What a difference a year makes. Like English champions Leicester City, the Colorado Rapids have soared from worst to first in the mere blink of an eye, and the Rapids currently sit proudly atop the MLS Western Conference on pure merit alone.
Colorado’s inbound transfers have arguably added a greater degree of balance across the park, enabling the squad as a whole to perform more efficiently and with a greater degree of composure. Notably, Mekeil Williams was the only defender amongst those new names arriving in the winter of 2016, and though shutouts are still not a frequent theme for Colorado, the Trinidad and Tobago international’s addition to the squad has coincided with the Rapids’ upturn in form.
The odds of a first MLS cup win for Colorado in six years are shortening by the week, and the arrival of Tim Howard from Everton will only accelerate this process if he makes a particularly stylish return to the States and manages to unseat incumbent ’keeper Zac MacMath. Howard was deposed as Everton’s number one ’keeper halfway through a poor 2015-16 for the blue half of Liverpool, having made a number of glaring errors in judgment, particularly from set pieces, enabling opposition teams to steal often undeserved points.
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His ability to command the box also declined under former Everton manager Roberto Martinez. This came as a result of the Spaniard’s insistence on sacrificing defensive pragmatism in favor of (oft-failed) precision passing, which only served to increase the pressure on Howard to satisfy a baying and disillusioned crowd.
However, Howard still boasts excellent reactions – particularly for multi-save situations – and brings twelve solid years of English Premier League experience across the Atlantic. Consequently, much of the focus will be on Howard in the coming weeks, particularly if he plays any part in what could prove to be three vital home games for the Rapids in July.
July 4, 2016
Colorado Rapids v Portland Timbers
Danger men: Fanendo Adi & Diego Valeri
Barring a defeat at LA Galaxy on June 22 and a win for FC Dallas in the same gameweek, the Rapids will continue to lead the overall standings going into the fifth month of the season. It is a far cry from the woeful form of 2015 that saw the Rapids finish rock bottom of their conference and 19th overall.
Though the current table suggests that it will not be a particularly taxing match for the Rapids, it is worth noting that the Timbers have enjoyed a recent unbeaten run and are certainly not goal-shy. Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi is set to cause problems, with nine goals from fifteen appearances for Portland this season.
Adi has also combined well with central attacking midfielder Diego Valeri, who himself boasts five goals this season – another stat which can only work against whoever occupies the Colorado net. The 4-2-3-1 adopted by Portland during this unbeaten run has been the standard formation in England for the past five years, meaning that there is a strong case for Howard’s immediate inclusion.
For all the faults found by Evertonians in his latter days at Goodison Park, Howard has much experience of reading the unique counter-attacking opportunities that the 4-2-3-1 formation presents when deployed correctly.
PREDICTION: A win for the Rapids with both teams to score.
July 16, 2016
Colorado Rapids v Sporting Kansas City
Danger men: Dom Dwyer & Benny Feilhaber
Last year’s Open Cup winners present a different type of challenge in the second of Colorado’s three home games in July. Unlike Portland, Kansas are currently sitting in the top half of the conference and look well placed to qualify for the knockout phase of the playoffs, even though they are still smarting from a desolate May which saw four defeats and just one win.
The barren run of games without a regulation time win was ended on June 19 with a 2-0 success at home to FC Dallas. Curiously, main frontman Dom Dwyer was absent from the scoresheet. On the whole, there has been a lack of firepower from Kansas City throughout the spring of 2016, with Peter Vermes’ side relying mainly on single goal victories and struggling badly when in losing positions.
The 4-3-3 formation which brought that victory over a strong FC Dallas side was a gamble which paid off, with the visitors on a natural defensive. Already vulnerable to the Rapids’ ability on the counter, Kansas City would use the same formation at their extreme peril. Indeed, should the Rapids draw first blood in this match, it is easy to envisage Portland becoming increasingly flustered and desperate in their ventures forward, making it easier for the Colorado ’keeper to read the game and react accordingly.
PREDICTION: Another home win for Colorado, but this time with a shutout.
July 23, 2016
Colorado Rapids v FC Dallas
Danger men: Michael Barrios & Maximiliano Urruti
To call it the defining match of the season is somewhat premature, but both sides enter July vying for the coveted top spot in the Western Conference. Whether this match itself will still be a battle of the top two remains to be seen, but both sides can play well on the counter when the situation arises, leading to an unpredictable and potentially volatile flow. It takes a special type of player to specialize in counter attacking, and one opposition player in particular should thrive in this environment.
At 5’4, Barrios’ stature enables him to turn the opposition quickly and break effectively, and this characteristic has contributed much to the team’s attacking phases since his arrival in 2015. He was also a key part of Dallas’ revival of late spring 2016, in which the Toros won three consecutive games and scored eight times in the second half of May, after a dismal run of three defeats in April and early May.
It is also worth noting that Barrios enters July with an average rate of one goal in every three games, making him (statistically) FC Dallas’ most potent attacker – even though he is a natural winger. Ultimately, Dallas are a hard side to predict, proving capable of constructing highly lucrative win streaks, but ones which are punctured by the occasional heavy defeat, with 5-0 and 4-0 humiliations (respectively) at Houston and NY Red Bulls being the lowlights of an otherwise decent season.
PREDICTION: With little to separate these sides a score draw is the surest bet.
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