Monday, August 29, 2011

Exhausted Rapids Beat Down In Chicago

The Rapids traveled to Chicago on Saturday, but everyone might have been better served by Colorado forfeiting the game and staying home for the rest. A 2-0 loss where Colorado was outplayed and out-hustled all night wasn't any better than the 3-0 forfeit score line and added rest would have been.

I'd break down the play and the goals, but honestly they're what you would expect for a tried Mile High Club. Chicago found the weak point between Marshall and Moor, exploited it, and scored twice. The insult to injury was the fact that the second goal was from former Rapid Cory Gibbs.

My key to the game was how tired the Rapids were, and it really was the key to the game.
  • Matt Pickens wasn't at fault on either goal, but it would be nice if he could come up with a big save to bail out the defense once in a while. That seems to have been lacking recently.
  • No idea what Gary Smith thinks Caleb Folan brings to the game that Mac Kandji doesn't. Smith seems wed tot he "target striker+speedy striker" lineup that works so well when its the C+C Goal Factory. It doesn't work as well when its Folan-Nyassi.
  • Moor picked up a yellow, so his ironman streak will end at 69 games, 2 more than the old record.
  • After two weeks of rest Jamie Smith and Omar Cummings better be healed and ready to play 90, we desperately need them.
Player of the Game: Elia Viviani of Liquigas. He won the stages in Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge, and would have won in Denver but decided to let his leadout man Daniel Oss take it. What, I have to pick a Rapid? Fine, Marvell Wynne by process of elimination as the only Rapid who wasn't exhausted and/or having a bad night.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Colorado Continues Road Trip In Chicago

Short and early preview this week as I'll be watching the USA Pro Cycling Challenge stage finish in Steamboat Springs tomorrow. I encourage anyone in Colorado to get out and watch this race. I love following cycling and I can't wait to see them live. The best way to follow the race on-line is the Pedal Dancer blog, which is to Colorado cycling what I hope this blog is to the Colorado Rapids.

One Colorado-Chicago cycling link. The leading rider in the race for the Garmin-Cervelo racing team, based in Boulder, is Christian Vandervelde who's from Chicago. He's in second, 11 seconds behind leader Levi Leipheimer, with 3 stages remaining.

Since I have limited time I'm jumping to the last two pieces of my normal game preview.

Key To The Game: How tired are the Rapids? The last two games they've really been dragging in the second half. Do they have 90 more minutes before the two week break?

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Nyassi. Colorado looks too tired to get a win on the road, and the Fire have already set a new league record for draws this year. Again the Rapids will take the lead but not be able to hold it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rapids Continue Stumbling through CCL

Colorado sent a young team down to Honduras, and you could tell from the play. The Rapids had few chances last night and were under siege most of the game. They managed a 1-1 draw and the one point is a good result given their youth, but 3 points was there for the taking had the coaching staff done a better job managing the squad over the last couple of weeks.

The first 20-30 minutes was fairly even, with neither team having any good chances. The last 20 minutes or so of the half though the field was tilting against Colorado. Ceus had to make a couple of saves including one point blank one, and he came flying out of his box and almost got a red card. Replays showed he didn't get the ball, but he didn't get the man either so it was the right call. Right before half the Rapids were finally able to get the ball tot he other end of the field, where LaBauex beat his man and crossed the ball tot he top of the box. Ginger Ninja ran onto it and just beat the keeper with a shot to the far post for the unlikely halftime lead.

Colorado spent he whole second half under siege. Real hit the crossbar on an open net header. They beat Ceus again only for Earls to save it off the line. Colorado didn't get a shot on goal the entire half (in fact, their only shot on goal the whole game was Larentowicz' goal). Finally the wall broke down. On a swerving cross into the box Koz could only head it away from his mark, but right back into the center where both Holody and Moor had lost their men. Rodriguez, Espana's most dangerous player all night, finished the ball to draw things level. Real still wouldn't go away and created another couple of good chances but Colorado hung on for the draw.
  • After the Real Espana goal Nyassi almost gave the game away. A ball was cleared to the side of the box and Nyassi ran through the back of the player to try to get it. Probably a foul, hard to tell if it was just inside or just outside the box though. The ref waved play on.
  • That was really the only miss by the ref all night. He wasn't falling for any dives or weak fouls.
  • The back line was a dangerous mess all night. Holody, Earls, and Palguta were not in sync and its obvious why they haven't been playing much.
  • I saw Akpan's name in the starting lineup, but I'm not sure I saw him on the field.
  • No idea why Amarikwa came in instead of Kandji. Comparing the two CCL games its obvious which one of them should be getting more time.
  • Cummings is not the Cummings of old. He's apparently nursing a sore ankle, but he doesn't seem to have the drive either.
  • LaBauex gets full credit for the assist. Unfortunately that's about all he did.
  • Moor lost his man on the goal, but he stabilized a back line that was in complete disarray.
  • I really think the Rapids lost 2 points not on their play int he game, but on the choices made by Gary Smith in setting the lineups and subs over the last 4 games. Anything short of a win in Chicago would be a failure of Smith's strategy.
  • Santos Laguna went to Metapan and lost 2-0, which means after 2 rounds the Rapids lead the group as the only team to get points on the road. Santos and Metapan each have 3 points and Real Espana has 1.
Player of the Game: Jeff Larentowicz. not only did he have the goal against the run of play, but he was a stabilizing influence for a scattered Rapids team.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Colorado Makes First CCL Road Trip

The Rapids have taken 19 players on the long trip to Honduras, their first trip outside the U.S. & Canada for a meaningful game in 13 years. Tomorrow they face Real Espana in San Pedro Sula in their second Champions League match. While Pablo, Pickens, Wynne, and Smith stayed in Colorado the rest of the starters traveled with the team and will be available for selection. Game time tomorrow is 8pm MDT and the game will be on FOX Soccer Channel.

Real Espana are the defending Honduran Apertura champions, their first championship since the 2006 Apertura. They did finish second in the 2008-09 Apertura and Clasura. This is Espana's second appearance in the Champions League. Last year they made it through the qualification round with an aggregate 6-3 win over Costa Rica's Liberia Mia, then finished last in their group with 6 points and a -8 goal differential. In the first group stage game this year they lost 3-2 at Santos Laguna.

I expect Colorado to approach this game very conservatively. Despite the likes of Drew Moor, Omar Cummings, and Brian Mullan making the trip I would be willing to bet they start the game on the bench. We'll probably see LaBauex, Holody, and Folan in the starting lineup. The backline in particular could be quite young, with Steward Ceus in the nets behind them.

Prediction: 1-0 Rapids loss. I think there's enough experience on the trip for the Rapids to keep the game close, but I don't expect enough of it to start for the Rapids to get a point. Many players will be getting their first taste of being a visiting team in Central America and that's something you just can't really prepare for. I wouldn't be shocked if we pulled off a draw, but it would be a nice surprise.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Colorado Heads For A Draw

Last night the Rapids tried out a new lineup but got similar results to what they've been seeing. Giving Cummings some continued rest Folan was put up front with Nyassi as a withdrawn striker underneath him. Early on it paid off, as Kimura launched Mastroeni(?!?!) down the right sideline and Pablo whipped in a perfect cross that Folan headed into the upper corner for the lead.

The scoreline would only stand for a little over 20 minutes though. Former Rapid Nick LaBrocca played a amazing through ball that new Chivas player Juan Pablo Angel ran onto. Pickens got stuck in no-man's land and Angel made him pay by leveling the score. Colorado had a couple of good chances to end the half but couldn't turn them into goals.

The second half went much like the first. Mid-way through Colorado finally got its corner kicks working. Sanna Nyassi found the Ginger Ninja in the middle of the box from the corner and Larentowicz headed it home to reclaim the lead. The Rapids continued to control the play, but 3 games in a week was starting to drag on them. Unfortunately the team came up about 5 minutes short. In the 86th minute Chivas beat the offside trip on the left side, and Lahoud got in 1 on 1 with Pickens. Matt made himself bigger, but the ball went between his legs for Chivas' 2nd of the night. Right at the end of stoppage time Kandji connected with a rebound from a corner kick, but Chivas saved it off the line to preserve their point.

My key to the game was Juan Pablo Angel. Well, he got a goal which is what Chivas brought him in for.

Stat of the Game: Mastroeni became the 4th player in league history to start 300 MLS games, joining Steve Ralston, Kevin Hartman, and Rapids Gallery of Honor member Chris Henderson .

Other Observations:
  • Congrats to Drew Moor for setting a new MLS ironman record for field players!
  • Matt Pickens did not look good. Chivas only had 2 shots on goal, their 2 goals, and Pickens did almost nothing to prevent either of them. His indecision on the first one got him stuck in no-man's land and he got nutmegged on the second, something that a keeper just can't allow to happen. Neither goal was his fault, but they were both goals that you hope your keeper can come up with at least one save in a game on.
  • Rumor at the game is that Gary Smith is babying Cummings' ankle, which is why he hasn't started the last 3 games. But he's been good enough to play in 2 of them after playing 90 minutes for Jamaica last week. Either don't suit him up at all (like Wednesday) or start him. There's little to be gained by giving him 20 minutes or so.
  • The team was really dragging in the last 20 minutes or so. 3 games in a week really caught up to them at the end. Moor and Marshall were beat on the second goal, and I think fatigue played a part in that.
  • The first Chivas goal was just an amazing pass from LaBrocca and a great finish from Angel. You hate to give up a goal, but if you do, that's the type of goal to give up.
  • Wells Thompson, sigh. A step back for his play.
  • Folan's goal was great, but that's about all he did last night. With equally rested, Kandji should clearly be playing in front of him.
  • Nyassi as a withdrawn striker behind Folan disappeared. Playing that role behind Omar he's a star. That should tell the coach something.
  • Now a quick turnaround and trip to Honduras for the game on Tuesday night.
Player of the Game: Marvell Wynne. His recovery late in the 2nd half prevented another good scoring chance from Chivas. Generally he was on all night and was one of the few Rapids not to look spent at the end of the game.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Back To League Play

After a successful Champions League match in mid-week the Rapids are once again back in MLS play which the Under-a-Chivas coming to town. Along with the game Class VI and the Pid Army are holding their second annual home brew contest! Tailgate starts at 4pm and all are welcome to sample the entries and vote for your favorite. The tailgate will have the normal kegs, hot dogs, sodas, etc. as well. Game time is 7pm and for those of you who can't make it to the Dick the game will be on Altitude.

Injury Report:
OUT: FW Conor Casey (L Achilles tear); Anthony Wallace (L knee sprain)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain, R calf strain)
PROBABLE: MF Brian Mullan (L ankle sprain); GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain)

Disciplinary Report:
SUSPENDED AFTER 1 MORE CAUTION: FW Caleb Folan, MF Jeff Larentowicz, DF Drew Moor; MF Wells Thompson
SUSPENDED AFTER 2 MORE CAUTIONS: MF Ross LaBauex; DF Tyrone Marshall; MF Pablo Mastroeni; MF Sanna Nyassi; DF Anthony Wallace

The injury report shows no real changes from last week. Chivas has one player out so they're pretty close to full strength. The Rapids lineup is going to have to be balanced by the fact that this iss the 3rd game of a 5 games in 2 weeks stretch. My guess at the starting XI:

Kimura - Wynne - Marshall - Moor
Mullan - Pablo - Larentowicz - LaBauex
Cummings - Nyassi

This is a real guess. Nyassi and Cummings only played a combined 75 minutes in the last two games so I assume they'll start. Moor is going to set the ironman record if he plays so he'll start. After that it becomes a guess based on who's played when and for how long.

Who's Who? Yes, that's the Rapids wearing all white at home. The team is calling it their third kit, even if its just the road kit worn with the home shorts.

Key To Look For: Juan Pablo Angel. He was just traded to Chivas to free up a DP slot for the Galaxy to bring in Robbie Keane. How Chivas will use him and how well he meshes with the team could be a determining factor in how this game plays out.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Cummings. The Rapids gave themselves a bit of breathing room with the win in San Jose last week, and with a CCL game in Honduras on Tuesday something has to break eventually. I think this is a point where the Rapids will settle for a draw and try to rest a bit in preparation for next week.

Rapids Stumble Their Way To A Win

Apologies for the delay, a summer flu has knocked me out for the last 24 hours. Preview of tomorrow's Chivas game will be up later tonight.

After the worst first half the Rapids have played in years they straightened things out and halftime and dominated the second half en route to a win.

The game couldn't have started any worse as Drew Moor was whistled for a penalty just 15 seconds into the game. Moor also received a yellow card that a worse ref could have made a red. Granting your opponent a 1-0 lead after 2 minutes is not particularly good strategy. 15 minutes later MLS Cup hero Mac Kandji leveled the score as he was unmarked and headed in a Scott Palguta cross.

Just as the Rapids thought hey had gotten things back to normal, their lack of mental focus struck again. Matt Pickens snagged a long ball into the box and was wiped out by an onrushing Metapan striker. Instead of staying down and making sure everyone was ready he jumped up and threw the ball out towards Koz. The throw wasn't string and Koz wasn't expecting it though, allowing a Metapan striker to run onto it and chip it over Pickens for a 2-1 lead. While there should have been a foul called on Metapan when Pickens was knocked down, there's no excuse for the dumb play by Matt. That was followed 10 minutes later by another PK call on Moor but after further review the referee (correctly IMO) reversed the call. Kardeck, who got tangled up with Moor on the non-PK call, decided to get some revenge a couple of minutes later and slammed his arm into Moor's chest on a long ball with no attempt to play the ball. He saw a straight red. A few minutes later the Rapids took advantage of the extra man as Nane and Akpan combined to get the ball across goal where Kandji could tap it in for his second goal of the match.

Right after half Colorado would finally take the lead. Once again Mac Attack was involved as he brought the ball into the box, and tried to play a 1-2 with Thompson. Wells got the ball stuck on his foot but managed to slide it an unmarked Akpan who made it 3 goals for the Rapids. The rest of the half was Colorado killing off any Metapan chances while trying not to get hurt or get any more cards.
  • The officiating looked very anti-Colorado in the stadium, but watching the broadcast I felt the it was equally bad for both teams. Wells Thompson probably should have seen a red at some point, but so should 1 or 2 other Metapan players. A horrible offside decision in the 63rd minute cost moor a 1 on 1 with the keeper that could have made it 4-2.
  • The Rapids were not mentally prepared to play this game. They came out like this would be a walkover and almost paid for it. The fact that we played a really bad half and were tied at halftime shows you how bad Isidro Metapan is.
  • Based on what I saw there's no reason, barring truly awful officiating, that a full strength Colorado side couldn't beat Isidro Metapan in Metapan.
  • The lineup and substitution decisions made by Gary Smith for this match are ones that look like genius moves when they work, but get you called into Jeff Plush's office to explain yourself when they don't. Our manager is a bit of a gambler apparently.
  • Omar Cummings was seen on the concourse in street clothes and Jamie Smith spent the end of the game sitting in Class VI.
  • Former Rapid Terry Cooke made an appearance at the Class VI/Pid Army tailgate.
Player of the Game: Mac Kandji. 2 goals and an assist on the third, easy choice.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rapids Start Champions League Play Tomorrow Night!

Tomorrow night Colorado plays its first meaningful international match since facing Leon in the preliminary round of the old CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1998. The first opponent is El Salvador's Isidro Metapan, who qualified for the Champions League by winning the El Salvadorian 2010 Apertura. Kickoff at the Dick tomorrow is an unusual 8pm for TV, which means the kegs will be breached at 5:30 and the grills fired up at 6 for the tailgate.

Isidro has won 5 of the last 8 seasons if the Primera Division but has not fared well on the international stage. They've only made it to the group stage once, by directly qualifying in 2009-10, and finished last in the group with 3 points and a -19 goal differential. They have lost every road game in their history of Champions League play, while being outscored 15-2. What little I've found about the current team is that they are very organized defensively but lack firepower going forward.

The other game in Group B just finished and Santos Laguna beat Real Espana 3-2 at home. That's a pretty good result for us, as I think the best outcome is for Santos Laguna and Colorado to take as many points as possible off the other two teams. Santos did that, but they had to work all game to get the win and they only got a +1 goal differential out of it.

I'm not going to do a starting XI prediction or a key to the game for this one, as that really depends on how seriously the Rapids are planning to take this competition. Gary Smith said today that he wants to win the CCL, but GS is becoming a master of saying the right thing to the press but not really worrying about what he said when it comes time to make decisions. From that article I expect our normal 5-man defensive group to start and to see Cyanide up front, but the midfield 4 could have some surprises.

Prediction: 1-0 Rapids win, goal by Cummings. I expect this to be a low scoring game and I'd be shocked if there were more than 3 goals in this one. Two apparently tough defenses means that opportunities are going to be rare. Cyanide's speed will combine to expose the Metapan defense once though, and that will be enough to get the Rapids off on the right foot in CCL play.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rapids Get Ref Assist In Win

A wild and crazy game in San Jose saw Colorado return to the Rockies with 3 points. They got some help from the refs and some good play from the midfield but this game could have easily gone the other way.

San Jose had more possession but Colorado had better chances early. Seven minutes in Folan slammed a Mullan cross off the post from his head. A long ball was sent in to Folan right in front of goal, but he was tripped up by a San Jose defender. Then San Jose broke through on a cross that was tipped towards goal. Pickens reacted well and parried it away but it fell to an unmarked Gjertsen on the back post who tapped it in for the lead.

The Rapids kept the pressure up and right before half it paid off. Mastroeni tracked a ball down on the end line and crossed it back towards goal. It went behind defender Sam Cronin, but his trailing arm blocked it out of play. A penalty was called and Folan converted it to level the score. given the play a tie score at halftime was an accurate representation of the game.

The second half started out equal as well. Things changed in the 50th minute as Cronin slid in from behind on Mastroeni and received a straight red card for it. Right after the card it seemed that Colorado was the team playing a man down as San Jose really turned up the pressure. Colorado absorbed it though and turned the play back towards the Earthquakes. In the 71st minute Wells Thompson was pushed from behind right outside the box. Ginger Ninja stepped up and slammed the free kick home to give the Rapids the lead.

After the goal once again San Jose poured it on and it really felt like there was an equalizer coming. Colorado made it through a couple of tricky situations though, including a big save from Pickens to get the three points.

My key to the game was what lineup the Rapids played. Somewhat surprising to me was that we saw 8 of regular starters plus part-time starter Thompson. Only Cyanide didn't start and Cummings got 30 minutes of work in at the end. I'm not sure we get a win if the regular group wasn't starting.

Stat of the Game: The Rapids tied their quickest trip to 40 points in the post-shootout era with this win. They got to 40 points in 26 games in 2002 and 2010 as well.

Other Observations:
  • There have been, not surprisingly, a number of complaints about the officiating. Honestly I think Ward lost the game after the PK. The Rapids benefited from it, but it wasn't pretty.
  • That said, the PK call was a good one based on what MLS has called this year.m Its at least the second time this season I've seen a sliding defender called fora handball on his trailing/support hand. A bit of a grey area in the "unnatural position" part of the handling rule but at least they're consistent.
  • The red card wasn't a good call, unless MLS is setting a new standard for tackles from behind. It wasn't particularly hard or dirty, and probably should have been yellow at worst.
  • However earlier in the game Wondolowski took down Drew Moor with a scissor tackle from behind, that probably should have been red. That, along with the tripping of Folan in the box before the first goal that looked like a possible PK means the Earthquakes were on thin ice before the calls started going against them.
  • on the PK, Mastroeni immediately turned to the Assistant Ref and 4 times yelled "You f****** saw it!". I chuckled at it but it really wasn't a great move by Pablo. According to reports the ref was already making the signal for a penalty so it didn't influence the decision at least.
  • Folan had a better game, but I'm still not impressed. He goes down far too easy for a big man and his "legs spread, bent at the waist" move when the ball is too far for him to make a real effort is getting very old.
  • Good to see LaBauex getting another chance, but he didn't have a great outing. I don't thing withdrawn striker is his spot.
  • Kimura was caught completely ball watching on the Quakes goal. He's not going to make the Blue Samurai that way.
  • I'm coming around a bit on Wells Thompson. I still don't think he's any better than a journeyman MLS player, but he's not a hindrance to the team any more.
  • Now the big challenge of the Champions League starts!
Player of the Game: Drew Moor, for tying the MLS Ironman record for field players at 67 consecutive complete games, also held by former Rapid Peter Vermes. That's a tough record to match and he should hopefully set a new record Saturday against Chivas.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Equalizer

The Rapids are on the road this week, some of them on a very long road trip, in San Jose. Last time these two teams met a great Kosuke Kimura goal gave the Rapids the win and, more importantly, the Eastern Conference Championship en rout to their MLS Cup victory. I think we can expect the Earthquakes to be looking for some revenge after that loss. Game time tomorrow is a late 8:30pm. The game is on Altitude with Class VI and the Pid Army watching the game from the Highland Tap House on 32nd.

Injury Report:
OUT: FW Conor Casey (L Achilles tear); Anthony Wallace (L knee sprain)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain, R calf strain)
PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain)

Disciplinary Report:
SUSPENDED AFTER 2 MORE CAUTIONS: FW Caleb Folan; MF Ross LaBauex; MF Jeff Larentowicz; DF Tyrone Marshall; MF Pablo Mastroeni; DF Drew Moor; MF Sanna Nyassi; MF Wells Thompson; DF Anthony Wallace

Hey, look who's not on the injury list for the first time this season. Macumba Kandji! Despite being downgraded to questionable, Gary Smith reported yesterday that Jamie Smith, along with Folan and Kandji, were ready to play 90 tomorrow night. San Jose have 5 players listed as questionable or worse, so they're hurting. My complete guess at the starting XI tomorrow:

Kimura - Wynne - Marshall - Moor
Mullan - Pablo- Larentowicz - Thompson
Folan - Akpan

With the injuries. travel, and crowded schedule coming up I think Cyanide will get the night off, and Smith will get another game to rest, though we could see him as a sub. Otherwise we'll see our normal starters. I'd like to see Mullan and Marshall rested for the Champions League game on Wednesday but I doubt it will happen.

Stat of the Game: By my count if Drew Moor starts and plays the full game he'll tie Peter Vermes ironman record at 67 games.

Key To Look For: What lineup do the Rapids play. Omar Cummings flew to China to play with the Jamaican National Team on Wednesday, the same day Nyassi played with the Gambian National Team in the Congo. Both are expected to be with the team tomorrow night. With the CCL starting on Wednesday and another game next Saturday, do some players get rested?

Prediction: 1-1 draw, Larentowicz gets The Equalizer (reference left up to you to decode). I think we'll see a few players be rested and the team be happy with a draw. San Jose isn't a real dangerous team right now but I won't be shocked when this defense gives up a goal to them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rapids All-Time Team: Left Midfielder

The starting left midfielder for the Rapids All-Time Team is Chris Henderson.

How Acquired: Signed as a Discovery Player in 1996. First pick in the Dispersal Draft in 2002

Years In Colorado: 1996 through 1998 and 2002 through early 2005

How Departed: Left as a free agent and signed by KC. Traded to Columbus in a 3-way trade that brought Mike Petke to Colorado.

(OK, so I cheated a bit. Henderson was primarily a right midfielder, but he showed in his time in Colorado that he could just as easily play on the left.)

Henderson is the only player in team history that I can think of that played regularly for the team in two different times. Chris was one of the better players on the Rapids when he left after the 1998 season, but with the addition of Anders Limpar he was seen as surplus to the team's needs. Henderson moved on to KC for two years and then to Miami for one. After the 2001 season the Miami Fusion were contracted along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Due to trades the Rapids held the top draft spot in the Dispersal Draft from those two teams and they used it to bring Henderson back to Colorado (The Rapids also acquired Kyle Beckerman and Pablo Mastroeni that day, possibly the best single-day haul in team history).

When you combine his two stints with the team he set records for games, starts, minutes, and assists. His games and minutes total were also league records when he retired. Henderson still holds the team assists record with 53 and is second in the other 3 stats behind Mastroeni. His combined total of 84 goals and assists is by far the team record, with Casey and Bravo tied for second at 61.

In his second stint Henderson combined with the John Spencer, Chris Carrieri, and Mark Chung to create what offense the Rapids had in that time. This is when his flexibility to play on either side of the field really came into play as Chung and Henderson would regularly swap sides during the game to confuse the defense. Henderson would get free to snap crosses into the box or make diagonal runs to free up the forwards.

Of course possibly the biggest goal in Rapids history prior to last year was scored by Chris Henderson. In the 1997 Western Conference final Colorado was facing Dallas (the first of five times in the playoffs). Back then the playoffs were a best of 3 series and Colorado had upset Dallas in Dallas in game 1. Game 2 in Colorado was tied 1-1 with 3 minutes to play, with Game 3 back in Dallas looming on the horizon. Then Henderson side-volleyed a cross into the back of the net to give the Rapids the game-winning goal and their first ever berth in MLS Cup. That was as close as Colorado got to a championship until Kandji blew out his ACL getting the Rapids the MLS Cup.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Full Champions League Schedule Released

The full schedule for the CONCACAF Champions League was released today. The Rapids schedule is (all game times are 8pm MDT except for the final game):

August 17th - Isidro Metapan - DSG Park

August 23rd - @Real Espana - San Pedro Sula, Honduras

September 13th - Santos Laguna - DSG Park

September 21st - Real Espana - DSG Park

September 28th - @Isidro Metapan -Metapan, El Salvador

October 19th - @Santos Laguna - Torreon, Mexico - 6pm MDT

A tough draw with the final two games on the road. We really want to be at at least 9 points before those games.

Colorado is now at the point of the season where they need to make some decisions about which games to focus on and which games to rest some of the best players. There's no way the starting XI can play all 15 games in the next 2.5 months. Here's the combined schedule, in three sections (CCL games in italics).

Sat. Aug. 13th @San Jose
Wed. Aug 17th Isidro Metapan
Sat. Aug 20th Chivas USA
Tue. Aug 23rd @Real Espana
Sat. Aug 27th @Chicago

I think the Rapids need to go for the home wins against Isidro Metapan and Chivas USA. The tough part is the quick turnaround after the Chivas game to get to Honduras. Hopefully the Rapidswill do well enough against Chivas to pull some key players early int he second half. Colorado should put the best lineup possible out against Real Espana without sacrificing the Chivas game. For the road games in San Jose and Chicago the plan should be a mix of reserves and starters.

Fri. Sept. 9th @LA
Tue. Sept. 13th Santos Laguna
Sat. Sept. 17th @Toronto
Wed. Sept. 21st Real Espana
Sat. Sept. 24th San Jose
Wed. Sept. 28th @Isidro Metapan
Sat. Oct. 1st Dallas

Ouch, that's 7 games in 23 days. At least there's only two long road trips in this period. The Rapids should prioritize the 4 home games and not worry at all about the trip to LA. Santos Laguna is going to be hard to beat anywhere, but we really need 3 points from that one. The Rapids should be able to win any of the last 4 games in this run, but winning them all in such a short period is unlikely at best. If the Rapids have at least 9 points going into El Salvador then a draw is all they probably need to worry about to advance and the can focus on the San Jose and Dallas matches on either side of the Isidro Metapan game. If they have less than 9 points they'll need to go for the win, and (as much as this pains me) they need to accept a loss or draw to Dallas at home in the following game.

Fri. Oct. 14th FSL
Wed. Oct. 19th @Santos Laguna
Sat. Oct. 22nd @Vancouver

Hopefully by this last week of the season we'll be in a position where we've clinched a playoff spot and one of the top 2 spots in the CCL group stage. Which of those we've failed to do (if any) will play a large part in determining the priorities for this week. Obviously if we haven't clinched a top 2 spot in the CCL the Santos Laguna game will be huge. Lets hope we don't need a win because I don't see us getting one in Mexico. If we still need to clinch a playoff spot the game in Vancouver is probably a better chance than the home game against FSL, given our track record.

With these priorities I see 46-49 points as a likely finish in the league, which should be more than enough to make the playoffs. I think the CCL has less room for error, but I can see us getting 9-11 points even with this schedule, which would put us right on the edge of qualifying for the knockout rounds.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mullan Golazo, Cyanide Take Down Crew

The Rapids continued their dominance over the East with another win over the current Eastern leaders. The Rapids are 5-10-1 against the East, with the only loss being in Columbus and 3 of the 5 wins being over teams who were leading the East at the time of the game. That seems appropriate for the defending Eastern Conference Champions. ;)

The first half was really quiet. Seriously, I didn't watch a single replay in the first half from my recording, I jumped straight to the second. The second started with Mendoza getting behind Marshall at the top of the box and going to ground. Marshall may have clipped him, hard to tell for sure from the replay, but it wasn't hard enough to draw a PK call.

In the 55th minute Thompson played a square ball to an unmarked Mullan who took two touches, looked up and realized nobody was closing him down, and slammed it into the top corner to give Colorado the 1-0 lead. Amazingly this was his first goal as a Rapid, something I had to look up for myself because I couldn't believe it. Easiest assist Thompson's ever gotten as well.

The closest the Crew got to scoring was in the 74th minute as Mendoza once again got behind the back line, but Pickens was up to the challenge. The rebound was scooped up by Marshall and played out and Columbus never got another look at goal.

Cyanide would finish the scoring in the 79th minute. Nyassi stole the ball and turnned towards goal. as he reached the top of the box he played a through ball right into Cummings' stride, and Omar first-timed it inside the far post for the assurance goal. This was the 5th goal that one of them has scored with an assist from the other one in the last 4 games. After that the Rapids ran the clock out and took a much needed shutout and home win.

My key to the game was the defenses. Colorado locked everybody down and Pickens only had to make one big save. Meanwhile as expected Cyanide pealed apart the Crew defense for a goal and Mullan's golazo was a nice way to get the scoring started.

Stat of the Game: Wallace's 2 minutes is the shortest appearance by a player that had to be subbed out in Rapids history. The prior record holder was Jason Moore who started a game and left in the 4th minute. The prior record for a substitute was 7 minutes by Seth Trembly.

Other Observations:
  • Probably the most complete game we've seen from all 11 positions in years. Everyone was playing well and making things work.
  • The Nyassi-Cummings combo comes through again. Since Nyassi took over as a starter for the injured Casey, the combo has setup or scored 7 of the Rapids 10 goals.
  • Class VI was in a perfect position to watch Mullan's golazo sail off his foot and into the upper 90. Another great looking Rapids goal.
  • Drew Moor will tie the MLS ironman record if he played the full game in San Jose.
  • Always a good game when your goalkeeper lets in no goals and only has to make one save.
  • Class VI sang Ginger Ninja Happy Birthday. Drew Moor seemed to appreciate it. ;)
  • No good deed goes unpunished as Nyassi and Cummings are heading to Gambia and China respectively to play for their National teams on Wednesday. That leaves their availability for Saturday's game in San Jose questionable.
Player of the Game: Brian Mullan. Hard to pick a player for this one because everyone played a solid game, so I wimped out and went with the easy choice.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Annual YMCA Game

Call them the bananas, call them the Village People, call them traffic cones, or call them the Crew. Whatever you call them, they're in town to play the Rapids tomorrow night. Columbus is the top team in the East but are level on points with the Rapids. The last two times Colorado has played a team from the East they were on top of the table and the Rapids beat them. Let's hope that streak continues. Game time tomorrow is at 7:30, with the tailgate starting at 5:30. The match will be nationally televised on FOX Soccer Channel.

Injury Report:
OUT: FW Conor Casey (L Achilles tear)
PROBABLE: FW Omar Cummings (R ankle sprain); FW Macoumba Kandji (L knee ACL tear); GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); MF Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain)

Disciplinary Report:
SUSPENDED AFTER 2 MORE CAUTIONS: FW Caleb Folan; MF Ross LaBauex; MF Jeff Larentowicz; DF Tyrone Marshall; MF Pablo Mastroeni; DF Drew Moor; MF Sanna Nyassi; MF Wells Thompson; DF Anthony Wallace

We may see MLS Cup hero Macoumba Kandji back this week! Let's make sure we give him a huge welcome back if he does get int the game. The Crew are much more beat up than us, which is a nice change. My guess at the starting lineup looks pretty familiar:

Kimura - Wynne - Marshall - Moor
Mullan - Pablo- Larentowicz - Smith/Thompson
Nyassi - Cummings

Clearly our best XI right now. Why do anything else?

Key To Look For: The defenses. The Rapids have one of the worst defenses int he league, while Columbus has one of the best. However that's reversed when considering the offenses. If the Rapids can crack the Crew defense while shoring up their back line they should get a victory.

Prediction: 1-0 win, goal by Cummings. Columbus defense is good, but the speed to Cyanide will break it once. I think the Rapids defense is starting to get itself back under control and the home field advantage (both in fans and altitude) will be enough to keep a week Columbus offense off the board.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

CONCACAF Champions League Group Completed

Tonight the Rapids final opponents in the CONCACAF Champions League were settled. Along with Colorado, Real Espana qualified directly into the group stage as the Honduran 2010 Apertura champion. We will be joined by Isidro Metapan, the El Salvadoran 2010 Apertura champion after they defeated the Puerto Rico Islanders due to away goals 3-3 in the qualification round, and Santos Laguna, the Mexican 2010 Apertura 2010 runner-up after they defeated Olimpia 4-3 in the qualification round.

Colorado has announced the first part of the schedule for the CCL. Tickets for the first match go on sale on Friday, season ticket holders will presumably be contacted tomorrow about buying their seats.
  • August 17th - Rapids vs. Isidro Metapan - DSG Park - 8pm MDT
  • August 23rd - Rapids @ Real Espana - San Pedro Sula, Honduras - 8pm MDT
  • September 13th-15th - Presumably Santos Laguna
  • September 20th-22nd
  • September 27th-29th
  • October 18th-20th

Monday, August 1, 2011

Colorado Gets Very Definition Of Ugly Win

The Rapids used two of the prettiest goals you'll see all season to get an ugly win in Philly. The heat and humidity gave the home team an advantage and they took full advantage, controlling play and out-shooting Colorado.

Despite that, it was the Rapids who went up first, from an unlikely source. A simple tackle played the ball out of bounds where Mullan grabbed it to restart play. After looking for an outlet Pablo made a run towards the box and nobody marked him. Mullan saw the opening and hit him with a perfect throw-in. Mastroeni chested it down, cut inside the Philly defender with his right foot, and curved the ball around Mondragon for a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute. As far as pure skill and ball control, probably the best looking goal of Pablo's career.

Colorado wasn't done yet. In the 45th minute Thompson broke up an attack in the Rapids defensive end. He hit Cummings at midfield and Omar headed towards goal. Near the top of the box the Union defense closed him down but Cummings was able to slip a ball through just as Nyassi broke the offside trap. Sanna hit a first time shot to the far post and Colorado had a 2-0 lead at halftime.

The second half was mainly Colorado trying to absorb the heat and the Philly attack to claim 3 points. Their job got easier in the 64th minute. Thompson slid in on Sheanon Williams and knocked him tot he ground. Williams went down calling for a card, but also embellishing the contact. On replay Thompson probably deserved a yellow for the foul, but the AR waved off the foul call. Williams jumped up and yelled at the AR, and the CR came over to break it up. Williams turned and swore at the CR, drawing a yellow card. In reaction to the card Williams swore at the CR again, generating a red card. Honestly the red card was probably unfair, but given that Sheanon Williams was the same guy who spent the Philly game in Colorado getting booed by the whole stadium, then tweeted the next day we were a bunch of HATERS, I can't feel too bad about it. ;)

Even down a man the Union seemed to be the better team, peppering the Rapids goal and forcing Matt Pickens to come up big on multiple occasions. Finally the Union broke through when Torres beat Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne in the box, leaving him a wide open shot on goal. Pickens couldn't do much and Philly got it to 1 goal in stoppage time. With the final kick of the game a cross found Torres at the 6-yard box, but his header went right at Pickens and he parried it away to preserve the win. Matt collapsed after the final whistle, having been fighting the effect of heat exhaustion since late in the first half.

My key to the game was if Smith would tinker with the lineup or give us the best chance to win. with the exception of Jamie Smith, unavailable due to injury, he put the best eleven out there and we won.

Other Observations:
  • I don't think you can over-emphasize the effect of the heat and humidity on the Rapids. By the last quarter of the game they were playing more slow and sluggish than I think I've ever seen them.
  • Folan came into the game up 2, not up 3 like I said last week. ;) Unfortunately for him he pulled his groin late in the game.
  • Cummings and Nyassi appear to be the new Cummings and Casey. Cummings has 4 assists on 4 Nyassi goals in the last 3 games, and Nyassi set up 2 of the other 4 goals the Rapids have scored with unofficial assists.
  • If Cummings and Casey were C+C Goal Factory, what are Cummings and Nyassi? Suggestions so far are NC-17 or Cyanide (CN is the chemical formula for cyanide).
  • Great game form Pablo yet again. Anyone who says he's past it isn't paying attention.
  • Palguta game in for Marshall, who was obviously gassed and nursing a hurt groin. He gave up a stupid free kick on an intentional handball. That's why he's not starting except in the case of injury.
  • On top of the injuries to Folan and Marshall Pablo also pulled his calf. We could be walking wounded next week.
  • Next week we'll hopefully have Mac Kandji back though, so that's a boost.
Player of the Game: Matt Pickens. 5 saves and everyone of them was a big time save I think. Two huge ones in the last 8 minutes and stoppage time, including the final kick of the game. All this while fighting the effects of the heat.