In the third game of this four-game home stand, the Rapids will host the San Jose Earthquakes. It’s an Earthquakes side that has struggled in 2021 to replicate their 2020 success that saw them make the playoffs.

The Quakes picked up a point in their last match on Fourth of July weekend in Minnesota but haven’t collected all three points from a 90-minute bout since May 7 against Real Salt Lake. That was back when San Jose won three of its first four matches to start the season before things went downhill.

While the Earthquakes may be winless in their last eight, the Rapids will be without several key players via injury and international duty, so it will take a continued team effort to walk away victorious. And despite their record, the Earthquakes are still coached by Matias Almeyda, one of the most highly regarded coaches in North American soccer.

To get all three points, here are my keys:

Win Individual Battles

Since he arrived to coach the Quakes, Almeyda has utilized his an-marking defensive system that is unique to MLS. All 10 outfield players have one guy to follow on the pitch and disrupt what the attackers are doing. The key to beating this system is to win your individual battles, create space and sow confusion among the defenders. The Rapids have the quality to do this; they just need to execute when the whistle blows.

Next Man Up

Midfielder Kellyn Acosta, defender Sam Vines and forward Johnathan Lewis will all be absent from the team sheet as they represent the USMNT in the Gold Cup. Midfielder Younes Namli will also be absent as he continues rehab from ankle surgery, and the status of captain Jack Price is unknown until the starting XI is announced before kick-off. But this team has found success through its ability to find results even when the lineup gets shuffled. Whomever Robin Fraser tabs to start will be somebody trusted to get the job done.

The Quakes, for what it’s worth, will be without midfielder Jackson Yueill, who is with the USMNT at the Gold Cup and has two goals this season.

Score Early and then Defend

The Earthquakes have conceded six goals in the first half hour of matches this season and are 0-5-0 in those games. The Rapids, meanwhile, have scored four goals in the first 30 minutes of matches and are 4-0-0, outscoring their opponents 9-1 in those matches.

The Earthquakes are in a strange spot where advanced statistics and metrics suggest they should be scoring more goals than they have. In raw totals, the Earthquakes are tied for 16th in the league in goals scored with 14 in 12 games. But by xG (expected goals), the Quakes are fifth in MLS with an xG of 19.8. I would not bet on them to continue underperforming their xG by nearly six goals the rest of the way. That’s too much of an anomaly, and it tells me they’re knocking on the door every time they play. The worst-case scenario for Colorado is conceding a goal early and giving a struggling team any sense of belief or confidence.