The Rapids were victorious in their first two matches of the season against Columbus at home and on the road against Philadelphia, although they were outplayed for much of the latter match, before getting pasted in New York 4-1 last weekend. The lopsided loss to the Red Bulls is a bit deceiving since they were without the heart of their midfield in Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni for the match. Larentowicz will return from serving a one game red card suspension but Mastroeni is still out while attempting to recover from concussion symptoms.
The Rapids played a system with 2 holding central midfielders last season while employing a thunder and lighting combination up top in Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. New coach Oscar Pareja has attempted to adopt a 4-3-3 configuration this season but the loss of Casey due to injury and the waiting period for Argentine playmaker Martin Rivero has delayed any look at what Colorado may be able to accomplish at full strength.
The defensive end hasn't seen much in terms of changes however with former Fire 'keeper Matt Pickens between the sticks and Kosuke Kimura, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, and Luis Zapata starting every match and playing all 90 minutes in each affair this season.
It seems Pareja is anxious to insert Rivero into the line-up so we can assume the Fire will see his MLS debut on Sunday night in the central forward/attacking role with Omar Cummings and rookie Tony Cascio in the forward spots on either side of Rivero. With Larentowicz assuming his role in the deep lying position it also seems certain that Brian Mullan and either Ross LaBauex or Wells Thompson will join him on the outside.
In their first two matches with Mastroeni and Larentowicz both available, Pareja opted for a 4-2-3-1 with Cummings as the lone forward. Without both central players last weekend in New York, Pareja had to juggle and paid for it dearly on the defensive end. Thierry Henry and company exploited their midfield and caught the back line napping on several occasions. Pareja should learn from Philadelphia's troubles in the first half last weekend and stay away from attempting to play the high line that failed miserably against New York.
A 4-3-3 may play into the Fire's strength's in midfield if Rivero starts and is intent on getting forward while neglecting his defensive duties without Mastroeni on the pitch to help cover gaps. We haven't seen much of Rivero so it's still a bit of a mystery as to how he will mesh into the side during an actual MLS match. If he's upfield too often the Rapids will allow Sebastian Grazzini room to roam, which will likely result in some bad things happening from the Colorado standpoint.
Paola Tornaghi will start in goal for the Fire although Sean Johnson has returned from his stint with the US U-23 squad that failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. Frank Klopas has hinted that Johnson will be allowed to play himself back into top form while seeing reserve team action. The Fire Reserves will play Colorado on Monday morning in what is likely to be Johnson's return to club play. This is a wise move because it allows the young keeper to regain any possible lost confidence after the disastrous finish with the U-23s without compromising the success of the team. It also allows Klopas to conveniently sidestep any questions about a goalkeeper controversy while Tornaghi is playing at a high level.
The backline should be the same as usual if Dan Gargan is sufficiently recovered from a toe injury that kept him from full training during the week. If Gargan can't go, the option of moving Logan Pause to right back is a possibility if Klopas feels rookie Tony Walls isn't ready to step in quite yet. Cory Gibbs, Jalil Anibaba, and Gonzalo Segares are all ready to go. The newest acquisition, Arne Friedrich travelled to Colorado and should see some time in Monday's reserve match.
Sebastian Grazzini may find Colorado's defensive alignment to his liking if they go with three midfielders but he. An also expect a hard foul or two from Larentowicz. Marco Pappa will need to harness what he did well in the first half last weekend and keep from wandering to far inside clogging passing lanes. Patel Pardo's defensive duties will be increased if Rivero is what the Rapids brass is hoping he is. Rafael Robayo could also see his first start if Pause is pressed into a replacement for Gargan at right back.
Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro will continue to cause problems with pace but the Rapids center backs are both fairly mobile.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Steven Kinney (R posterior tibialis tendinitis); QUESTIONABLE: DF Dan Gargan (L toe sprain)
COLORADO RAPIDS -- OUT: MF Jamie Smith (R ACL tear); DF Anthony Wallace (L Achilles tear); MF Pablo Mastroeni (headaches); DOUBTFUL: FW Conor Casey (L Achilles tear)
The Fire have had some success in Colorado over the last several seasons and I think this one has draw written all over it. The Rapids are still experimenting a bit and not at full strength but it's always difficult to win on the road.
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