Tactical Preview: Colorado Rapids

Defending Rapids FW's, exploiting MF space key for RSL v. COL

Real Salt Lake cruised to a relatively easy victory over a struggling Rapids squad the last time the teams met, beating a banged-up Colorado squad 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 21 to clinch the Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup. Things have only gotten worse for Colorado since that game, losing two more matches to extend their franchise-record losing streak to six MLS games.

RSL should expect a bit of a tougher test this weekend – the Rapids will field a better lineup than they did on July 21 and are always a tough out at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

Here are a few tactical things to look out for during Saturday’s match:

Cummings and Casey: Colorado’s biggest threats

Colorado forwards Omar Cummings and Conor Casey haven’t played together a lot this year, but they’ve done pretty well when they have, combining for three goals and one assist in the five league games they’ve started together.

Though neither scored a goal, the always dangerous pair looked good last week against Seattle. Casey was particularly strong, coming close to scoring on several occasions, registering four shots – including two on target – and notching one key pass in the Rapids’ 2-1 loss to Sounders FC.

As always, Casey will play the target striker role on Saturday with the speedy Cummings looking to run in behind him. RSL’s center backs Nat Borchers and Kwame Watson-Siriboe – who will likely start for Jamison Olave, who injured his hamstring in Wednesday’s CCL loss at C.S. Herediano – will have to do a good job of being physical with Casey while not allowing Cummings to get in behind.

Central midfielders: Lying deep

Colorado will likely start Jeff Larentowicz and Joseph Nane in the center of the midfield on Saturday. Both Larentowicz and Nane like to lie very deep, sitting in front of Colorado’s back four and letting wingers Brian Mullan and Martin Rivero handle most of the midfield’s attacking responsibilities.

Looking at their heat maps (click here and scroll over their names to take a peek) from the Rapids’ loss to Seattle proves this. Larentowicz barely made it to the edge of the area in that game while Nane stayed even closer to Colorado’s goal, spending most of his time in the Rapids’ own half.

All of this means that RSL playmaker Javier Morales won’t have a lot of room to operate. Morales, who suffered a game-high four fouls in the July 21 match, will be closed down quickly by Larentowicz and Nane, who won’t want the Argentina midfielder to break them down.

While it will make things harder for Morales, Larentowicz and Nane lying so deep will open up space for RSL’s other midfielders – particularly holding mid Kyle Beckerman, who should have plenty of time and space on the ball on Saturday. Look for him to take advantage of that and have a stellar game as a deep-seated playmaker on Saturday.  

Pressure, pressure, pressure

RSL did a fantastic job of pressing against Colorado on July 21, closing down the Rapids as soon as they got the ball. That high pressure defense led to both of RSL’s goals, with forward Fabian Espindola chasing down a poor back pass to set up strike partner Alvaro Saborio for the opener and Saborio nicking a ball in the final third to set up midfielder Will Johnson for the second goal.

Colorado struggled with high pressure again last week against Seattle, turning the ball over in the midfield to Seattle’s high pressure defense to lead to Sounders FC’s winning goal.

Expect RSL to press against Colorado again on Saturday. If the Rapids’ stay true to their recent form, the Claret-and-Cobalt should generate a good chance or two from that high intensity defense.