NEXT MAN UP
This Rapids side has depth. Across the pitch, at just about every position. Versatile and athletic players who are comfortable playing in different positions and helping the team in different ways. So, when injuries or international duty pile up – as they so often do during a long 34-match season – the next man up is often called upon to step up in big moments. For the Rapids on Wednesday night against Minnesota, Auston Trusty, Braian Galván and Nico Mezquida were called into the starting lineup and called to step up in different ways and all three answered the call big time.
Let’s start with Trusty. The centerback shifted over in a back three/back four hybrid formation to play a left back role of sorts. He drifted into the attack to stretch the game at times, he tracked back to snuff out counter attacks and cover for Galván at times and had an incredible match overall. It was a role that six-foot-four central defenders don’t often get asked to play at the pro level but Auston looked like a natural and provides Head Coach Robin Fraser another option for a stop-gap solution to fill in for the absence of regular starter Sam Vines who’s away with the U.S. squad.
Next up is Galvan, the 20-year-old started his first match of 2021, and seemed energized by the occasion and his chance to put his stamp on the match with his considerable attacking talent. Rapids fans following closely will remember that Galván never got fully healthy during preseason and has been working his way back pretty much ever since. Head down, smile on his face, hoping for his next chance. That opportunity was presented against Minnesota on Wednesday and Galván was a threat - playing up front with his fellow South American compatriots Michael Barrios and Deigo Rubio. Galván capped his performance with an incredible curling effort just before halftime to open the scoring for the Rapids and open his 2021 account.
Finally, Mezquida stepped into midfield and never stopped running. Pressuring the likes of Emmanuel Reynoso and Jan Gregus for Minnesota into countless mistakes or rushed passes. Teams don’t finish top four in the conference without performances like Mezquida’s. Nothing flashy, nothing that will show up on stat sheets, but he left it out on the field and helped his side to a 2-0 win over a really good Minnesota side.
THE RAPIDS WERE THE AGGRESSOR
This Rapids team can score goals in bunches – 30 straight home matches worth of goals to be exact – we know this. When Robin Fraser’s side is firing, they can play pretty, spread teams out and have opponents chasing for 90 minutes. The knock on the Rapids early this year was that this team wasn’t physical enough, not hard to play against.
That has changed early in the 2021 season and changed in a big way. The Rapids did not back down from league-leading Seattle on Sunday night when things got chippy and they were the more aggressive, physical side on Wednesday against a team they’re all too familiar with.
The physical play was helped by the return of Lalas Abubakar to the lineup on Wednesday but Kellyn Acosta and Diego Rubio took hold of the match against Minneosta and outmuscled the Loons all match long. In order to succeed in MLS you have to be able to play pretty, you have to be able to play physical and sometimes both in the same match. The Rapids have proven they can do both and do both well in the last two matches.
EYES ON THE HORIZON
The Rapids have 10 days to rest and get healthy before two more home matches in quick succession against San Jose and Dallas. Those two matches – maybe more than fans realize – will be important when it’s time to look back on the 2021 season.
The Rapids are playing with confidence and will welcome two teams to Colorado who are below the playoff line and two teams whom they’ve had recent success against at home. On paper, these two games are contests the Rapids need to win if a top four finish in the West is the goal – which it very much seems to be. But there are no easy wins in MLS, no matter the location or the team, the parity of the league means that there are no nights off. We also know the Rapids will be without Younes Namli, Sam Vines, Jonathan Lewis and Kellyn Acosta. If he’s fit, Jack Price will return. The depth was tested in Wednesday's win and will continue to be put under the microscope as July rolls on but it appears the Rapids are up for the challenge.
The other reason the next two matches are important - the following two matches to end July will be tricky at best. An away trip to RSL and a first-ever visit to Austin are on the docket as the Rapids head into August. Those are both difficult tests for the best teams in MLS, but two wins on the bounce would provide an extra buzz in the Rapids’ locker room heading into the first Rocky Mountain Cup Showdown of 2021.