The last time the Colorado Rapids faced Orlando City SC in an MLS regular season match, the world was normal. It was March 7th, 2020. It was the last game either team would play before the sporting world was halted the following week. Drew Moor scored a game-winner in that match to mark his return to the club where he won MLS Cup in 2010.

The Lions are back at elevation Wednesday evening. We’re closer to being back to normal than at any other point since the last time these two teams duked it out on the pitch at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park. Normal for the last couple of years has been the Rapids making the playoffs. The heat of summer is on just over halfway through the season, and so is the heat that comes from the pressure of expectations. The Rapids, by virtue of making the playoffs in consecutive seasons, have put pressure on themselves to make it three years in a row.

The good news is the Rapids have always performed when their backs are up against the wall. They now sit seven points below the playoff line with a difficult stretch of games the rest of July and into August upcoming. It’s not going to be easy, but this team doesn’t need easy to make it. What they need are points, and they’ve got two home games in three days to get going. If they can close the gap with two wins by the end of the weekend, I guarantee everybody will feel really good about this club’s playoff chances.

Orlando City currently occupy a playoff spot. They’re in fifth in the East and just five points out of first. Oscar Pareja continues to be one of MLS’s better managers with minimal obvious weaknesses and a talent for bringing out the best in his squad. Perhaps their best player is Ercan Kara, the Austrian forward in his first season in MLS. Behind him they have a pair of Uruguayan midfielders, Mauricio Pereyra and Cesar Araujo, who work the middle of the pitch and a Concacaf-proven goalkeeper in Peruvian Pedro Gallese. They’re solid at every level, but perhaps their defending leaves a little to be desired. They’ve conceded 28 goals which is one more than the Chicago Fire who sit in last place.

So with three points up for grabs, a chance to right the ship with two home games in three days, here’s how the Rapids can beat Orlando City SC.

Next Man Up

The Rapids are in the midst of a period of change at the club. Defender Auston Trusty was officially moved to Arsenal last week, midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye was transferred to Toronto. Two mainstays in Robin Fraser’s XI every week are now gone. With Kaye gone, we saw midfielder Max fill the void against Real Salt Lake. I liked what I saw, and hope to continue watching him grow. It’s a massive opportunity for the young Brazilian to grab the job and make it his. On the backline, Fraser opted for a four-man backline over putting somebody in Trusty’s spot. I thought it worked pretty well, and I’m curious to see if Fraser chooses to stick with it or go back to five at the back.

Make Them Play

Orlando City are an interesting team. They’ve given up the second-fewest road goals in MLS this season, conceding just nine. Giving up just a goal per game on the road is a fantastic formula for getting results. And in nine road games, they’ve only scored nine goals, with the lowest xG on the road in the East: 7.1. So they don’t score much, they don’t concede much on the road. So what do they do? They muddy the game, defend well and wait for a chance to smash and grab some road results. The Rapids can’t let them dictate the match into that sort of flow. They have to draw Orlando out from behind their bunker. Orlando lead the league in fouls drawn with 328. Colorado needs to avoid fouling them as it will just slow down the game and potentially give Orlando dangerous attacking opportunities. And their opponents have seen the second-most yellow cards in 2022.

Keep it Clean

So far in MLS in 2022, the Rapids have kept six clean sheets. All of them have been at home. That means they’re keeping a clean sheet 67% of the time at elevation. It’s the best clean sheet percentage at home for any team, and it is by some margin. Next closest is RSL and Chicago who have kept clean sheets in 56% of their home matches. But the Rapids haven’t had a shutout since their last win, May 22nd against the Sounders. It’s no coincidence that the current funk the squad is in has come at the same time they’ve struggled to produce shutouts. Orlando has conceded more goals than they’ve scored, and don’t score much on the road. The Rapids have a great chance to put up an egg on the visitor side of the scoreboard and snag all three points. It could be the boost the squad needs heading into the second half of 2022.