After the midweek win over Sporting Kansas City, striker Kevin Doyle remarked that high-flying Colorado Rapids may be about to get something they all too rarely obtain—league-wide respect.
When Pablo Mastroeni’s side first went to the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings, few MLS observers raised an eyelid. But, after Saturday’s game at Columbus, a third of the regular season will have passed and the Rapids will still be on top if they take a point. Such is the lead Mastroeni’s men can even lose and stay at the summit if Dallas fail to pick up three points later in the evening.
In fairness, given the paucity of the previous two seasons, even some of the Rapids faithful are surprised at the way their side have started the season. But certainly the foundations of their defensive solidity were put in place last term.
This season’s success has been based on a 100% home record. They have 18 points out of 18 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park but only five out of 15 on the road.
The next two games are away trips so Mastroeni’s side will be asked to step up. And, of course, now they must bear the weight of expectation that comes with leading the standings.
It has been a busy and inevitably bruising time for the team so Mastroeni must manage his resources well at Mapfre Stadium. The biggest selection issue will be whether Shkelzen Gashi returns from sickness.
This is the 40th regular season meeting between the two sides. To date, the Rapids are 18-12-9 with a record of 7-8-4 in Ohio.
The Eastern Conference champions are having a troubled season. They took six games to register their first win of the 2016 season and, although they followed it with another, they then lost at Seattle before letting a three-goal lead slip to draw 4-4 at home to Montreal last Saturday.
The fallout from that game saw Kei Kamara traded to New England Revolution mid-week. The move came about after last season’s top scorer was involved in an on-field spat with teammate Federico Higuain.
The striker will have commanded a sizeable figure in allocation but, given the transfer window closed on the night he was traded, it cannot be re-invested yet.
Therefore, on paper at least, Columbus are weaker than last weekend. And thus far, they are ninth in the East with nine points in nine games.
Of course, soccer does not follow such straightforward logic. Gregg Berhalter’s team were somewhat surprising MLS Cup finalists last season and, before this week, little had changed in personnel.
Kamara’s departure might mean a greater role for former Rapids striker Conor Casey, who has seen only five minutes of action so far.
While Columbus have struggled overall they are unbeaten in their last three games at Mapfre Stadium.
Referee: Chris Penso
Radio: Altitude950/ La Invasora 87.7FM
Team News (out unless stated)
Rapids: St Ledger (knee), Pappa (knee – questionable), Miller (groin – questionable), Gashi (sickness – questionable).
Columbus: Barson (knee), Tchani (calf – questionable).