In the Altitude Sports Radio postgame interview following the Rapids 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers, I asked forward Gyasi Zardes about starting the game fast and putting pressure on the Timbers from the opening whistle.
“We had a chip on our shoulders because of what happened last year against this Portland Timbers team,” he said. He said “we” when he didn’t need to. He had been a member of the Rapids for eight days and a couple hours when he spoke about the past. He took events from November 2021 and imbibed them in April 2022, because he’s bought in. He’s committed. He’s an ideal Rapids player as manager Robin Fraser said in his postgame press conference.
The postgame after the match Saturday was all smiles and praise. The unbeaten streak was extended to 21 games, it was the fourth home shutout in five contests and it washed out the sour taste after the match against Charlotte FC. It felt like quintessential Rapids soccer. They had more of the ball than Portland (despite playing nearly half an hour with 10 men), they took more shots, attempted more passes, won more duels.
All of that success culminated with the Rapids boxing in the Timbers and making them submit. If you watched the game, you noticed that even when the Timbers were up a man, they couldn’t make anything stick offensively. The Rapids outplayed them, the elevation took its toll and the Timbers quit.
All of this is great news because the schedule is about to get busy. Starting Saturday, the Burgundy Boys have a stretch of six games in 21 days before a light June with just two matches.
First up is a date in the Bay Area with the San Jose Earthquakes. The ‘Quakes have had a bit of a nightmarish beginning to their season. Through nine matches, they have one win and six points. Only the Vancouver Whitecaps have fewer points in all of MLS with their four. Because this is pro sports, there are consequences to slow starts; on April 18th, the club announced they had parted ways with manager Matias Almeyda.
Six points, no manager, the most goals conceded in the league. Not great. The good news is they have scored 15 goals which is more than everybody in the West except Austin FC and LAFC. It’s still early enough that if they get their act together defensively, they have a puncher’s chance of digging themselves out of this hole.
They do still have talent. Jeremy Ebobisse is scoring goals left and right, Cade Cowell is still a promising prospect and Cristian Espinoza just had a hat-trick against Seattle. Their poor form is not indicative of their quality, and anybody taking them lightly does at their own risk. So here’s how the Rapids can start May with a positive result.
Fill in the Gaps
Forward Diego Rubio will miss the game after accumulating two yellow cards against the Timbers. He’s been the most productive Rapids attacking player with goals and assists. He could be having a career year. Against Portland, he dropped a little deeper than his natural forward position, and still made plays in the attack. Without him, the Rapids attack will look different and somebody will have to step up in his absence. It could be Zardes, Jonathan Lewis, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Michael Barrios, Max.
Fine-tune the Formation
If Danny Wilson is once again out, the Rapids may continue with the 4-3-3 formation they displayed against Portland. It was the first time Fraser had deployed the line since 2021. It worked out pretty well considering the clean sheet and final score. Defender Lalas Abubakar was subbed out midway through the match. If he can’t go, or is limited, that will also affect what the Rapids do and the approach to the game. Defender Keegan Rosenberry can play center-back in a pinch, which could give some minutes to defenders Steven Beitashour and Lucas Esteves simultaneously, or even for defender Seb Anderson. Who’s available is perhaps the most intriguing storyline going into Saturday’s match.
Keep It Rolling
As I mentioned at the beginning of this, the Rapids are getting commitment and buy-in from a guy who’s been on the team for a week. The locker room culture is one of the strongest in the league. As an aside: credit to Zardes for coming into a new locker room and assimilating instead of taking it over. The 2-0 victory over the Timbers, which appears to have exorcised some demons, could be a springboard to a hot streak. Maybe it did rid this team of the proverbial monkey off their backs, maybe it is a springboard to the next level of confidence and team-building necessary to compete for trophies. Only one way to find out. Off to San Jose!