Colorado Rapids

Keys against Houston: Work that midfield chemistry

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The Colorado Rapids saw their three game unbeaten streak snapped Wednesday evening north of the border in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a match the Rapids almost certainly feel like they should have gotten more out of. To my eye, they were more dangerous going forward, but two mistakes on picked-off passes were all the ‘Caps needed.

The good news is it’s a quick turnaround to the next match, Saturday night against the Houston Dynamo. It’ll be the second and final regular season match between the two sides. The Rapids and Dynamo split the points in the first match 1-1. The Rapids likely can’t afford to drop points at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park against a team below the playoff line. It probably needs to be three points at home the rest of the way, but especially against a side that has accrued just nine points away from Houston in 2022.

On top of that, the Rapids will follow the Dynamo match with the toughest stanza of the season: three consecutive on the road. Points on Saturday night are imperative. And everybody within the club knows this. The final nine games of the regular season will be treated like nine consecutive cup final matches.

At the time of writing this, just seven points separate fourth place (Minnesota United FC) from 11th (Colorado) in the West. The parity below LAFC is classic MLS, and will hopefully give us all the drama we desire going into Decision Day. MLS is one of the most fun soccer leagues in the world because of the parity and the unpredictability. However, it’s a lot more fun when your team isn’t the one playing musical chairs with the seven playoff spots.

For the Dynamo, they’re in 12th place in the West, a further six points adrift of the Rapids, and their playoff hopes are hanging by the thinnest of shreds. They likely have too steep of a hill to climb but I’ll never say never.

In a lot of ways, they’re a standard MLS team under a first-year head coach. Former MLS player Paulo Nagamura now leads the team, and he’s spent year one implementing his desired system and evaluating who will be back in 2023. 

They started 2022 with one loss in their first seven matches. It seemed like Nagamura had found a winning formula right away, and Darwin Quintero had found the fountain of youth. But now they on four straight defeats. They’ve been shut out six times, and have scored more than two goals on three occasions. The inconsistency is frustrating for fans, but also laying bare exactly where the Dynamo need to get better this winter. There’s value in knowing that.

So here’s what the Rapids need to do to get three points and stay on track.

Play Wide

The Rapids have multiple options when it comes to wingers, and they have a couple options for outside backs. Lucas Esteves will be back from suspension to help bolster the backline. Up top, some combination of Michael Barrios, Sam Nicholson and Jonathan Lewis will continue to wreak havoc on backlines. The Rapids need that wide play to then create opportunities in the middle. Against the Whitecaps, Jonathan Lewis repeatedly found himself one-on-one against Whitecaps defenders who were backpedaling in fear of his pace. He used this to create space, whip in dangerous balls and even loose a few shots, with one skimming over the bar. It was a Lewis shot that rebounded back that Gyasi Zardes ended up finishing in the back of the net. If the Rapids can continue being threatening out wide like that, the goals will come.

Work the Midfield Chemistry

Returning to the lineup we can assume will be Bryan Acosta who served his suspension in Vancouver. Jack Price has been out, Acosta missed Wednesday’s match, Felipe Gutierrez is new, Ralph Priso is still new. There are a lot of moving parts in the Rapids midfield, and it seems at time like the guys just haven’t shared the pitch enough with each other. That happens with injuries and midfield transactions. Saturday night will be a great chance for the guys, minus Price, to continue getting meaningful minutes together. If they can gel and integrate, it could be the difference maker that propels the team above the playoff line by the time Decision Day rolls around.

Play Long

Per's stat page, the Rapids lead the league in accurate long balls with 812. A lot of that is due to Danny Wilson, Will Yarbrough, Jack Price and the big diagonals the team loves to make. With the fourth most accurate long balls with 766 is the Houston Dynamo. This game may come down to who is better at sending the ball in the air and bringing it down without immediately losing possession. The Rapids will need Danny Wilson to be pinpoint and Diego Rubio and Gyasi Zardes to go collect the service he’s delivering. Those two have never shied away from a challenge. On the outside, if it’s Rosenberry and Esteves pinning diagonals into the opposite corners, that’s where the wingers being involved will make a massive difference.