the MLS. Beating the Galaxy in their house would consolidate Colorado’s place in the standings and also make a major statement to the league.
As we do every week, here’s a breakdown of the game's key matchups and storylines to look for going in.
Stopping Gio and either Boateng or Zardes
Giovani dos Santos is with Sebastian Giovinco as the purest talents in the league. Simply put, he’s a handful. The man simply known as “Gio”, has to be constantly marked and possibly double teamed to avoid any repeats of the Jack Harrison debacle.
Gio also likes to float towards the middle and act as a second striker, so you have to watch out for him centrally as well.
Gyasi Zardes hasn’t started for LA since suffering a chest muscle strain in training, but he did play some in the US Open Cup match against Dallas this Wednesday. If he’s healthy, the US Men’s National Team-er is another dangerous weapon.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Rapids will have to carefully mark Emmanuel Boateng, whose speed down the flank is absolutely devastating. Needless to say, LA has a wealth of attacking options, especially out wide, cramping spaces for those playmakers will be key.
Never, ever, ever, losing track of Robbie Keane
The Frank Lampard thrashing two weeks ago is a perfect example of how an older/slower player can do damage by slipping through the defense. Robbie Keane has been doing this for ages in the MLS; give him space, lose sight of him and the ball's in the back of the net. Marking him tightly at all times is crucial.
Pressing high and limiting the Van Damme long ball passes to the wings
Veteran Galaxy central defender Jelle Van Damme, true to his last name, is one of the MLS’ ultimate tough guys. He also has one of the most educated set of boots that you'll see in a central back at this level.
Van Damme will unleash long ball passes that can instantly initiate offense from the defense a few times a game. Pressing high with Colorado’s attacking unit will be key in limiting these chances and Van Damme’s impact as a passer out the back.
Getting Doyle in position to face goal and take his shots
Kevin Doyle wasn’t very involved in last Saturday’s outing against Vancouver. Getting the star striker more involved, especially in facing goal and getting his shots, will be crucial. A team like LA won’t allow the space the Whitecaps did. Taking advantage of Doyle’s movement up front and finishing touch will be very important in breaking the Galaxy’s defensive trap.
Continuing the Gashi and Powers central play
With Micheal Azira back from suspension and available again it will be very interesting to see what coach Pablo Mastroeni will decide to do. On one hand, Azira started every game up till his suspension; on the other hand, the Rapids, according to their own coach, had their best outing of the season with Powers in Azira’s position and Gashi playing in the number 10 role.
Offensively, Colorado was able to create dangerous opportunities with much greater frequency and ease with Powers playing deeper. The starting lineup will tell us a lot about the mentality that Mastroeni wants to play with.
Using that speed on the wings
Marlon Hairston is hotter than the mountain sun right now. His speed down the wings is simply giving teams fits in the last month and, to his credit, Hairston has been surgical finishing his chances (as a passer or scorer). Finding Hairston in space has been crucial for the Rapids in the last month expect that to still be the case this Saturday.