Both the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City played this past Saturday. The Rapids dispatched LAFC with a 2-0 win at home, SKC fell 7-2 in Portland to the Timbers, and each side is entering Children's Mercy Park on Wednesday night from very different angles.
Any time a perennial playoff team like Sporting falls off the edge, there are a litany of “to be fair” responses explaining why they’re struggling when criticism is levied their way. Look no further than Seattle’s sluggish start to the MLS campaign which, when pointed out, is met with, “to be fair, they did just win CCL.” And they did. But points in April and May are worth just as much as points in September when the playoff races will be coming down to the wire.
SKC’s “to be fair” is they’ve lost two of their three Designated Players to season-ending injuries. Forward Alan Pulido was sidelined before the season even began and Gadi Kinda more recently was ruled out. They’re both players who can change games by themselves. Losing one would have been a steep hill for Sporting to climb. Losing both created a Mt Everest for them. The team is built around their playmaking abilities and now they’re gone.
But that’s unfortunately how it goes sometimes in professional sports. Players get hurt and teams are forced to adjust. Maybe Sporting is a few tweaks away from finding those adjustments. The roster still has talent, they still have an all-time great as their manager and there will be a summer transfer window for them to bolster what they do have.
But the Rapids are coming to town and looking for all three points. Here’s how they can get them.
Jack is back
Three weeks to the day after twice pulling at his hamstring against Charlotte FC, midfielder Jack Price returned to the team sheet and came on as a second half substitute against LAFC. Without Price, the Rapids went 1-2-0. He returns as the spiritual leader of the locker room, one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS and the best set piece taker in the league. He gives the team more flexibility in the midfield, another distribution layer with his long, angled passes into corners and pinpoint accuracy on corner and free kicks.
For years in MLS, it was conventional wisdom that Peter Vermes were going to suffocate you, turn you over and anticipate your panic. In the last couple of years, the tempo has fallen a little. Some of their players are older and don’t have the legs for it, but the league has also changed away from that type of play bearing fruit repeatedly. Now, they’re composed, possess the ball and slice you apart in the buildup. But this year, the pressure isn’t there, and the meaningful possession is absent. The Rapids are similar to the Timbers in the sense that they are lethal on counters and running over teams in the blink of an eye. There will be chances to do that against SKC. All of their issues that existed against Portland can’t be fixed in three days; they’re still there and they’re going to haunt if the Rapids put their foot on the gas and go for it.
Absorb their best shot
After a second half like the one SKC just had in Portland, I wouldn’t be shocked to see some squad rotation, a sense of urgency and untenable intensity from the opening whistle. I call it untenable because you can’t play with your hair on fire for 90 minutes. You can’t be desperate for 90 minutes. If they don’t score after 20-30 minutes, the intensity may wane and fade. But you have to expect that they’re going to come out of the chute with bucking like a bronco. To prove to their fans, the league and themselves that the Portland match isn’t who they are. But the underlying issues that the Timbers exposed will still be there. They’ll still be vulnerable on the backend if the Rapids can be stout in the first phase.