Mehdi Ballouchy
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Rapids go on break, give their World Cup picks

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The Colorado Rapids head into their World Cup break a happy bunch. Even happier after Wednesday’s frantic 2-2 draw in Chicago where an injury time equalizer from Conor Casey ensured they would feel just that little bit better.

Not that the Rapids are exactly putting their feet up over the next couple of weeks or so. Head coach Gary Smith told that the players would be able to enjoy a few days off after the draw in Chicago but that training would resume as normal on Monday. The world’s biggest sporting event may be on but we all have work to do.

Thankfully, the time difference between Denver and South Africa means that players and coaching staff alike should be able to watch as many games as they wish given that training should straddle the second and third games each day. But don’t expect many of them to get up for those early morning games which kick off at 5.30am Mountain Time.

Japan’s Kosuke Kimura said he doubted he would be up that early even to watch his country. Luckily for him, Japan’s first game, against Cameroon on Monday, is at 8 a.m. Denver time.

The injured right back, who hopes to be back in consideration for the Rapids’ first game after the break in Houston on June 26, knows how crucial that game will be.

“We have to get points against Cameroon because then it is the Netherlands,” Kimura said.

Japan play the Dutch on June 19 at 5.30am MT. Kimura might have to get up to watch that one.

Most of the players said they would be watching the games either in the comfort of their homes or after training with their Rapids’ teammates. Casey, who is taking some time off in Las Vegas with teammate Pablo Mastroeni to watch the early games, including the big US England match tomorrow, said he would try to blend in quietly with the locals at various bars in his Denver neighborhood to watch the remaining games.

The big striker is tipping Argentina.

“I think they are due,” he said.

Neither Casey nor Mastroeni wanted to predict a result of the England US game. Mastroeni did say that soccer is always unpredictable and that the US of course has a chance against their more illustrious opponents.

It is hard not to think of a similar game in which Mastroeni himself played and where the US was such an underdog. In 2002, when the Rapids’ captain had just eight international caps, he was called in to start the game against Portugal. The US stormed to a 3-0 lead and eventually prevailed 3-2 over what was then one of the better teams in the world.

“It was David taking down Goliath [and] it really spurred belief in the group,” Mastroeni said of that game. “We exceeded peoples’ expectations in 2002, including our own.”

Casey’s strike partner Omar Cummings, who will be relieved to have ended his scoring drought with the team’s first goal on Wednesday, said he is tipping Brazil to win the whole thing.

Midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy thinks that nothing can stop Spain, though he does have a soft spot for Algeria. The Moroccan said the US must not underestimate their North African opponents. The US plays Algeria in its last group game June 23rd. Ballouchy said he won’t be visiting bars to watch games.

“I don’t like too much noise around me during games,” he said.

One thing’s for sure. The Rapids’ players will definitely enjoy this opening World Cup weekend. Unbeaten in their last four games, which have included three wins, the team is off to one of its best starts ever. They can now sit back, enjoy the greatest sporting spectacle in the world, drink a few beers. And then go back to work on Monday. Just like everyone else, really.