The Colorado Rapids face international opposition for the second time in six days at Dick's Sporting Goods Park tomorrow. OK, it is an MLS game against Toronto rather than the likes of the EPL's Everton but there is more than national pride at stake here. This is a very important game for the Rapids who really need to win here and against Kansas City next weekend to boost playoff chances. It may be very tight in the mild, mild West but it will get looser if we slip up in the next two games.
The line-up will be the same as started against Everton except Bouna Coundoul will be starting in goal. Tom McManus is fit again but, according to Fernando Clavijo, will only last about 35 minutes and so will be on the bench. Omar Cummings and Conor Casey will start up front. The perceptive among you will ask how Herculez Gomez fits into all of this. There is no doubt that Herc is as frustrated as hell not to be getting a regular starting place. True professional that he is, he continues to work hard and not complain. He did reveal to me that there was an opportunity for him to go on loan to a Mexican team earlier this season but the MLS obstructed that move. He clearly does not want to move. "I love it here," he said. "The locker room is the best one I have ever been in and I love this city. It's just that I feel I am in a bit of a no-man's land." Maybe he will get on this weekend and score. Herc is a popular player with both fans and his fellow players and everyone wishes him well.
Coach Clavijo said another unlucky player this weekend will be Nick LaBrocca. The New Jersey native has had an outstanding season and is the only Rapid to have started all MLS games so far. Tomorrow will see him relegated to the bench as Clavijo plays a more attacking formation with Pablo Mastroeni in midfield rather than in central defense and Mehdi Ballouchy combining with Christian Gomez to offer creativity going forward. "Nick is absolutely not out," Clavijo said. "He is just more conservative than Ballouchy and we have to attack at home tomorrow." LaBrocca provided a lot of energy when he came on against Everton and expect him to do the same at some point against Toronto.
Players such as Ugo Ihemelu as well as Clavijo admitted they showed far too much respect for Everton in the opening 20 minutes or so last weekend - the period, in effect, where they lost the game as Arteta was left unchallenged for too long before unleashing a great shot into the corner. No such respect should be shown tomorrow against a weakened Toronto team who will no doubt try and close the game down and score on the break. Columbus managed it but, if we make more runs into space than we did against the Crew, we will win. I don't want to read a press release on Monday that says the Rapids outshot their opponents but the scoreline reads 2-1 to Toronto.