In a early Friday night match, RSL will play host to the Colorado Rapids in a key matchup in the Western Conference. The Rapids sit in 2nd place with 43 points in 24 matches, while RSL is just behind them with 40 points in 26 matches. This match will also decide the winner of the 2016 version of the Rocky Mountain Cup, RSL won the first leg 1-0 at home, while the Rapids won by the same margin in the second leg in Colorado. RSL must deal with the fact that the Rapids simply don’t lose often, just 3 losses in 24 matches the fewest in MLS with most teams having at least double the number of losses. Playing into RSL’s favor in this match is the fact that the Rapids have just 2 road wins this year and all 3 of their losses have come on the road. The Rapids have a -4 goal differential on the road, while RSL enjoys a +8 at home and are undefeated with a 7-0-5 record at Rio Tinto.
With just 8 matches remaining in the RSL season, there is little time left to close the gap between the teams above them in the standings and try to avoid a playoff play in match. Four of the next 5 matches, including this one will be played at home for RSL so there is a great chance to extend their unbeaten streak at home and move up the table at the same time as both. In order to take advantage of their home matches RSL will need to find their scoring touch again, after an early season run of multiple goal matches, RSL has scored 2 or more goals just twice since mid June.
The Rapids come in just one win in their last 5 and have ended up with draws in their last two matches at LA and last weekend vs Orlando at home. The Rapids have scored just 27 goals this season and their scoring is very balanced with 9 players having multiple goals and none of them having more than 4. The arrival of Jermaine Jones this off season has helped change the mentality of the Rapids on the pitch to that of a team that battles and fights for everything and the mid-summer arrival of Tim Howard gives them a true leader in goal. They also picked up MLS journeyman Sebastian LeToux in the summer window to give them an added physical presence up top to help with scoring. We may not see Jones due to an injury, but this is till a very good team that plays huge defense and takes advantage of their scoring chances.
RSL managed just 10 shots against FC Dallas and I expect that to beat the Rapids we will need to manage more shots and to get more chances on goal. With a keeper like Howard and a very stingy defense it will not be looking for the pretty or perfect goal that is likely to lift RSL to a win on Friday night, it could well be a goal like the one in 2008 that got RSL a draw in Colorado and into the playoffs for the first time, a shot, a save, a rebound and a clinical finish late in the match to secure a result.
RSL could see a much needed boost to their bench with the return of Jordan Allen who could provide a spark off the bench to boost the offense later in the match. On the defensive side RSL will be without Tony Beltran who is serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation, and then without Aaron Maund who is still out with injury, so extra pressure will be put on the backline to come up big once again. RSL picked up just their second clean sheet since May last weekend against FC Dallas. The Rapids have given up just 20 goals this year, and 10 clean sheets but in the final 30 minutes of matches they have given up 12 goals the same as RSL, the difference is they have scored just 12 in the final 30 minutes while RSL has scored 19.
While RSL has been able to come from behind often this year, and often struggled to hold on when scoring first, the Rapids are the opposite, with a 11-0-4 record when scoring first and a 0-3-3 record when giving up the first goal. Can RSL get the first goal and hold on to the lead? That will likely be the key in a match that is very likely to end up a 1-0 match like the previous two meetings this year.
The early Friday night start time could be a struggle for many fans to get to the match on time, but it is a huge way for RSL to kick off their “Rivalry” weekend. I like a lot of fans don’t really consider the Rapids a top rival as the years have gone on, but the reality is that the proximity between the two markets will always lead to a bit of a rivalry. So now we get to see if RSL can pick up their first trophy of the season, and while the Rocky Mountain Cup isn’t much it is something. I am going with a 2-1 RSL win as the Rapids have looked a bit more vulnerable in the last couple of weeks.
That’s How I See It