At long last, the Colorado Rapids will finally play one of the two MLS teams they’ve not yet faced: Nashville SC. Their first season was upended, like everybody else’s, by the covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, they played in the Eastern Conference. Situated now in the Western Conference means the Rapids will get two cracks at the Boys in Gold in 2022. This upcoming August, the Rapids will be on the road at Geodis Park for the second game.

In their brief history, Nashville have qualified for the postseason in each of their first two seasons, which is no minor feat in this era of MLS with intense competition at the top and a sometimes-difficult learning curve for new teams. They’re not Atlanta United FC or Los Angeles Football Club, teams who won trophies in their first two seasons, but they’re more Atlanta and LAFC than they are Minnesota United FC and Cincinnati FC, teams who struggled out the gates when joining the league.

Nashville are somewhere in the middle and appear to have a foundation they can build on long term. Along with some genuine MLS stars in Walker Zimmerman and Hany Mukhtar, they’re led by former Rapids manager Gary Smith and they just debuted a brilliant, state-of-the-art stadium in Geodis Park. That formula of star power, executive leadership and a castle to defend makes them one of the more compelling teams in the league. They defend well, hustle harder than most and they are surgical when it comes time to open you up on the back end. You have to be precise with your chances because you may not get many, and you have to be disciplined when they’re in front of net because their attackers only need half a step.

For the Rapids, it’s another home game. The last before a couple weeks off and both June games being on opposite coasts. After Saturday night, we won’t see the Rapids at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park until the Fourth of July against Austin FC. So let’s get in one more W and kick off summer with three points. Here’s how:

Set Pieces

Nashville SC finished 2021 with 35 goals conceded. 14 of them came off of set pieces. In the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, they conceded two goals, and both were off set pieces. They haven’t yet fixed this issue as they still continue to give up goals from dead ball situations. For a team that is defensively stout, disciplined and wants the ball more than their opponent, it’s a weird idiosyncrasy. The Rapids can win this game on set piece dominance alone, but it’s not something we’ve seen a lot of through the beginning of 2022. The caveat is Jack Price missed some time with an injury. This match will be the ideal opportunity to restart the engine of confidence and go find prior seasons’ set piece form.

Who has Hany?

Undeniably, Nashville’s most electric player is Hany Mukhtar. He was a legitimate MVP threat in 2021, and his 2022 has shown he still has all that magic. Nashville defend with all their might, they sit in and absorb pressure, and when the moment is right, they pounce like a jungle cat. The charges upfield are almost always led by Hany Mukhtar who either scores himself or finds the best option to score. It’s insanely impressive to watch. The Rapids will have their hands full denying him space in the middle of the pitch, but the newfound tandem of Jack Price and Bryan Acosta should be up for the challenge. They should be all over Mukhtar from the opening whistle, dictating where he can and can’t have the ball. If you see Mukhtar dropping deeper and deeper towards his own backline just to get some touches on the ball, the Rapids’ plan will be working.

Make it 24 games unbeaten

I refuse to look ahead and count any matches that aren’t up next. One 90 minute stanza at a time. One half at a time. One kick of the ball at a time. And this is the match that is on the docket. But the unprecedented club-record 23-match unbeaten streak deserves all the eyeballs of Colorado and MLS. It’s a rare feat already, no matter when or how it ends. A streak like this doesn’t happen often, is more than a couple lucky bounces and happens less often than hat-tricks. Drink it in, it’s special. And it’s still going. The Rapids will lay on the line their 23-game home unbeaten streak as they put all their chips in the middle as they go for 24.