The narratives and storylines are overflowing ahead of the Colorado Rapids matinee clash Saturday afternoon against Los Angeles Football Club.
First, LAFC currently sit atop the Supporters’ Shield standings, and are the measuring stick so far in the MLS season. On top of that, the match will mark the return of midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who will be back at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park for the first time since an offseason transaction saw him join the Black and Gold.
The Rapids are just below the playoff line, haven’t lost at home and have only conceded one goal across all competitions in the six matches they’ve hosted at elevation. But LAFC will pose perhaps the stiffest test for the Burgundy Boys. As mentioned above, they have the most points in MLS, and they’ve scored the most goals (23).
After one turbulent season that saw LAFC miss the MLS Cup Playoffs, Bob Bradley, who had managed the club since its inception, left the club and headed to Toronto to manage the Reds. There was roster overhaul – most noticeably the addition of Kellyn Acosta – but also picking up players like Ilie to bolster their midfield. Add in Chicho Arango, who has just two goals and one assist in league play but is still threatening around goal and creating space for others, and you’ve got the necessary ingredients to cook up a team that can win every trophy they play for in 2022.
Sports are hard. They’re designed to be difficult. But LAFC make racking up points in MLS look easy. Since they joined the league, all they do is score goals. They have maybe the best player in the league in Mexican winger Carlos Vela. He was the 2019 MVP, single-season goal king (34) and unequivocal leader of a club that embraces and meets its Hollywood hype. Everything they do on and off the field is meant to be a statement that lets everybody know they have the flash, swagger and talent to go far.
Replacing Bob Bradley has been Steve Cherundolo who has stepped into his first MLS managerial gig and righted the ship. He’s passed every early season test with flying colors. So far he’s gotten the tactics right, he sets up his players for success and his locker room management so far is equal to the task.
As much as this is a stiff test for the Rapids, it’s going to be as equally as difficult for the visitors. They’re 1-2-0 at elevation, losing the last two. The Rapids have shown they can stand blow for blow against LAFC, so here’s how they can get all three points:
After the Rapids Round of 32 USOC match against Minnesota United FC was postponed and delayed about 12ish hours, everybody started doing math about how soon the turnaround time was for the LAFC match Saturday. Not only is it difficult to play soccer matches with one day of rest in between, it is mentally draining. It is mentally difficult to get focused in on a game, eat the right amount of calories, hydrate, get enough sleep, stretch and be ready to go three times in four days. Undoubtedly the Rapids will be up for it, but it’ll be a taxing weekend for the players and staff.
Of all the players to mention and discuss for LAFC, I’m picking Ilie because so many of the others are too obvious. Everybody knows you have to slow down Carlos Vela, you have to have a good game plan to deny Arango service in the box. That’s almost too obvious and too on the nose. But the former Barcelona academy player who had a long, successful stint in Kansas City is now in LA. He pulls the strings, he sees things other players don’t and he has the talented left foot to pull off every ambitious pass he wants to. If he’s given time to jog with the ball at his feet, pick up his head and scan the defense like a quarterback at the line of scrimmage, he’ll rip every team apart. Step to him, deny the obvious passing lanes, force him to retreat. And if he does get ambitious and try to hit miracle balls to Vela on the wing, make them as difficult as possible.
Find the Rhythm
In their last league game, the 1-0 loss on the road to the San Jose Earthquakes, the Rapids looked a little disjointed for the 90 minutes. Passes were just a little bit off, the connections just weren’t quite there, and they eventually paid for it by being unable to find the back of the net. The road woes haven’t translated to home games, but the confidence at home hasn’t translated to the road. There are so many reasons for why teams play better at home than on the road. Some of them are psychological and have to do with the thrill of playing in front of your own fans, and some of them are physiological and are related to plane rides and sleeping in hotel beds instead of your own. This game, against the top of the league, is a great springboard opportunity to continue doing what the Rapids have done at home and carry it into a road match. There isn’t a team in MLS the Rapids would feel outmatched by at elevation. Find that confidence, connect some passes, get on the same wavelength as the guy next to you. We’ve seen the Rapids dismantle LAFC on this pitch before. They played that match last year with all the swagger and confidence of a team fighting for the top of the West. It’s time to go find that spark and turn it into a flame.