The Colorado Rapids aren’t taking Saturday night’s matchup with the San Jose Earthquakes lightly, even with a potentially titanic early-season showdown with the Los Angeles Galazy looming on May 5.
“Any game in this league, whether you are home or away, there is a chance that any team can win,” said midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, the hero of the Rapids’ 2-1 road victory over the New England Revolution. “Working on that mindset, developing that, we will find ourselves in a better position at the end of the year.”
The Rapids are clearly developing a winning mentality, surging to a 3-1-1 record that has them perched at second in the Western Conference behind the unbeaten Galaxy.
And they’re healthy heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Quakes at Buck Shaw Stadium. Only Jamie Smith, who is still struggling with his hamstring injury, joins long-term absentees Ross Schunk and Ciaran O’Brien on the injury list for this weekend.
“They will be very bright and positive,” Smith said of San Jose. “The squad has lots of choices upfront. I fully expect it to be an energetic and passionate affair early on.”
It’s unlikely the 4-3-3 starting lineup will change much from the one that fueled the win over the Revs, but Smith said the Quakes matchup offers up different scenarios which his team would have to adapt to.
“They are a different team, 4-4-2,” he said. “They have a multitude of options up front. The pitch is tighter, the atmosphere is different. The place is small. You get 5000 people in there, it seems like a Cup final. Everyone is very close to the pitch.”
In a scenario potentially reminiscent of the club’s 1-0 loss to Kansas City on April 10, Buck Shaw’s uniquely small field could stifle the Rapids’ propensity to get the ball wide to eventually find Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, and place more emphasis on the midfield to be there to convert chances.
Smith knows that last weekend’s apparently unlikely scorers of Mastroeni and Mehdi Ballouchy isn’t a flash in the pan, but proof that the Rapids are playing a more pressing game which allows such players to get further up the field.
“Goals are coming from some nice areas on the field now,” Smith said.