The Colorado Rapids will face the New England Revolution this Saturday at Gillette Stadium. This week, in particular, will be affected by World Cup qualifiers. This means the Rapids will be without Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones, who was surprisingly called up by Jurgen Klinsmann for international duty, despite being out with a quad strain for over a month.
Being without Howard in a particularly sensitive time for the team will be tough, as the legendary American goalie has been in incredible form lately.
The Rapids will face a struggling Rev’s team that is coming off a horrendous month of August, going winless in four games and losing three. To understand how bad New England has been, you don’t need to look much further than their goal differential stats for the month. New England hasn’t scored in all of August and has allowed seven goals in those four games.
The Rapids month of August has been tough, as well. The team has managed only two points in the last three games, the attack is struggling, while the defense hasn’t been as rock solid as it was the rest of the season.
Even with the Rapids facing the Revolution in an off moment of form, winning away in this league is never easy.
As we do before every Rapids clash, here’s a breakdown of the game’s key matchups and storylines to look for going in.
Winning the possession battle
Possession has been a struggle for Colorado as of late. Because of this, Pablo Mastroeni could be ready to switch his midfield back to Sam Cronin and Micheal Azira. As appealing as the more technical Dillon Power and Cronin coupling is, it just hasn’t gotten the job done in the last few games. To think that Azira is the easy fix solution, is probably wishful thinking, regardless of who starts, there'll be work to be done.
The Rapids midfield needs to be more cynical and creative in possession, all at the same time. They also need to bring back that tenacity, which made it the front-line of the best defense in the league.
With one of MLS’ best holding midfielders in Gershon Koffie, the visitors will have a real test, one that could easily be the key to the game.
Finding an offensive identity
The Rapids are in the thick of the playoff race, have been for a while, yet there’s still no one who’s a go-to scorer and there’s no go-to system, that the team can count on to get goals.
At times the Rapids have been dangerous scoring in dead ball situations but even that’s cooled off significantly. We’ve also seen the Rapids have success with a more technical front four (most often Powers, Marco Pappa, Shkelzen Gashi, and Kevin Doyle) that brings the ball up with quick, short, touches and overlapping positions between the four. We’ve also seen the Rapids have some success with faster wider wingers (Dominique Hadji and Marlon Hairston), where the full-backs push up and Colorado tries to dominate the flanks, playing more on the counter.
Which Rapids attacking four is the right one? Who can be relied on to score goals? These are the real questions this team needs to have some semblance of an answer to. A healthy return from Jermaine Jones could be one response, but given his health in recent years, Colorado needs to find other answers and fast.
With the Revolution having allowed a league-high 47 goals, it’s time to unlock that offensive potential.
Don’t allow Kei Kamara to get going
Kei Kamara is one of the best strikers in the MLS, though his track record with his new team wouldn’t suggest so. After a truly brilliant 2015 season in Columbus, scoring 22 goals in 31 starts, Kei was traded to New England in a blockbuster deal.
Since arriving in the north east, he’s only scored 4 goals in 16 starts and has not seemed to fit in well with the Rev’s other attackers. Colorado needs to let this trend continue and not unlock Kamara’s goal scoring in his new uniform. He can still be dangerous in the box, especially in aerial bouts where he's a quick jumper and has great coordination mid-air. He’s also always dangerous with his shot, which he can snipe you with from just outside the box if he needs to. Despite a lack of production, Kamara is a big part of the attacking movement for this team, limiting his touches and always having tight marking on him in the final third is essential.
Watch out on the wings for Rowe and Farrell
A big part of New England’s offensive play went through No. 11, Kelyn Rowe, last week in the Revolution’s loss to the New York Red Bulls. As one of the higher paid players on the team, Rowe has big expectations and a nice set of skills. He has good pace, nice on ball skills and can whoop in some danger with his crosses.
Right back Andrew Farrell is one of the most athletic defenders in the league. While the former top pick is still developing some of his technical skills, he can hurt you running down the flank with his speed. Another danger out wide that the Rapids defense will have to be aware of.
Being aware of Lee Nguyen
Much like Kamara, Lee Nguyen isn’t having his best season, though his struggles aren’t caused by a change of scenery. Make no mistake he’s still as dangerous as can be and can change the game with one touch of the ball.
The Rev’s attacking midfielder, is typically used in their number 10 role, and was one of the league’s best as recently as 2014. Nguyen can kill you if you leave him too much space outside the box with his shot, he can also make creative flicks and passes that open up space, creating numerical advantages for his side.
It seems like he hasn’t been involved in the attacking maneuver as much as he should, but he can still hurt you with his creativity and special skills.