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Sounders at Colorado Rapids: Three Questions

After a decent 2020, Robin Fraser’s Rapids look like a good team in 2021.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at FC Cincinnati
Jack Price lurks in shadows, the best set-piece player on Colorado’s strong team.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Over in Commerce City, Colorado, Robin Fraser converted the Colorado Rapids from a frequent also-ran, into a solid MLS side strong in defense, good at dead-ball play, and with a single dynamic attacking player. Behind Diego Rubio the Rapids score just enough to be trouble for unsuspecting teams who think that Colorado is what they were in the Before Times.

It’s not often that a 5-3-1, +4 squad isn’t a home favorite, but that’s what 538 expects when Seattle Sounders visit the suburb of Denver. American Soccer Analysis also sees Seattle as a soft favorite (+0.07 xGD advantage based on Home/Away). The betting favorites are the Rapids, which is more typical of MLS teams when at home, and that likely makes sense considering the injuries to Seattle and their short roster.

Everyone is underestimating the Rapids. Don’t do that. Read Three Questions before you watch the match on Sunday, July 4 at 6 PM PT on JOEtv and Amazon Prime.

For Burgundy Wave, Colin answers Three Questions.

SaH: Rapids are a defense-first side. Is this a system thing or is there a standout player leading goal prevention?

BW: Honestly, it’s sort of both. The Rapids are most at home in a 4-4-2, with Sam Vines at left back, Keegan Rosenberry at right back, and usually Danny Wilson and one of Auston Trusty or Lalas Abubakar at centerback. We have experimented with a 5-3-2, which on paper should be a more defensive lineup but it really didn’t work well against SKC last week. We clearly look a little more uncomfortable in a 5-3-2 than our normal 4-4-2 when on the field.

When it comes to standout players, though, I wouldn’t say that any single player is leading goal prevention. To me, three players come to mind. I have been most surprised by Danny Wilson, who is almost having a comeback season even without any injury to come back from. He joined the squad in 2018 and over that time, didn’t have a lot of stand-out performances. Many expected him to be cut from the squad following the 2020 season, and his new contract got some mixed reactions. But to his credit, he has really stepped up and has been a quality starting centerback this year. I’d go so far as to say that he’s the best centerback we’ve got right now.

Not to the same degree, but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by Auston Trusty’s performance this year. He joined from Philadelphia Union before the 2020 season, and made a handful of appearances last year, usually as a substitute. This year, in place of Lalas who was injured at the start of the season, he came in as a starter and also looked very good. I was worried about him after 2020 where he hardly had any minutes at all, but he has earned a spot on the squad and is now comfortably in the rotation for starting.

Of course, when talking about the defense I can’t not mention our keeper, William Yarbrough. After a permanent transfer signed before the season, he’s been an absolute beast in front of the net. He looked pretty good last year, and has only improved since. He has had several big games for us and has helped put up four shutouts through nine games.

SaH: Other than Diego Rubio, the offense is a collection of MLS vets that got second chances and are now succeeding. Whose surge has surprised you the most?

BW: The Rapids have relied on a pretty distributed offense for a while now. It’s good because we don’t need to rely on any one player to put the ball into the net. That being said, for a new person on the squad, I’m amazed at how well Michael Barrios has fit in, and his production on the offense is unbelievable. He has slotted very well in with the team, and is usually seen blazing up the wing and putting pressure on the opposing defense faster than you can blink. He also knows when to pass and when to shoot, he’s had several great assists to Diego Rubio or Sam Vines and in turn has gotten assists from Rubio and Cole Bassett. With two goals and three assists through nine games, he’s on track to get the most goals + assists, though Rubio is likely to get the most flat-out goals.

Outside of him, though, there hasn’t been any real surge. We’ve gotten two goals from Keegan Rosenberry, and a goal apiece from Sam Vines, Danny Wilson, and Kellyn Acosta. Trusty was also directly responsible for an own goal, too. With nearly every player on our back line having gotten a goal this season, it goes to show how the entire team participates on the offense, and thus anyone can pose a threat.

SaH: What’s the secret to Colorado’s set-piece success?

BW: The not-so-secret is our captain, Jack Price. The midfield maestro has been an assist machine for the team, and is our go-to for set-pieces. In 2019, he had 11 assists with 10 coming from set pieces, the most in MLS since 2010. The Rapids are also lethal on setpieces in general, so it helps that he isn’t aiming for one player in particular — he simply delivers a well-placed ball into the six and several players all can go for it. He doesn’t get on the scoreboard himself often, but when you have the ability to place shots like he does he is sure to accrue the most assists. If you see him lining up to take a corner kick, that’s when you should be getting nervous.

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