Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Focus Shifts to Midfield as Rapids Travel to LA

Last week, I wrote a piece on Gary Smith discussing the need for the Colorado Rapids to have deeper options upfront (March 25 blogpost). The head coach has addressed that situation, at least for now, by signing Gregory Richardson and Ross Schunk as backups to Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. The focus now may be on other areas of the park. Smith has said the defense continues to be a work in progress and he was slightly alarmed at the vulnerability of the flat back four in last weekend's game. He is also concerned about the lack of creativity in the midfield, especially in the first half, a situation not resolved until Terry Cooke entered the game in the 65th minute and turned it on its head.
Much of the creative focus is on Mehdi Ballouchy and Smith believes the 25-year-old Moroccan has all the necessary qualities to play that role. He is just lacking consistency for now. “Mehdi is a very talented player with a great attitude and who is a really good team player,” Smith said after training today. “I’ve looked at the game again today and you can see he is working very hard for the group with the interceptions he makes and the moves he instigates.” Smith does concede, however, that Ballouchy is not yet the finished product. “In terms of creative play and in being a consistent goal creator, he still has some way to go. Sometimes, he is not just quite making the right choices.” Ballouchy, for his part, says he is under no more pressure than normal with his higher profile in the team. "I am happy with the way this team is going," Ballouchy said. “It is a team of eleven guys, not one, there is pressure on everyone and I am very happy with my role." Please do read more on the midfield situation over at www.mlsnet.com where I should have an article in the next day or so on this.
Expect few changes in the line-up for this weekend's game against LA. Pablo Mastroeni should be back but much will depend on the extent of his playing time for the US tomorrow against Trinidad and Tobago. The Rapids' coaching staff said they understand that Mastroeni will be playing in the World Cup qualifier tomorrow so they will see how quickly he can recover before Saturday. It is therefore not inconceivable that the club captain may not start in LA. Will Terry Cooke start for the first time after his scintillating performance as sub against Kansas City? Maybe, maybe not. But Smith said today Cooke will be instrumental in the game so we will have to wait and see. Minor injuries to Casey and Cory Gibbs after the weekend saw them miss training today but they are expected to be fine for the weekend.
The Rapids will stay on in LA after the weekend in view of the Open Cup game next Tuesday against the same team. Smith said the players on the bench for Saturday's game will likely play a big role in the cup game and they will be reinforced by calling in a couple of players who will be staying in town this weekend. Here is the projected line-up for this weekend's game according to the Rapids' website.

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