The Rapids currently hold a 5-2-1 record. It’s good enough for third place in the West and fourth in the Supporters’ Shield standings. Eight matches of the 34 have been played and the squad has kept a clean sheet in half of them, won five of their last six and scored the fourth-most goals in the league. Not bad, not bad at all.
Confidence is sky high and the next two matches are against the only two teams floating above the Rapids in the West: Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders FC. The next two matches won’t make or break the season.
Sporting KC has scored more goals than anybody else, with 17, an average of 1.7 goals per 90 minutes. The Rapids, having played two fewer matches, average 1.75. So, I’d expect to see a goal or two from each squad on Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
Kansas City has a potent attack, one of the most prolific strikers in MLS in Alan Pulido and a bevy of young Homegrown talent beginning to fill in for their aging veterans. Combine that with one of the brightest coaches in MLS in Peter Vermes, and you get a solid soccer team.
This match will have everything for every type of fan. Children’s Mercy Park will be at capacity, it’s a battle for second place in the West and, oh yeah, it’s a rivalry. Electric atmosphere, high stakes and a little bad blood is going to make for a fantastic 90 minutes of soccer. Here’s how Colorado can pick up a result in the first of three matches in this I-70 series:
Win the Midfield
When Sporting are playing well, it’s when they’re winning the middle third and keeping the ball under their feet. It’s when Roger Espinoza is winning his individual matchups and Gianluca Busio is picking out passes from his deep-lying playmaker role. For Colorado, it’s when Kellyn Acosta is marshaling the midfield, and Cole Bassett is wreaking havoc while creating breaks on turnovers. If Colorado wins the midfield, SKC can’t get the ball to Pulido or Daniel Salloi. And considering what a game-breaker Pulido can be, it’s imperative to keep the ball away from him.
I don’t think this necessarily means Colorado has to win the possession battle, though; not all possession is created equal. It means that when Sporting does try to connect passes to open up a channel, they’re rebuffed before the final third. If you see Pulido continuing to drop deeper and deeper away from goal to get on the ball, it likely means Colorado is doing a good job of denying him service.
Win the Set Piece Battle
Set pieces are where Colorado has had nothing but success in the last few years, and that’s good news because I think it has potential to be a tipping point in the match - both attacking and defending set pieces. Sporting have had to be flexible with their backline in 2021, moving a natural midfielder in Ilie Sanchez to center back. This is something the Rapids can exploit on attacking set pieces, as he is smaller than any of the four center backs we’ve seen play for Colorado this year.
Defensively however, the Rapids will need to be sharp. Of course, there’s Pulido, who’s proven dangerous on set pieces in his time in MLS, but also Andreu Fontas. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he scored on a set piece against Colorado at Children’s Mercy Park last season. He’s big, strong and can fight his way to the ball.
Remember Daniel Salloi
The Hungarian Homegrown has had a resurgent year so far. In 2019 and 2020, he played in 35 matches and tallied one goal and one assist. So far in 10 matches this season, he has four goals and two assists. Per Opta, he leads MLS players in total touches in the opponent’s box with 60, averaging nearly seven per 90 minutes. He is also fifth overall in the league in total shots with 30. Per fbref.com, he’s in the 99th percentile in non-penalty expected goals per 90 with 0.53.
So, he’s getting on the ball a lot in dangerous areas, he’s shooting the ball from those dangerous areas and he’s creating high-percentage chances when he does. He’s the player profiting the most from the presence of Pulido. Mainly a left winger, he’s the guy who can’t be ignored just because Pulido and Russell are on the other side.
Salloi will likely be the responsibility of Keegan Rosenberry on the wing and, if the lineup holds from Saturday, Lalas Abubakar on the right side of the three-back. These veteran backs will have their hands full, to be sure, but there’s no doubt that the duo have the experience to step up to the challenge.