Match Preview: Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting Kansas City
The power of sport was on full display midweek when athletes from various North American leagues refused to play in protest at the shooting of black man, Jacob Blake, writes Richard Fleming.
Sport, in the main, fell silent but the message was loud and clear.
Among those choosing to stand as one on Wednesday, rather than compete against each other, were the players from the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas. The field in Frisco remained empty. Not a ball was kicked.
MLS resumes this weekend, as do the Rapids, with a home contest against Sporting Kansas City. Sporting KC played on Tuesday, prior to the sporting protests, and were well beaten by Houston Dynamo, 5-2.
This was only a second loss of the season for Kansas City. The other was a 2-1 reversal to Minnesota in their opening game in the Orlando bubble. Both Minnesota goals came in stoppage-time, and after SKC had seen goalkeeper Tim Melia sent off.
Aside from those two defeats, this veteran-laden squad has had much their own way and boast a 5-2-0 record, enough for top spot in the Western Conference.
Of the five wins, one was against the Rapids, in a highly controversial 3-2 victory at the MLS is Back Tournament. The Rapids were finally sunk by a late goal from Graham Zusi, while playing the final 17 minutes with nine men. Danny Wilson and then Jack Price were dismissed on a night where the referee stole the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
While Sporting will be eager to erase the memories of the Houston loss, the Rapids will be equally keen to end a run of four games without success. The most recent result was last Saturday and a 4-1 home humbling at the hands of Real Salt Lake.
Head coach Robin Fraser appeared set to make three changes from that game for the midweek trip to FC Dallas. Auston Trusty was staring at his first start for the Rapids and his first MLS start in more than a year, while Andre Shinyashiki and Cole Bassett were set to replace Jonathan Lewis and Nicolas Mezquida respectively.
It remains to be seen whether Fraser sticks with the 11 that never took to the field in Frisco, or shuffles the pack once again for the visit of Sporting KC, but one thing is sure, and that is the Rapids will need to be plugged in for 90 minutes.
Last weekend they looked settled for the first 45 minutes but were unable to replicate after the break as Real Salt Lake snatched the initiative. Consistency over 90 minutes will be a factor, as will being more clinical in the final third.
The build-up play against RSL was easy on the eye, but it produced just two shots on target. Indeed, midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who scored in the previous meeting, leads the team in both shots (14) and shots on goal (6).
Sporting KC have offensive threats in the form of record-signing Alan Pulido, the rejuvenated Khiry Shelton, wily Scotsman Johnny Russell, and 2020 newcomer Gadi Kinda. They have scored more goals (17) than any other side in MLS.
If the Rapids are seeking a weakness, then they can look no further than an ageing back line, which on Tuesday included 30-somethings Tim Melia, Graham Zusi, Winston Reid, and Matt Besler. Besler may make way for former University of Denver defender Graham Smith, of Highlands Ranch, but Houston made hay with pace out wide and that could be the Rapids’ best bet for success on Saturday.
Join myself, Marcelo Balboa, and Lauren Jbara on Saturday from 6.30pm on Altitude and AltitudeNOW, for the Colorado Rapids against their oldest rivals, Sporting Kansas City.