Gary Smith, head coach of the Colorado Rapids, sat with a small group of his most experienced players at training on Thursday just as the reality of one of the biggest games for the team in recent years gets ever closer. He was no doubt pressing on the likes of Pablo Mastroeni, Mike Petke and Cory Gibbs the importance of such experience in such a vital game when so many of your fellow players around you are young and have not faced such pressure before. I am sure the veterans repaid him with assurances that they will be there for him and the rest of the team when the Rapids trot out to play Rocky Mountain rivals Real Salt Lake this Saturday. It’s a simple equation. Win, and the Rapids are in the playoffs against Chivas. Draw or lose and Salt Lake will take their place. “I think the scenario may affect their tactics more than us,” said Smith. “They won’t want to open it up too much.” The game will be a tight affair with probably few goals, he added. What will be vital is the resilience of the players, especially if the Rapids were to go a goal down, a scenario that Smith has looked straight in the face this week. “That is one scenario we need to break this weekend if necessary,” the coach said, referring to the team's awful record this season when they go behind. “The players have shown tremendous character since I came in. I think they underachieved in the early part of the season and they want to make up for that.”
Of those veteran players, Gibbs will still be out injured. Others, like Christian Gomez, also remain unfit. There are likely to be few changes in this weekend’s line-up though the home advantage may see one or two, Smith said, anxious at such a crucial time not to give too much away. There is much speculation about who will start upfront with Conor Casey after the game-changing substitution of Omar Cummings for Tom McManus against Chivas last week. Much may still depend on McManus’ state of health. The Scotsman has not trained for two days because of sickness.
Whoever plays, it will be a time for controlled passion, hopefully in front of a sellout crowd at DSG Park. I know the players will be up for it and there needs to be a sea of burgundy to greet them and intimidate those Utah guys. Due to very bad planning on my part, I will be following the game in England this weekend and so will be unable to file a match report. Please do send in your observations whatever the result. Come on boys!!!