Game Preview: Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Here we go again. With their first game at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park in 168 days, and their first competitive encounter in 31 days, the Colorado Rapids resume the 2020 MLS season on Saturday against Real Salt Lake (Altitude, 7PM). Richard Fleming looks ahead.

The Rapids are seeking to recover after a disappointing MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando, during which they went 0-2-1 and slipped out at the group stage. They opened in the Sunshine State with a 2-0 loss to Saturday’s visitors, RSL, with a rather flat performance. That display was all the more frustrating following a pair of fine performances to open the season, albeit some months earlier, at D.C. United and home to Orlando City SC.

What followed the RSL defeat - a 3-2 loss to Sporting Kansas City in a game overly influenced by the referee (the Rapids ended with nine men), before a 2-2 tie with Minnesota United - offered a glimpse of what we had become accustomed to with the Colorado Rapids.

RSL, meanwhile, flattered to deceive in their Orlando matchup with the Rapids. Concerns over their ability to score were voiced heading into the tournament - they had managed one goal in their season-opening two games - and were then blanked in their remaining two group games in Florida.

Three goals scored in five games is an indicator as to RSL’s troubles. By contrast, the Rapids have netted eight in five. At the other end, though, we see Salt Lake has given up just three, while Robin Fraser’s men have leaked nine.

In Phase 1 of the MLS return to play, in market, the Rapids have six games - three at home, and three away - and all are on Altitude TV.

And while this is not quite the extended break we had heading into the previous meeting with Real Salt Lake, and the Rapids have played scrimmages to try and stay sharp, they cannot afford the start they had in Orlando.

There is no Sam Nicholson these days. He departed by mutual consent at the start of July, and is now with Bristol Rovers of League One in England. Nicholson's ability to run at speed at defenders, drop a shoulder and dart either way, while delivering with either foot will undoubtedly leave a hole.

But the Rapids' cup runneth over with offensive talent, such as 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year, Andre Shinyashiki, as well as Nicolas Benezet, Nicolas Mezquida, Jonathan Lewis, and Designated Player, Younes Namli. Add to that double-digit scorers from last season, Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio, and you have weapons to hurt.

We’ve also yet to see too much of Braian Galván. The summer arrival only played the final few seconds of the draw against Minnesota during MLS Is Back, but he could also come into the reckoning in the coming weeks.

The Rapids gave up seven goals in their three games in Orlando. Irrespective of the surroundings and the situation, that will be a concern, particularly for a side so stingy in the second half of last season. Fraser has options along the back line, as is the case for the goalkeeping position. Bring back Clint Irwin, or stick with William Yarbrough, the man who replaced him following injury against RSL in their Orlando curtain-raiser?

Prior to MLS resuming for a second time, the Rapids sat seventh in the Western Conference standings (2-2-1), occupying a playoff place. RSL were two places and one point behind (1-1-3). Recent results certainly favor the team from Utah, with the boys in burgundy managing just one win in the last 10 (1-8-1), and being outscored 26-8 in the process.

But, the Rapids have yet to drop a point at DSGP under Fraser (4-0-0), and have not lost in Commerce City since their 10 men were undone 2-1 by New York City FC on July 20 last year. The Rapids are back home, back at it, and eager to get back to business.

Join myself and Marcelo Balboa from 6:30PM on Saturday for Rapids Kickoff, before full coverage from 7PM of the Rapids against RSL from DICK'S Sporting Goods Park in leg one of the Rocky Mountain Cup.