Welcome back, y’all. After two excruciating, empty weekends without Colorado Rapids soccer, the Burgundy Boys will be back in action this weekend against the defending MLS Cup champs, New York City FC.
This will be the first trip to New York for Colorado. The second will be in early August to face the Red Bulls. But as for the here and now, there’s a lot to know about NYCFC. They’ve seen key members of their trophy-lifting squad unexpectedly depart and also unexpectedly stay (for now) in MLS.
Announced just this week, manager Ronny Deila is out. He’s left on his own to take a job in Belgium with Standard Liege. Just a hair over six months since winning NYCFC’s first trophy back in December, the Norwegian manager is returning to Europe. Before joining NYC, he managed three Norwegian sides and Celtic from Scotland. Now he’s off to Belgium while NYC sit atop the Eastern Conference and bid for back-to-back MLS Cups.
Equally as surprising as Deila’s departure is forward Taty Castellanos’s remaining in MLS. Despite reports of multiple bids for the striker, along with an expectation he’d be moved this past winter, he’s still in the city that never sleeps. And the 2021 Golden Boot winner is still scoring goals, leading the team with seven. Rumors abound he may move during the summer transfer window. Maybe? He was supposed to leave in the winter according to many so who knows what to expect. But what matters for Colorado is he’ll be their opponent on Sunday.
The international break is a good demarcation point for the league. Teams can take a deep breath and evaluate where they sit. What’s working? What isn’t? Where can we improve in a short amount of time before the playoffs begin? For Colorado, they’re mostly doing what they need to do which is win home games. Things will change in the summer when defender Auston Trusty departs for Arsenal. The backline will have to adjust. That will be something to monitor. Even before the summer transfer window opened, the Rapids front office made moves to shore up the attack by adding forward Gyasi Zardes. Time will tell what other moves occur, but there’s no doubt everything is under evaluation.
Back to the task at hand, the Rapids are restarting the regular season with 60 points available. Here’s how they can get three Sunday afternoon in New York City:
Take Advantage of the Absences
Ronny Deila is gone, possibly house-hunting in Liege, so Nick Cushing has been named interim manager of NYCFC. He said it was a privilege to lead this team, and he’s right. Most interim coaches aren’t handed the keys to clubs that just won MLS Cup, that have the league’s best goalscorer and young talent pushing for minutes. There’s no doubt Cushing is a smart guy who knows what has given NYC success in recent years, but he’ll also look to implement his own brushstrokes on the work. There may be some confusion as NYC are forced to switch from what has become their identity to whatever it is that the new guy in charge asks them to do. This is a good time for Colorado to be playing NYC. Another point worth considering but that we won’t know until much later is how the locker rooms feels about Deila leaving for Belgium. Sports locker rooms aren’t monoliths. Some players may be happy for him, some may feel like he quit on them when they were well-positioned to repeat as champions. Could be a lot of guys who feel both ways, and this could affect morale.
Play the Pitch
Yankee Stadium is where NYC play (most of) their home games. It’s a historic venue. Even when you’re there, and you know it’s a newer version of an iconic landmark, you feel the history all around you. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig are all some of baseball’s legends who played there. Almost all of its history is as a baseball field. It is, in its DNA, a baseball field. This leads to there being some quirky tendencies when it’s converted to soccer. It’s much narrower than your average soccer pitch. The home side, NYC, are well-suited for this. They know it, they know what to expect every game. They have a knowledge advantage over every team that visits just because of the experience. The Rapids can’t spend the first 20 minutes of the game adjusting to the field. Adjust in warmups and be ready to go. There’s not a lot of width, but there is still some width. Use that width, be accurate with long balls, shut down the midfield. These are all strategies Colorado can use. Defender Danny Wilson is one of the most accurate distributors in MLS; this could be a game where his precision passing is on display.
Get Back on Track
The Rapids lost their last game. 3-1 to Nashville SC. They haven’t been able to wash out the sour taste that result undoubtedly left in their mouths. They also sit below the playoff line by one point with 20 games still to play. This could be the game, at the start of summer, that is looked back on as the turning point for the 2022 iteration of the Rapids. A win at Yankee Stadium would be the first road win of the season, reinstall that road confidence of 2021 and hopefully put the Rapids above the playoff line by the end of the weekend. The points will be coming thick and fast now with no more extended breaks the rest of the way. We’re not yet in the territory where every game is a cup final or needs to be approached that way, but every point is invaluable.