Philadelphia Union began the season without a win in their opening eight games, but have most certainly turned a corner in the past three and will pose another challenge to the Rapids when the teams meet at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday night.
As has been shown, a side containing the likes of Alejandro Bedoya, Oguchi Onyewu, and C.J. Sapong ought not to have started 0-4-4. Jim Curtin’s crew had four points from eight games, and eight goals.
The spark required may have come at StubHub Center in game eight, when the Union fought to a 0-0 draw against LA Galaxy. Since then they have kept a further three shutouts, while scoring more goals in those three outings (nine) than the previous eight encounters combined. They are unbeaten in five.
Already this season, Sapong has matched his 2016 haul of seven goals and two assists, which he achieved from 31 games (29 starts). His 2017 return has come from 11 games (eight starts), and includes all three goals in the home win over New York Red Bulls two weeks ago.
Nine-year MLS midfielder Chris Pontius, meanwhile, has never managed more than six assists in a single season, achieved in 2016. His two assists against Houston in midweek took him to that career-high total, from just 11 games. Four of his assists have come in the last three games.
While the Union were defeating Houston Dynamo 2-0 on Wednesday, the Rapids were feeling the heat in a 3-0 reversal at Chicago Fire. Pablo Mastroeni’s men have had little time in which to lick their wounds, but they will need to step it up against Philadelphia.
Mastroeni suggested his team was out-matched both mentally and physically in Chicago, while giving up goals “which we didn’t defend very well.”
Turning his attention to Saturday’s game, Mastroeni said: “We’re not worried about Philly, we’re worried about ourselves.
“You can’t win three-zero at the weekend, playing the way we did, and then come here (Chicago) and lay an egg, and so from that perspective we’ve got to get that part right and I promise you that we’ll put a performance together at the weekend that’s worthy of three points.”
And those points would be the Rapids’ first on the road in 2017. The team is 0-5-0 away from Dick's Sporting Goods Park, and with just one goal in that time.
Having gone with the same starting lineup in successive games for the first time this season, expect changes for the game on Saturday. Kevin Doyle and Axel Sjöberg could come into the reckoning, as fresh legs and fresh impetus are required.
Rapids: Nana Boateng (out - back).
Union: Roland Alberg (questionable - left quad), Brian Carroll (out - lumbar disc herniation), Maurice Edu (out - left ankle/left tibia), Joshua Yaro (out - shoulder).
HOW TO FOLLOW
Radio: Altitude Sports Radio AM 950 (English); La Invasora 87.7FM (Spanish)
Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero
Assistant 1: Craig Lowry
Assistant 2: Anthony Vasoli
Fourth Official: Sorin Stoica
WHAT TO KNOW
The Rapids are 3-1-5 all-time against the Union, but they are unbeaten in Philadelphia (2-0-3).
Philadelphia’s only win against the Rapids came in the 2013 home opener at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The last three games involving these two sides have all ended in ties, including a 1-1 draw in Commerce City last May, in which the Rapids scored in the 87th minute, only for the Union to level in the second minute of stoppage time.
Saturday’s hosts are unbeaten in five matches, earning 11 out of a possible 15 points in that spell.
Former Philadelphia goalkeeper Zac MacMath - now with the Rapids - is the Union's shutout leader (28) and holder of the Union's longest clean-sheet streak at 408 minutes.
Andre Blake, who made his 50th appearance for the Union on Wednesday, has gone 363 minutes since conceding his last goal, to Anthony Jackson-Hamel of Montreal Impact, after the Canadian team came from 3-0 down to tie 3-3.