HOUvCOL_KEYS

With two games left in the Colorado Rapids’ regular season, the squad sits in third place in the Western Conference, just three points out of first. Thanks to their prolific play up to this point, the Rapids won’t be sweating the final few matches, wondering about their playoff fate. Not only is a spot in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs already locked away safely, so is at least one home match at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park, and all of the advantages that come with that.

Still up for grabs is playoff seeding. The Rapids can’t fall below fourth place but can climb all the way to the top. However, they’ll need external help; if Sporting KC or the Seattle Sounders win any of their remaining matches, the Rapids will be unable to pass them. Sitting on 55 points with two matches to play, the maximum points available for Colorado is 61. Both SKC and Seattle have 58 points with 17 wins each. Total wins is the first tiebreaker if teams are level on points, so any victory by SKC and Seattle would give them 18. The Rapids have 15 wins with two matches to play, thus unable to reach 18. I hope I’ve explained this math in a comprehensible way, and also clarified any rooting preferences for the final few match days.

Lurking below the Rapids are the Portland Timbers in fourth place. They dispatched a listless San Jose Earthquakes side in their recent match, closing the gap from nine points to six behind Colorado. The Rapids just need one point from the final six available to finish ahead of the Timbers and at least calcify the top three of the Western Conference. And then sit back and watch the logjam that is fourth through ninth place sort itself out. Currently only five points separate the Timbers in fourth from LAFC in ninth. Chaos. 

On the field, the Rapids are away to Houston Dynamo FC for the second time in 2021. The first match at PNC Stadium went Colorado’s way, a comprehensive 3-1 victory. Lalas Abubakar, Michael Barrios and Braian Galván scored for the Rapids, and Fafa Picault tallied the Dynamo’s only score. It was the third game in the Rapids’ midseason 12-match unbeaten run. The Dynamo were struggling then, as the match occurred in the middle of a 16-match winless streak. Things have improved since then but only marginally; they’re 3-4-2 since putting an end to that streak. 

The Dynamo have won six games this season, and just two of them have come against teams above the playoff line. An early season victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps and a win over the Sounders on October 16th. So let’s get into it on how to beat the Dynamo and climb the Western Conference standings.

Win the 1:1 Battles

This key is twofold but revolves around beating the man next to you. Per fbref.com, the Dynamo are winning 48.8 percent of their aerial duels. That puts them in the bottom third in MLS in that category. On the flip, the Rapids are winning 53.3 percent of their aerial duels, good for third-best in the entire league. When the ball is in the air, the Rapids have a massive advantage, considering how thin the margins are at this level. The second aspect of this, still within the 1v1 theme, is fouls committed. The Dynamo have committed 428 fouls, fourth-most in the league. If the Rapids can consistently beat their man, put the Dynamo in compromised situations where they have to commit a foul, the Rapids can use their set piece quality and aerial advantage to bury the Dynamo.

Deny the Dynamo Attack

The Dynamo are not a good attacking team. They’ve scored 36 goals, tied for third-fewest in MLS. And two players, Fafa Picault (11) and Maxi Urruti (7) make up 50 percent of their goals scored. They’ve had just nine different goal scorers, whereas the Rapids have had 17. If the Rapids can keep a clean sheet, they’ll be in good position to win. It won’t be easy even if the Dynamo attack is limping to the end of the season. He can find the back of the net. On top of his finishing, Picault has five assists, making the Haitian-American one of the best American-born attacking wingers in MLS. But if he can be stymied and the Dynamo are forced to turn to somebody else to create and finish, they may find themselves frustrated and shut out after 90 minutes.

Build on the Winning Form

As we’ve discussed, there are only two games left before the Rapids are playing in a single elimination playoff match at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park in front of a raucous home crowd. These next two games are about seeding and going into the postseason with the most confidence, the best form, healthy bodies and a squad where everybody knows what will be asked of them. Given that there will be a two-week break before the playoffs, who knows what form will carry over or if it will need to be found in the first half of the first playoff game. But confidence, belief and trusting the guy next to you to do his job are all qualities that erode much slower once they’ve been built.