Keys_to_the_game_08.06

Maybe we ought to play more Tuesday night matches, huh? Earlier this week, the Rapids went to Harrison, New Jersey and triumphed over the New York Red Bulls by a final score of 5-4. It was chaotic, and three points was just what the doctor ordered for this Rapids side. They now enter the weekend just five points out of a playoff spot with two home games on the docket the next two match days.

Before we get ahead of ourselves and start counting our chickens before they hatch, a different bird comes to town: the Loons. Minnesota United FC make their annual and only trip to DICK’S Sporting Goods Park. The Minnesota side have had a great year, entering the weekend third in the Western Conference.

Argentinian midfielder Emanuel Reynoso has continued to be a force in the middle of the park. Luckily for the Rapids, he won’t be in the lineup as he’s serving a yellow card suspension. Another star, the Finnish attacker Robin Lod has also had a great year. His six goals are third on the team. Good news for the Rapids however; he’ll watch the game from home while he serves a yellow card suspension. Defensively, Kiwi Michael Boxall has been a steadfast mooring in the middle of the Loons’ spine. Lady luck shines on the Rapids once again; Boxall won’t suit up. He’ll instead endure a one match ban after accumulating five yellow cards.

Three of Minnesota’s best players won’t be a factor in the match. But it doesn’t mean anything if the Rapids can’t capitalize on their absences. Because you know Minnesota’s play will reflect the attitude of their coach, Adrian Heath. They’ll run around, they’ll tackle, they’ll get the ball forward.

So here is how the Rapids can ground the Loons, get a vital three points and maybe climb the standings.

Capitalize on the Absences
As I mentioned above, Minnesota is missing three legitimate playmakers at every level along the spine of the formation. Reynoso is the largest absence, and it will change how Minnesota plays. But just because he’s absent doesn’t mean the guys filling in for him are necessarily worse. True, they can’t do the things he can do, but they can still play soccer at a very high level. The Rapids can primarily take advantage of the absent Argentinian by encroaching a little higher into Minnesota’s side of the field. Push a little higher, be a little more daring knowing there isn’t a wizard wearing #10 ready to break you in half on a quick counter.

Confidence Boost
If Tuesday night’s match at Red Bull Arena didn’t give this team a rejuvenated sense of belief and self-confidence, I’m not sure anything will. They were down multiple goals on two separate occasions but never hung their heads or gave in. And when they got the match tied, they didn’t sit back content with a road result. They went for all three against a very good Red Bulls side. It’s true they conceded four goals, but two of those were penalties and one was an unlucky deflection. They played better than the scoreline suggested. It was the type of emotional injection this team needed.

But there’s an old saying baseball that goes along the lines of “Momentum is only as good as the next night’s starting pitcher.” The Rapids need to remember this. The good feeling, the shot in the arm, doesn’t last unless you continue to push. The first 15 minutes of the match against Minnesota needs to be picking up where they left off Tuesday night in New Jersey. There are points available. Go get them.

Stymie the Road Warriors

Impressively, Minnesota has won three consecutive road games. They’re third in the West for multiple reason, and one of those reasons is they know how to pick up points away from Allianz Field in St. Paul. They play hard, they follow their game plan and they’re experts at frustrating their opponents. They can be beaten, there’s no doubt about it, but the Rapids need to get on them and get on them early. One goal may not be enough. This could wind up being a playoff preview.