All signs are positive for the Colorado Rapids right now.
The club leads the Supporters’ Shield standings, have just completed the best 10-game start in its history and faces a struggling Sporting Kansas City side at their fortress, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, on Wednesday night (kickoff at 7 p.m. MT).
Pablo Mastroeni’s men have matched their five home wins from the last campaign. So far this season they have beaten the LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake—all of whom were playoff teams last season or have been early contenders this term.
The Rapids have also bested Sporting KC on their last three occasions. Shkëlzen Gashi’s late-game winner at Children’s Mercy Park on April 13 was a huge fillip after a decent, but not stellar, start.
Much of the turnaround has been attributed to Jermaine Jones, who missed the first six games of the season due to suspension. The Rapids are 3-0-1 with the midfielder and 3-2-1 without.
However, there have been heroes all over the pitch this season. Micheal Azira and Sam Cronin have become a wall in front of the defense. Bobby Burling and Axel Sjoberg may not be the most silky-skilled center backs to grace MLS but you just try to get past them. Eric Miller and Mekeil Williams have filled in admirably in different positions. Marc Burch, Luis Solignac and Zac MacMath have stepped up at crucial times. Meanwhile, the quality of Kevin Doyle, Gashi and Marco Pappa is well known.
This game represents an important moment for the Rapids. After this they face back-to-back road games at Columbus and Seattle before Jones, Gashi and possibly Kevin Doyle are expected to leave on international duty.
Momentum is crucial for any sports team and the Rapids have a huge amount in front of them right now.
But it can dissipate quickly and Mastroeni will know that even a wounded Sporting KC side can be dangerous.
By their high standards, Sporting KC are on a wretched run. Peter Vermes’s side won its first three games of the season but have only picked up five points since March 20. In the club's last six games it has collected two points and scored just four goals.
The defense is not the issue—they are currently ranked fourth in MLS in that department and their possession statistics have been outstanding in the last six games. The issue is both creating and converting chances in front of goal.
Both the Rapids and Sporting KC have 140 shots on goal so far this season but the former are converting 41.4% of those while the latter is finding the net with just 28.6%.
Sporting KC are 29-25-16 against the Rapids overall and Vermes had put together and unbeaten 11-game run against Wednesday’s opponents before last season’s defeat at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in August.
That entertaining, dramatic victory was the exception to the Rapids’s home campaign last season. Now it is the norm.
Long may that continue.
*Note: Players are out unless stated.
Rapids: St Ledger (knee), Pappa (knee – questionable), Miller (groin – questionable)
Sporting KC: Ellis (knee), Mustivar (hamstring – probable)
Location: Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City, Colo.)
Time: Wednesday, May 11 @ 7 p.m. MT
Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero