It's another battle of the titans. With eleven games left in the Fire's season every match is a must win. Martin Tomszak takes a look at the Colorado Rapids, a team sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference.
What Are They All About? Colorado Rapids Preview
Two goals from Kennedy Igboananike, fighting spirit, a well-earned point, and hey, the club is worth $160m. Not a bad week for the Chicago Fire. They look to make the week even better when they take on the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park on Saturday. A match against another bottom dwelling side that has lost its last three matches is quite the opportunity for Chicago and they will need all three points if the dream of playoffs is to survive (at least mathematically). There could be joy on the horizon yet! Or perhaps just a dark night…
Colorado Form Guide (Last Five League Matches): L-L-L-W-W
Previous match: A 1-0 loss away to San Jose. .
Formation: 4-3-3: Irwin; Figueroa, St. Ledger, Burling, Moor; Powers, Watts, Cronin; Ramirez, Doyle, Sanchez
Strengths: While it may seem counter intuitive to be writing a strengths section for a team that is rooted to the bottom of the Western Conference standings we feel it necessary to give everyone a fair shake. Unsurprisingly, like with any MLS team, there is potential in this Rapids squad.
New Talent with Everything to Prove: Yes, the Rapids are in pretty bad shape. However, with the additions of Sean St. Ledger and Maynor Figueroa in the summer window they will be looking to shore up an already tough backline. Figueroa boasts 113 caps for Honduras and almost 250 matches played in the EPL and Championship with Wigan and Hull City. A strong challenge or two on Accam or Nyarko, depending on his positioning, could set the tone of the match in Colorado’s favor. Similarly, prior to St. Ledger violating Orlando team policy by missing training to party in NYC he made an impressive fifteen appearances, including fourteen starts. He was cut from OCSC’s roster and quickly scooped up by Colorado. He’s fitting into the league pretty well and hopefully for Colorado the incident has straightened out his head and he’s ready to go. There might not be many matches left for Colorado to remedy their situation, but having veteran squad members arrive in the final stretch can only help.
Tough Road Mentality: A record of five draws, two wins and only four losses in away matches means that the Rapids are one of the tougher teams to break down on the road. In fact, they have the joint fewest road losses in the league (alongside KC and NYRB). Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni and veteran defender James Riley both alluded to the Rapid’s ability to play well on the road in their weekly video segment. They highlighted the defensive cohesiveness that sets in when they play on hostile turf and taking into account that they have the league record for least goals conceded, 25, the stats back this up as well. Chicago can expect the Rapids to bunker in and “play on the counter” while looking for set piece opportunities. Having earned at least a point in seven of their eleven away matches, look for Colorado to do the same in the Windy City.
Weaknesses: This match will most likely be a question of “Who is less bad?” and the Rapids should be worried that their form of three consecutive losses might become four when they play Chicago. The weaknesses section could be novel length if we allowed it to so let’s just stick to the basics.
The Object of Soccer is to Score: While this may seem like a basic principle, it is quite possible that no one has explained that to Mastroeni and his team. While Colorado often out possess and out pass their opponents, the case in four of their last five matches, they have a league low goal total of twenty. To put some perspective on that stat, the current Golden Boot leader Kei Kamara has eighteen goals. What should be even more concerning for Colorado is that their team leading goal scorer, Gabriel Torres, hasn’t featured much in their last three matches. He’s notched four goals and tallied two assists and yet Mastroeni has only trotted him out for 30 minutes of the past 270 available. Perhaps it’s fatigue from a Gold Cup run that saw him go all the way to the third place match, but it seems like tactical aloofness not to play the guy.
The lack of goal scoring is worsened by the fact that statistically there is a lack of quality and perhaps a lack of trying. In their last four matches Colorado have only managed eleven shots on target. It is no surprise they have lost three on the trot and after Sean Johnson’s display last week the Rapids may come into this match with a bit less hope.
Pointless Possession and a Lack of Identity: It was mentioned earlier that the Rapids often out possess their opponents, which tactically speaking is a bit strange given that Colorado’s technical staff has often painted the Rapids as a counterattacking team. This contradiction is only furthered by the fact that a majority of the passes completed by Colorado occur in neutral zones on the field and very few “Key Passes” are made in the final third.
Using a 4-3-3 has been the norm for the Rapids this season but the three in midfield often look like a holding “three”. So a typical Colorado play out of the back is usually held up in the midfield by Watts and Cronin. Sure, they may spray passes out wide but they often come right back into the middle, so this notion of a counterattacking team seems like as much of a pipe dream as Colorado’s playoff chances. The goals Colorado has scored recently have come from set plays or slow patient build up, so if they attempt to implement a “counter attacking” plan they could get beaten by the Fire at their own game.
Bad Form AND Missing Players: We’ve picked Colorado apart enough in this preview so in closing we’ll just mention that they will not be at full strength when they face Chicago. Lucas Pittinari and Luis Solignac are questionable due to hamstring injuries, while James Riley might feature but is still overcoming a concussion. To make matters worse Sam Cronin, a staple in the midfield, will be out due to yellow card accumulation.
Prediction: This match has draw written all over it. Colorado has shown that they will fight on the road while Chicago’s home from has been inconsistent to say the least. With both sides struggling to keep their playoff fantasies alive they will ultimately cancel each other out. Not what either side wants but Chicago 0-0 Colorado. Dark times ahead.