It was a chilly night in Commerce City, Colorado with fans bringing out their blankets, hats and gloves. Coffee and hot chocolate were going fast in the press box. The feeling in the stadium was one of nerves as the game got started. Rapids fan can now let out a huge, collective sigh of relief after drawing 4 straight games to actually get a win on Wednesday against Austin FC. After creating numerous opportunities to score in the first half it looked like the home team might not break the dam before half time. And then, out of nowhere, Jack Price made a run deep into enemy territory, creating just enough space to square up for a cross from inside the box. It was a beautiful ball played in from the Englishman. He found the head of Jon Lewis who got just enough on it to score a goal in first half stoppage time. Then just 2 minutes into the second half the Rapids scored again through a defensive mistake by Austin. In the 67', the Rapids sealed the win at DSG Park with a 3rd goal on the night.
An emphatic 3-0 victory was also capped off with several records setting performances. Price had two assists on the night. The second of which came from- get this- a corner kick. That marks 11 total assists which is good enough for 2nd in MLS. Price earned an 8.30 Fotmob score, tied with Goalkeeper William Yabrough for the highest individual score in the game. Yarbrough had 4 saves on the night, 2 of those were diving saves, he came out as a sweeper several times, had 1 save inside the box and his xG conceded was 0.36.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
Yabrough earned his 11th clean sheet of the season which is a new Colorado Rapids club record for an individual. During the 2016 season, Zac McMath had 6 clean sheets and Tim Howard had 7 making the club record for the team 13 clean sheets. With 8 games remaining, and most of them against stronger opponnents, beating this record appears to be difficult but not out of reach.
Both Price and Yarbrough were named to the MLS Team of the Week for their exceptional performances. Price racked up 2 assists and created a match high 4 chances. Passing the ball he was 89% accurate, swung in 9 crosses, had 4 accurate long balls, 2 key passes and had 3 recoveries defensively. As usual, the Rapids captain controlled the game in midfield through his distribution on the ball. Price earned his 30th and 31st assists of his Rapids career, moving him into 3rd most assists all-time for the club.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
Man of the Match award went to Nico Mezquida who scored the second goal of the game off an Austin mistake at the back. It was a tight angle from the top corner of the 18 yard box and the keeper was out of position. In the end it was expected that he would score but it wasn't neccessarily easy to do. Regardless, the goal and his perfromance was a major catalyst to the teams success. Also, his smile is contagious and award winning. The Uruguay brought his usual energy, making runs on and off the ball, connecting passess on offense and working to close space defensively. Well deserved award for the veteran playmaker.
Another standout performer was Lucas Esteves. Nearly every attack went down the left flank, especially in the first half. That's not to say the Rapids didn't switch the ball or attack on the right flank. However they were more successful down the left as Esteves showed his quality. The Brazilian timed his runs well and frequently found space in behind the defence. He attempted several shots, crosses and covered well defensively. The former Palmeiras man is certainly looking the part.
Auston Trusty scored his first goal for the Burgundy & Blue off a Jack Price corner kick. Trusty fought off his defender, rose up well and heading it hard and low. The ball bounced off the ground with enough power to hit the roof. A fanstically executed corner. Trusty’s goal was Colorado’s 9th corner kick goal of the season and its 11th off a set piece this season. The goal notwithstanding Trusty played very well and continues to have a phenomenal season. He stepped up to tackle or press the Austin attackers when needed, covered space in behind and when on the ball frequently found Esteves up the left flank. All in all, every player in burgundy had a solid performance on the night.
Showdown in Seattle
It's been said many times. National and local media have said it. Fans on the internet have said it. Despite taking a clear step forward this season, the Rapids are mostly beating teams in the bottom and mid tier of MLS. When it comes to playing against the top tier teams they have only drawn or lost. The Burgundy Boys are looking to shake that trend on Sunday with a statement win.
Head Coach Robin Fraser had this to say after Wednesdays victory over Austin, "At the end of the day, this is going to be a rough next 4 weeks for us. We have a lot of games coming up and as we have subbed a good deal in the last five or six games, we have a lot of confidence in the whole group. And though we make changes, it's not like we're resting the better guys and playing the lesser guys."
Meanwhile the Seattle Sounders are coming off a 3-1 win at San Jose on Wednesday night. Nouhou came on a sub and is in contention to return to the starting lineup. Nice Lodiero continues to be unavailable due to injury and speculation is that he could miss the remainder of the season. This wraps up a 4 game road trip for Seattle including the Leagues Cup Final in Las Vegas. Sunday's game will be the first of 2 remaining games between the two teams. Currently the Sounders sit in 1st, Sporting KC in 2nd and the Rapids are 3 points back in 3rd place in the Western Conference. The matchup is also the two best defensive teams in MLS in terms of goals allowed (Seattle 22, Colorado 24). Colorado will enter Lumen Field on Sunday in the midst of a 12-match unbeaten run dating back to July 31.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
Rapids fans will be looking to see if former academy and first team player Shane O'Neill retains a starting spot in Seattle's back line. Their 5 at the back formation has been very successful this season. Joao Paolo has had the best season of his career in midfield and rightfully is being considered in the MLS MVP race (not much of a race though if Carles Gil continues his electric form for New England. Or even just shows up for work for the next couple of weeks). Paolo breaks up play well defensively and is intelligent enough to either slow play down and maintain possesion, or push the attack with a clever long ball. The Rapids should try to limit giving him any time on the ball to minimize his effectiveness.
Everyone knows how dangerous the Peruvian striker is for the Sounders but that doesn't mean they can stop him. Raul Ruidiaz is difficult to defend as he varies his tactics throughout the game. Running into space, checking to the ball, direct runs on and off the ball, capable with both feet and especially in tight spaces. Limiting his involvement and ability to gain a ryhthm will be a tall task for the Burgundy and Blue. Ruidiaz has 16 goals this season which is 2nd in MLS currently.
Playing away from home against a strong team in the Seattle Sounders, I expect the same formation and tactics from Fraser. Everyone seems to look at it differently but a 532 formation is what I've been calling it. Despite having 5 defenders in the team, the Rapids don't play defensive soccer and only counter when the opponent is exposed. Are they effective at the counter? Yes. Is that all they do? No. The Rapids are capable of attacking on set peices, through possession or the counter attack.
Many fans and analysts say that the Rapids biggest weakness, especially going into the playoffs, is the lack of a true #9 striker who is lethal in the box. On the flip side, they're unpredictable and you can't mark one player out of the match when playing the Rapids. With the new formation this year, many of the wingers are seeing time as a second striker like Jon Lewis, Mikey Barrios and Andre Shinyashiki. When players like this are working off the main striker, space can open up to unlock the defense. Likewise, Mark-Anthony Kaye is given the freedom to join the attack and make forward runs. Point being, the unpredictable nature of this team is their strongest weapon.
Closing thoughts and My Predicted XI
Head Coach Robin Fraser is likely going to put his strongest possible lineup on the field. Although Rubio and Namli are coming off injures and getting more minutes I don't think both will start. Look for Rubio to get the nod at striker and Namli to be the impact sub in the 2nd half. Since Galvan was rested and Esteves played on Sunday, I expect Galvan to start at left wing back and matchup against Alex Roldan. If the Rapids come out with the urgency needed, stick to their game plan and execute, then they have a great chance against Seattle. Colorado is capable of beating any MLS team on their day. The chance to prove that they belong at the top is too tasty not to be hyped up for. Especially for this Rapids team who is tired of being called a team of misfits. My predicted starting lineup for Sundays showdown in Seattle is below. Enjoy your weekend. Enjoy the soccer. I'll have updates on Twitter when lineups are announced on Sunday. Go Rapids!