It has been a long time since that unfortunate road match in the historic collapse of 2013 when the Seattle Sounders got absolutely wrecked by the Rapids in Colorado. Now that I have reminded you of that horrific event, some good news, the Sounders are 6-0-0 against the Rapids since that fateful match. Now we all know that undefeated streaks can be broken, Chicago (cough cough), and that even if the side is worst in MLS without our hydra we are vulnerable BUT have no fear, we are going to break down the Rapids side together and by the time we are done, you will have hope emanating from you.
They have some confidence winning two in a row, probably because their robber baron head coach is no longer going with the old-timey mustache. They somehow beat Vancouver 2-1 and then decided to show up for only the last 20 minutes against RSL, putting in three past a Rimando/Beckerman-less Utah side. They have confidence but that RSL side looked more like the Real Monarchs, am I right?
The Rapids are sitting "criss-cross applesauce" at the bottom of the Western Conference. Yes this analogy is pretty accurate since they kind of just sit there and do whatever the rest of the league says since...well they are Colorado and even their SBNation site, Burgundy Wave understand this.
Charles Eloundou did not make the MLS team of the week because nobody in the MLS office has actually watched a #Rapids96 game since 2010.— Burgundy Wave (@Burgundywave) July 13, 2015
I know this word strikes fear in you after the ending to last week's match but we learned from our mistakes, don't worry. Colorado, as you'll see later on, is strong defensively. They tend to bunker in and then explode when they force a turnover. It is traditional counter-attacking football and for most of the year failed miserably. They've changed up the formation to a 4-3-3, which still plays a lot like the 4-2-3-1 in defense but allows more offensive players to suit up. While they slide back in defense, they're typically about five yards higher up the field than they were in the 4-2-3-1. This allows them to react faster than before and gets a few more players into the attack.
The counter only has two goals, technically, but most counter-attacking goals are still considered "open play". Overall it works well for them. It is something the Sounders will definitely have to watch out for and likely means that we will not see a CB try to join the attack in the run of play. Only one full back will go forward, there will not be reckless abandonment in the attack to try and get a goal and get the side back on track. Free kicks are where the risk will be largest, as we saw with CHI, and likely means the Sounders very thoroughly practiced set pieces and how to get back on them. On a related note, COL is very bad at defending free kicks so that's a plus.
The Sounders have won the two matches this year against the Rapids by a combined score of 4-1. Interestingly enough, the Rapids have only given up 19 goals (in 19 matches) this year, so an average of one per game. We average two per game against them, so we kick ass.
Colorado is very good defensively though this is not attributable to any certain player. Clint Irwin, James Riley, Axel Sjoberg, Bobby Burling (suspended), Drew Moor, Michael Harrington, and Jared Watts, a list of who's who in the MLS all-star game, right? Only Kansas City (17 GA in 17 matches) and DC United (18 GA in 21 matches) have a better goals against record. The Sounders are one of the few with more shutouts than the Rapids. While the defense is full of extremely successful no-names, they have a handful of dominant defensive midfielders. Yellow card extraordinaire Marcelo Sarvas, Lucas Pittinari, and Sam Cronin put together dominate performances to control the midfield and protect the sometimes shaky backline. Irwin is master at getting them in the right places, this year. The defense has been rocked a few times, with Clintfemi as the masters behind that. It'll take everyone to beat this defense without the full hydra and this could be a boring nil-nil draw, or a barn burner. Depends all on who shows up.
Teams that lack a dominant ability to break through, whether through superior crossing with great headers, speed, top notch set pieces, or a level of possession football that rivals tiki taka, will have a hard time getting through this midfield. With the 4-3-3 there will be more holes, a lot more, but still will be a tough battle.
This is getting to be a theme being able to pair all these together but never has it been more true than for this one. While teams typically shoot a LOT of long shots, it is still less than 50% and the majority of their shots are from within the 18 but not inside the six yard box. The Rapids though are a different story.
The Rapids typically do this coming down on the counter. They have the space and the numbers and they are very poor at finishing, so what do you do? Take long shots. If the defenders are backing off and potentially running facing their goal and not watching the player with the ball as well as they should be, it allows them to just tee up and shoot from 30 yards out. This is not to say they are particularly good at it, with only two of their 17 goals coming from these shots. They can get rebounds but again it comes down to how many players joined the counter, typically there are enough joining the attack to confuse and burden a defense but after the shot is taken rarely does more than one player make the run for a rebound.
Players to Watch-
1. Charles Eloundou- He has not started in either of the two wins since going to a 4-3-3 but he subbed on and had two assists in the late three-goal bonanza against RSL. I expect him to start this time around. He's a finicky kind of player and has only appeared in six matches, all off the bench. He only has two assists, both last week, and a poor passing %, just over 50%. He isn't a great ball winner in the air and only gets a shot off in his average 16 minutes of work, but after his substitute performance last week I expect him to get his first start this weekend and looking to build on that success.
2. Marcelo Sarvas- No longer the same player he was in LA, without Junihno next to him he is less successful at tackling and intercepting. He still is a master of the yellow card, while he only has one yellow and one red this year, he's only played in 12 matches. He still commits a lot of tactical fouls and is a danger to the ankles of other midfielders. He is great at sending the long ball to start a counter attack as well. We all know he can control a match whether through physicality or passing, he'll make an impact but what that will be is the question.
3. Juan Ramirez- There was not another player to easily pick out here. Colorado puts in a true team effort in that no one is dominant when it comes to goals, assists, or play-making responsibilities. Ramirez is likely the best playmaker on the roster and the most likely to try to take over the match if needed. He knows how to sustain a counter, how to get a distance shot off, and he's an above-average crosser. He is a threat in the attack but without a streak from him this year, he is unlike to take over a match like Obafemi but more like a Pappa-lite.
How to Exploit Them-
We know the lineup is going to crazy with the news that Andy Craven is likely out and Marco Pappa is back. I think the 4-4-2 is what we return to in what looks fairly traditional for us. Pappa and Thomas running the wings and Alonso and co. operating in the middle. Lamar Neagle and Chad Barrett are not going to beat the backline of Colorado by themselves. Neagle has the speed and Barrett the body and with Pappa's service, they should be able to beat the backline as the hydra-lite. Where the big risk is that none of those players are necessarily elite defenders or box-to-box style wingers, like when Andy Rose plays out wide. This side will be susceptible to the counter and it will be up to the backline to be ready to go in a full sprint to get back and maybe, just maybe, commit a tactical foul. This team can do it offensively but is it ready defensively.
Colorado switched to a 4-3-3 about the time Pablo Mastroeni shaved his trademark mustache. I can not confirm which is the cause of wins and I don't think the Rapids care, they are sticking to both. They slide back out in the same formation and a similar side as last week. Bobby Burling is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Luis Solignac, typical starting forward, is out. Axel Sjoberg and Dillon Serna are both nursing injuries, Sjoberg should be available but Serna is likely not First XI ready. Gabriel Torres is still off with the Panamanian National Team at the Gold Cup.
I deviated from the Rapids answer in the 3 Questions with former Sounder James Riley starting at RB instead of Drew Moor and Lucas Pittinari over Sam Cronin. I think it is a tossup with Pittinari and Cronin but that Pittinari provides more defensive cover, which they typically go to when they are on the road. Riley over Moor because Riley is a better offensive addition and less likely to pick up a card early on. He'll want to show up and play well in front of his old fanbase and for that I think Mastroeni lets him.