Once again, the Rapids are on the road, and once again, the Rapids are facing a team currently occupying a playoff spot. Last Sunday evening, it was the Seattle Sounders at Lumen Field; this Sunday, the Rapids are headed to Allianz Field in the Twin Cities in a matinee matchup against Minnesota United FC.
In the past couple years, the Loons have become a familiar opponent for Colorado. In 2020, the two sides went head to head three times – once in the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando before playing a second time in the regular season in St. Paul, and finishing out the series in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. So far in 2021, there have been two meetings and the Rapids have emerged victorious in both. All in all, the Rapids are 2-2-1 against Minnesota since the beginning of 2020.
The Loons have had a topsy-turvy 2021 campaign. In the offseason, they were elevated to the status of MLS Cup contenders after they took Seattle to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Then they opened the season with four consecutive losses, punctuated by a 3-2 loss at DICK’s Sporting Goods Park where they led 2-0 at the half.
At that point, with morale at an all-time low, they could have packed it in and said goodnight to their 2021 campaign. To their credit, they rebounded and caromed away from their inexplicable start and went 8-2-7 over their next 17 matches. (One of those two losses was to the Rapids.)
But since that stretch run, they’re 2-3-1. All of this is good for 38 points through 27 matches and a tenuous grip on the 7th and final playoff spot. They sit just one point ahead of Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
And now we find ourselves here, in crunch time, with every match feeling like a cup final. Both sides are going to enter this one motivated for all three points. The Rapids want to shed the memory from last Sunday in Seattle and head into a decisive Rocky Mountain Cup match full of confidence. On the other end, Minnesota is looking over their shoulder at a Whitecaps team that is doing enough to stay in the playoff conversation.
Three points are on the line in St. Paul. Here’s how the Rapids can grab them all.
Win the Battle of Depth
This match comes in the middle of the international break and means each side will be missing key contributors. For the home side, Michael Boxall, Robin Lod, Romain Metanire, Jukka Raitala and Dayne St. Clair have all been called up for international duty. On the Burgundy side, Kellyn Acosta is off to the represent the USA and Mark-Anthony Kaye his native Canada. On top of international call-ups, both sides could potentially be without players due to red cards from this past weekend. Lucas Esteves picked his up in the 61st minute in Seattle, and the Loons’ Emanuel Reynoso saw red in the 89th minute in Frisco. The Rapids are appealing Esteves’ suspension.
Since his midseason arrival, Esteves has proven valuable and show his quality on the left side both defensively and in attack. Perhaps manager Robin Fraser will tab Auston Trusty to platoon at the LB/LWB position as he did when defender Sam Vines was moved to Belgium and before Esteves arrived and settled in. For the Loons, replacing Reynoso becomes a much trickier trial. He’s the man in the midfield who pulls the strings. He’s tallied four goals and three assists, only trailing Lod in both categories on the team.
The Rapids kept a clean sheet in three of their six matches in September, including the two matches before Sunday in Seattle. Now is the chance to get back to that defensive quality, and a lot of variables are going the Rapids’ way. First are the absences as mentioned above. Lod and Reynoso being out means the Loons’ two leading goal scorers are gone. On top of that, Minnesota has only scored 30 goals in 2021. That’s second fewest in the Western Conference. So their offense is sluggish even with their best players and their best players won’t be there. Great timing for Colorado to come to town! Whether it’s William Yarbrough returning to goal or Clint Irwin’s second game, the Rapids will be well positioned to put in a good defensive effort and leave with a clean sheet.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen Diego Rubio and Younes Namli come in as second-half subs as they continue working their way back to full fitness. They’ll undoubtedly be key contributors down the stretch run and into the playoffs. Even if they don’t start, Sunday could be another chance to get 30-45 minutes of game action in a competitive environment. On the defensive side, Yarbrough missed his first minutes of the season. As he’s been the first choice ‘keeper all year, getting him back with no limitations would be massive for the back line.