The Colorado Rapids have seven games left in the 2022 MLS regular season. Math says that’s 20.5% of the season still to be played. 21 points. It’s crunch time. And the Rapids find themselves smack in the middle of a three game road trip Wednesday night against Nashville SC.

It will be the club’s first trip to Nashville since the home side joined MLS in 2020. Back in May, they opened the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States and Canada, GEODIS Park, which holds 30,000 spectators. After going undefeated at Nissan Stadium in 2021, the Boys in Gold have only compiled a 4-4-5 record within their new grounds.

But they are still above the playoff line, and sitting in a spot the Rapids are eyeing hungrily. Which is what makes the match so monumental. We’re into the home stretch of the 2022 season, and it’s a game against somebody battling for the same coveted seven spots in the postseason tournament.

If the Rapids win, they close the gap between themselves and the playoff line, which currently sits five points off. Nashville are seven points from the Rapids. If the gap shrinks to four with six games left, it’s more than doable to catch them. If the Rapids lose, the gap balloons to 10 points and Nashville starts to look real small off in the distance. This match could be season-defining.

So, how to make the most of it and get three points to close in on the playoff pack. My keys to the game:

Be Ready for the Moment

Following Atlanta United’s successful model, Nashville SC haven’t just made soccer work in the South, they’ve turned it into an event that demands the attention of the Music City community. And the community has responded with tremendous support. Expect somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 people in the stands, fireworks, noise and one of the better defenses in MLS standing across from the Rapids. The Burgundy Boys are going to be walking into a hornets’ nest, a cacophony of sound and a rowdy crowd that has taken all they know about SEC football crowds and applied it to soccer. It’s a midweek match with both teams trying to be pragmatic and tiptoe around a congested schedule, but it will be a playoff atmosphere. The Rapids can win this game, but it will take 90 minutes of concentration combined with meeting the moment eye to eye and not blinking.

Hany Mukhtar

That’s it; that’s the tweet. But seriously, the German attacking midfielder followed up his 2021 campaign which saw him make a credible run for league MVP with another season where he’ll garner a ton of votes. He has 16 goals and 11 assists in 2305 minutes. That’s a goal contribution every 88 minutes. Once per match, he’s influencing and changing matches. His high-level of play is remarkable, but so is his ability to produce at that rate consistently. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the heat and humidity, 1200 miles from Nashville, rain, etc. He just produces. The Rapids have already been battered by the Berliner when he snagged a brace back in May at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park. He has to be accounted for, followed, harassed, kept out of the penalty area. He can beat teams from anywhere, but the Rapids can make their jobs a little easier by forcing him to drop deep to get his touches.

Set Piece Success

Nashville SC were below average at defending set pieces in 2021, and it carried over into 2022 at the beginning of the year. Now, per mlssoccer.com, they have the best headed duel percentage rate at 57.4%. The Rapids have the second best at 57.3%. When corner and free kicks float into the box, expect bodies to clash and success to come down to will, strength and proper positioning. The Rapids consistently get good looks on set pieces even without captain Jack Price serving in balls. Wednesday night should be no different with Bryan Acosta and Felipe Gutierrez available to be the distributors on dead balls. Even if the run of play is going against the Rapids, they can throw punches back at the home side with excellent set pieces. They can upend the game by making Nashville dread conceding corners. There will be at least a couple clear cut chances created from set pieces for the Rapids. They just have to take advantage of them and finish them.