Fire v Rapids match preview

What Are They All About? Colorado Rapids

Snatching a draw from the jaws of victory. This past weekend the Chicago Fire drew the New England Revolution 1-1 at Toyota Park. The match was fairly even statistically and fairly entertaining in terms of action. However, a Richard Sanchez blunder in the eighty-second minute resulted in a gift of a goal for Teal Bunbury after the Fire’s keeper appeared to call off his defenders on a hopeful longball before failing to come out and claim it. The play was a microcosm of the Fire’s approach both on and off the field this season as a much-needed victory disappeared in the wake of an avoidable mistake with the parties involved pointing fingers at one another. Chicago will have a chance to remedy the needless draw this coming Wednesday as they take on the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City (8:00 CT on ESPN+).

The Rapids enter the contest rooted to the bottom of the MLS standings and are well on their way in challenging for the worst points total record in league history. A side that featured in the CONCACAF Champions league this season has fallen short of the expectations set by the Kroenke Sports and Entertainment group for the franchise and its new head coach, Anthony Hudson. The manager arrived in the winter after leaving his New Zealand post in the wake of a playoff knockout in the World Cup Qualifiers and has largely been able to shape the Rapids side in his image. All signs are pointing to this being a match with undertones of frustration from both sides and no matter the outcome, onlookers are in for a less than entertaining match. Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.

Colorado Form Guide (All Competitions): L-L-L-L-L

Previous Result: A 2-0 loss away to Houston.

Formation: 5-4-1; Howard; Nicholson, Smith, Wilson, Wynne, Hairston; Mason, Price, Azira, Blomberg; Boli

Strengths: This is going to be the shortest strengths section of the season. There’s no way around it. This Rapids team is terrible.

A One Man Team: Perhaps the only bright spot on this team, dynamic forward Dominique Badji has notched five goals and an assist so far this season. He has an impressive sense of tactical awareness when making runs, has the speed to burn even the quickest of defenders, and his finishing skills have certainly improved over the last few seasons. A career high nine goals and six assists last season—a campaign in which he was utilized both as a winger and a second striker—looks like it will be matched or bettered, and at just twenty-five years of age, Badji could yet turn heads in a more functional MLS side. A hat trick against Philadelphia early in the season showcased the extent of his abilities, but he has also been lacking the service he thrives on in recent matches.

We Can’t Possibly Get Worse: When you’ve hit rock bottom it’s almost impossible to get any lower. That is the case for the Rapids. With Nikolic questionable for this encounter, the aging legs of Schweinsteiger, McCarty, and Gordon, and the ever-present advantage of the altitude, the Rapids might squeak by with a draw. 

Weaknesses: We’re not even sure where to start with this one. If you thought San Jose was bad a few weeks ago, Colorado makes the Earthquakes look like an All-Star team. Leaky at the back, unable to score, and a quickly disintegrating club morale just scratch the surface of this Rapids team. Let’s see where they might struggle on Wednesday.

Well, They’re Your Guys: When Hudson took the reins at Colorado, he did so with ample room to bring in the skeleton for a functional team. There were twelve roster slots available for him to work with and he filled all of them. A backline that was in the top quarter for goals conceded in 2017 was reinforced with three New Zealand internationals that featured heavily under Hudson during the World Cup Qualifiers (Kip Colvey, Tommy Smith, and Deklan Wynee), an attacking line that had the worst goal scoring record in the league was propped up with international experience (Yannick Boli, Niki Jackson, and Joe Mason), and the midfield saw the acquisition of versatile Wolverhampton Wanderers veteran Jack Price.

Since making those additions, the Rapids are still in the top quarter of the goals against category and only Seattle has scored less than they have. Adjustment to the league takes time and Hudson has not yet been able to make a Designated Player signing, but the project is not off to a good start.

Missing Big: Speaking of DPs, through no fault of his own, Hudson seems to be stuck with two duds. The Rapids currently have Tim Howard and Shkelzen Gashi on the roster as their Designated players, making $2 million and $1.5 million respectively. While those are not huge sums (we will leave talk of cheap owners to the Rapids supporters), no team in MLS can miss on a DP signing let alone on two.

Tim Howard looks anything but sure of himself at the back (making two visible mistakes against Houston at the weekend to add to a growing collection of blunders on the season) and Gashi has just one goal in seven appearances this season. For comparison Elliot Collier—the 49th overall draft pick—has the same tally from ten matches. The Albanian international had an abysmal 2017 season and is following it up in equally alarming fashion. Although injuries have played a part in his absences, the fact that he is not DP material is abundantly clear and as the Fire know all too well, failures off the field directly lead to failure on it.

Historically Bad: While the Fire are used to setting unwanted records, the Rapids are blazing their own trail of shame this season. The loss to Houston this past weekend signaled their ninth consecutive loss (including an ousting from the Open Cup by a USL side), a record for the club from the Mile-High City. If that weren’t bad enough, the Rapids currently find themselves on a trajectory that could see them finish with the worst MLS record in post-shootout league history. Additionally, should their points per game total remain steady for the remainder of the season, the franchise will finish in the bottom two of the West for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Such a finish would be a disastrous start to the franchise’s current rebuild project and would probably see the departure of Anthony Hudson after his maiden voyage in MLS.

Prediction: If Chicago does not win this match then they can forget about a playoff berth. We understand that mathematically this is not yet a possibility but failure to secure all three points against the worst team in the league would only continue the downward trajectory of this franchise. Chicago 2-0 Colorado. Gordon and Solignac for the visitors.

Filed under: 2018 regular season

Tags: Chicago Fire

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