Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Still Pressing for a Forward; Baudet Update

Everyone knows that the Colorado Rapids are not exactly deep when it comes to strikers. If either of first choice duo Conor Casey or Omar Cummings gets injured, the Rapids will have draft pick Ross Schunk or new signing Gregory Richardson to pick from. Schunk and Richardson have a combined MLS experience of zero games. Gary Smith is therefore trying to track a forward down with some urgency. "We are looking every day," he said recently at training. "There are a number of bodies we would love to bring in." With it being almost May and transfer windows in Europe not allowing trades, it could well be at least July until such a signing could occur, Smith added. One forward who was a recent possible target was Australian Matt Simon but any chances of that transfer happening have "died a bit of a death," Smith said. I wrote the other day about how Richardson was apparently impressing in reserve games but it appears to be Schunk who is winning the battle to be the forward on the bench. There are doubts that Richardson, who has undoubted skill, is really physical enough to survive in this league.
A quick word on Julien Baudet, the French defender currently with Crewe Alexandra in England. Baudet, according to reports, appears destined for Colorado in the summer but Smith cautioned that this move is far from a done deal, stressing that there were many considerations to deal with before any signing actually took place. "We like him and he was highlighted to us some time ago," Smith said. "He would fit the bill but there are financial and family issues."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rapids Fail to Capitalize; Ref Can't Make Up Mind

This game turned on the ridiculous "red card that wasn't" decision. If this guy does not get hauled across the coals for his terrible refereeing, there is no justice. For what it's worth, the original "foul" was pretty clearly not a red card. But to go back on that decision, whether it was the right one or not, is just about the lamest thing I have seen on a soccer field for a while. The momentum changed abruptly, the wind went out of the Rapids' sails and it was almost inevitable that the LA Galaxy would snatch an equalizer. However, you can't really blame the decision on the fact that the Rapids failed to put this game away when they should have done. After a lifeless first half in which the energy levels of the team were very low, things started to turn in Colorado's favor in the opening 20 minutes of the second half which included a well taken goal from Colin Clark. The Rapids then needed to make the game safe but they failed to do so. The referee suffered an attack of extreme weakness, the life was sucked out of the Rapids' game and Landon Donovan netted a valuable equalizer for the visitors.
Red card or not, the Rapids still seemed to lack consistent creativity in the game. Terry Cooke, getting his first start of the season in his one hundredth game for the Rapids, created some good stuff on the flanks and Clark made some good runs but there wasn't a whole lot else. Mehdi Ballouchy is working very hard for this team but he can't seem to provide the offensive spark it needs. Sometimes last night, he was picking up the ball and doing what Pablo Mastroeni does in bringing the ball out of the defense. It wasn't necessarily his fault but it isn't really what he should be doing.
There is clearly a lot of work to do before next week's game against Real Salt Lake who somewhat soundly thrashed New England with six second half goals yesterday. I guess we can be thankful we are playing them at DSG Park and not in Sandy, Utah, where they have also rolled over the Columbus Crew this season.

Friday, April 24, 2009

LA Again? Rapids Return to Familiar Surroundings

The Colorado Rapids have a welcome game at home tomorrow night, their first in almost a month after a tough road trip that included games against Houston and Columbus. The team has emerged from the trip in pretty good condition. They certainly lived with both Columbus and Houston and, with a bit more confidence, could have come home unbeaten from all three road games which included the 3-2 victory against tomorrow's opponents, LA Galaxy. The image of Pat Onstad first saving Conor Casey's penalty and then the follow-up from Terry Cooke may still haunt a part of the players' brains but they will know that they have nothing to fear from an LA side at home as a result of their strong performances away. It won't be easy, as many people might suspect, but I would say that, whereas the past Rapids may have squandered such opportunities, the current team is far less likely to.
The Rapids will clearly take the game to LA. Head coach, Gary Smith, is expecting his full backs, wide players and midfield to all contribute to greater creativity than may have been on offer in recent games. Note the emphasis on wide players. It would not be a great surprise to see Terry Cooke or a now fit Jacob Peterson to start. "Jake is fit and another nice option and then there is Terry and Mehdi (Ballouchy) who can offer the creativity," Smith said. "We need to make full use of the pitch and the large surface." Read of that what you will. Smith is not a man to reveal his starting line-ups. Suffice it to say that it wouldn't be a shock to see two of those three starting and maybe Nick LaBrocca dropping to the bench. The defense will very likely be unchanged and Omar Cummings is fit to go after an injury scare this week so his partnership with Casey will continue.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Names and Gregory Richardson

You may have noticed some new names playing for the Rapids' reserve team in recent games against the universities of Denver and New Mexico (see In the defeat of DU 3-1 yesterday, one of those names was Ritchie Kotschau, a former Rapid of course. To try and add some detail on those triallists, I spoke very briefly with Gary Smith last week as the team was about to board the bus for Houston. I can't offer much on them other than that it is unlikely any of them will be staying around. "They were more there to make up the numbers to be honest and they won't be staying," Smith said last week. Admittedly, that was before the game yesterday against DU and one triallist, Chris Salvaggione, did manage to score two goals in that game. It was also noticeable that a triallist from the New Mexico game, Clayton Zelin, was also playing yesterday. I'll try and keep you posted on the future, if any, of such triallists.
More significant, perhaps, have been the performances of Gregory Richardson. The Guyanese forward has scored consistently in all the reserve games so far, including the Burgundy and Blue game last month, as well as providing assists. He is looking like a good acquisition for the Rapids and Gary Smith should be well pleased with his efforts. Barring injury and form, he is not going to break up the Casey/Cummings formation but he would be a great asset coming off the bench.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Penalty Miss Condemns Rapids

Conor Casey had the chance yesterday to make it three weeks in a row where his personal contribution would change the game for the Colorado Rapids in the last ten minutes of a match. He won it for the Rapids in LA, equalized against Columbus and, after a brilliant run that outfoxed several Dynamo defenders, won a penalty against Houston in the heat of Texas. As we now know, his penalty was saved brilliantly by Houston's veteran goalkeeper, Pat Onstad, who then proceeded to even more brilliantly save a rebound header from Terry Cooke which looked certain to go in. Cooke then wasted a golden opportunity at the death to make it 1-1 and the Rapids had lost after a valiant second half effort. Make no mistake about it. The Rapids are extremely disappointed at failing to pick up anything from the game yesterday. I spoke to a couple of players today and they know they lived with the MLS champions of 2006 and 2007. Granted, the first 20 minutes or so was pretty constant offense from Houston, offense which led to the only goal of the game from Brian Ching who got in front of Scott Palguta to head over Preston Burpo. But the Rapids fought back well in the second half only to miss out on the penalty chance and Cooke's opportunity at the end of 90 minutes. It wasn't pretty stuff for most of the game. The midfield was largely bypassed, for example. But it would not have been unfair for the Rapids to have come home with a point. Instead, they have to put the loss behind them and focus on the next two home games, a welcome respite after a difficult road trip. Gary Smith, head coach, had said previously that he wanted to be in a good enough position to come out of the pack after these tough opening games, and he is. Two good performances at home over the next two weeks and the Rapids will be right up there.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rapids Brace Themselves for Final Road Effort

Shades of last week for the Colorado Rapids as they take on Houston in the heat and humidity of Texas tomorrow afternoon. The Rapids will be taking on recent MLS champions who have struggled so far this season without a win to their name. Just like Columbus last week and the Rapids got a draw out of that. A similar result tomorrow would cap a very fine achievement for Gary Smith's men as it would mean five points in an undefeated three game away series plus the win against LA Galaxy in the Open Cup.
It sounds like Smith is preparing for a physical battle with not much pretty soccer going on. Last week, he bolstered the physicality of the back line by introducing Ty Harden into the mix, an experiment that did not work out too well given Harden's injury in the opening 20 minutes. His replacement last week, Scott Palguta, looks set to make an MLS start for the first time, especially considering Cory Gibbs is doubtful to make the team because of injury. It could be that Ugo Ihemelu will slot back into the center of defense to join Palguta with Kosuke Kimura playing at right back. The midfield would appear to be pretty predictable with Jacob Peterson and Terry Cooke unlikely to be starting so, as it has been for much of the season so far, the starting four looks to be Mastroeni, LaBrocca, Clark and Ballouchy. Conor Casey will need to be at his physical and opportunistic best upfront along with Omar Cummings. The big question is who will start between the posts. Smith has been keeping his cards very close to his chest on that one this week. Both Preston Burpo and Matt Pickens got on the coach going to the airport this morning at DSG Park. I get the feeling, though it's no more than a hunch, that Burpo will continue to start tomorrow to see off this road trip stretch.
It's going to be a very difficult game for the Rapids and a baptism of fire for the likes of Palguta who will have to keep an eye and the rest of his body on one of the best forwards in the MLS in Brian Ching. If the defense can neutralize Ching and control the midfield - much easier said than done - there could be opportunities for Casey and Cummings upfront. But I don't see there being much for the strikers to feed on. If the Rapids can come away with another gritty point, those next two home games, with temperatures returning to what we are more used to in Colorado, will look so much more appealing. Tomorrow's game kicks off at 1pm Mountain Time with the official viewing party at Fado's in downtown Denver.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

DU to play Regis in Fundraiser - RESCHEDULE

NOTE: The game has been rescheduled for this Sunday, April 19, kickoff at 6pm. Original post follows: Quick heads-up for an interesting game this Friday night (April 17) when the University of Denver mens' team takes on Regis University. Kick-off is at 7pm at Englewood High School. The DU team is fast moving up the ranks of national college teams and the coaching staff, led by Bobby Muuss, is really trying to build a very good program there. The team has recently played big college teams in Wake Forest and Creighton, narrowly losing both games by slim margins. Proceeds from Friday's game, for which about a thousand tickets have been sold, will benefit the soccer program at DU. There will be plenty of giveaways and auctions. You can turn up on the day for a cost of $8 or, if you book before April 17, it will cost you just $6. If you get a group of 15 or more, the cost is further reduced to $4 a ticket and all those three years old and younger are free of charge. You can email assistant coach, Adam Buseck, (, or call 303 871 3923.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rapids Take Another Step Forward

Another big step on the road to playing with real confidence. The Colorado Rapids picked up a brave point away at Columbus, riding their luck against the defending MLS champions, especially in the closing minutes, but coming away with a precious 1-1 draw courtesy of a Conor Casey equalizer in the 82nd minute. Casey took his chance very well following a nice pass over the top of the defense from Pablo Mastroeni. Casey and Omar Cummings, who posed plenty of challenges all night for the Crew defense, are really establishing themselves as a very fine attacking partnership.
Coach Gary Smith sprung a surprise or two with the starting line-up, relegating Kosuke Kimura to the bench and playing Ty Harden in central defense with Cory Gibbs and moving Ugo Ihemelu out to the right. In truth, this was an option that Smith had readily discussed at the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, it did not last long in this game as Harden limped out with an injury within the first 20 minutes and was replaced by the inexperienced Scott Palguta. Palguta did well, forcing Alejandro Moreno out wide in the second half at one point and cutting down the angle for the dangerous striker. It makes perfect sense to try the experiment at this early stage because you don't want players coming in solely in emergencies and not having had any experience during the season. Kimura will play many times more for this team, of that you can be sure. Harden may not have had much time on the field but at least it did give the opportunity to Palguta who will surely be called upon again. In another slight surprise, Preston Burpo maintained the starting goalkeeper spot ahead of Matt Pickens who looks to be recovering from his back injury. It will be very interesting to see who plays in goal against Houston next week.
The Rapids will be mighty relieved after their game against Houston because it will mean the end of a big road trip and two home games in a row against LA and Real Salt Lake. If they can get something out of the Houston game next weekend, those two home games will look increasingly appealing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rapids Hopeful Against Not So Solid Crew

Saturday's game against the Columbus Crew is fast taking on symbolic significance for the Colorado Rapids. Suddenly, on the back of three successive victories, the Rapids are going to Ohio genuinely believing they can come away with some points as they play a host team that has struggled to recapture the form that saw them win the MLS last season. The Crew are stuttering, to say the least, having only notched two points out of a possible 12 in the opening four games. Having read some of the Crew bloggers, they are very frustrated at a perceived lack of passion in the defending champions. And the Crew fans are a passionate lot as I witnessed at last year's MLS Cup final in LA. Add to that an injury list affecting a number of influential players (Marshall, Rogers, Hejduk) and you can see why the Rapids are increasing in confidence.
But this will be no easy game. The Crew have the Rapids' number based on recent performances and this will be a stern task for this developing team. If they really can perform well and get something out of this game, it will be a huge boost of confidence. They will really start to believe that they can beat anybody on any given day. After the Kansas City game at the end of March, coach Gary Smith said the Rapids were a decent team but no more than that. He is quietly confident they are building on that now. "They have responded well to that," he said at training this week. "This is a group of players that, when they are playing regularly together, are slowly and surely improving as they go along." The younger players are maturing well and showing resilience and increasing self-belief, qualities Smith insists are vital in dealing with the challenges ahead. "These are the qualities that are not spoken about an awful lot," he said.
In team news, goalkeeper Matt Pickens is working his way back to full fitness after the back injury that kept him out of the recent LA trip. I wouldn't mind betting he will play tomorrow if he was able to get through training today, despite the heroics of Preston Burpo on Tuesday. Fan favorite, Terry Cooke, is out with a groin injury and Ivan Guerrero looks unlikely to make the trip. That would seem to suggest a pretty predictable line-up with the same back four that has started so far, a midfield of Mastroeni, LaBrocca, Ballouchy and Clark and the increasingly dangerous attacking duo of Cummings and Casey. If the Crew are weak in defense tomorrow because of injury and suspension (Iro), I would love to see Omar running at them at full pelt. The game kicks off at 5.30pm Mountain Time and will be shown at GB Fish and Chips on South Broadway for the official viewing party.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Confidence is Key as Rapids Trump LA Again

Gary Smith said on Fox Television's Football Fone-In program Monday night that the key to the Colorado Rapids doing well this season was true self-belief. Something obvious, you might say, but Smith's style and own self-belief seem to be working well on the players as witness an incredibly hard-fought victory over the LA Galaxy last night in the US Open Cup. Consider this. The team played practically a whole normal length game with ten players after Greg Dalby was dismissed for an apparently questionable offense in the 36th minute. There was no corner kick won until late in the second period of overtime. The Rapids also sustained increasing pressure from the closing minutes of normal time right through the first period of overtime. I was following the game on a match tracker supplied through the Rapids' blog via LA and it seemed that Chris Klein or Alan Gordon had the ball in the Rapids' penalty area for a consecutive 30 minutes or so. Then, with the LA players tiring and frustrated, momentum began to change and the Rapids gained, if not dominance, then at least the upper hand. They took that into the penalty kick stage and the belief came shining through. Not only a heroic peformance from Preston Burpo in goal, who apparently guessed right on all four LA spot kicks, saving two of them, but also the penalty takers. Colin Clark, Mehdi Ballouchy, Ugo Ihemelu and Omar Cummings all notched their kicks and the game was over. Now, you would expect a Rapids' press release to say they all calmly and confidently scored those kicks. But I had an LA-based friend at the game (the same friend who called into the Fox show and asked Smith what the key for the Rapids was) and he said there was something about the self-belief with which the players accepted their task. Ihemelu took just two steps to bury his chance for example. By contrast, Chris Klein looked like a deer in the headlights and his body language just shouted out that the LA Galaxy would be letting their fans down. He duly missed as Burpo saved. Real self-belief, so lacking in the Rapids of recent years, may be the key to success going forward. It can't replace talent and organization but it can carry you through difficult times and this is what the Rapids will have to face in a gruelling season.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Conor Casey! Clap, Clap, ClapClapClap!

Big Tall Bald Guy! Yes, indeed, Conor Casey came up with the goods, notching a hat-trick to take the Colorado Rapids to a 3-2 victory against LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. In truth, they weren't the hardest goals the big fella will ever score but he took all the chances perfectly, including the opening goal 17 seconds into the game, and the Rapids came away with a vital win at a place that has so often been a major disappointment to them. The first two goals were very similar as Omar Cummings exploited the acres of room presented to him to use his pace and cross perfectly for an unmarked Casey to slide the ball home. The winning goal, just a few minutes from the end of the game, saw Colin Clark rob the ball on the counter attack and put a perfect pass behind the defense. Casey had more to do this time but kept his composure to round the keeper and slot home.
The Rapids really had few genuine chances on the night but, the few they did, they managed to score. The team worked very hard and maybe their relative youth compared with the ageing Galaxy and their extra fitness ground out the deserved victory. Nobody worked harder than Casey. I really felt it was time for him to be subbed before that winning goal and let Gregory Richardson's pace torment the tiring center backs for the remaining minutes (turns out Richardson was not actually on the bench this time). It would be nice to see Cummings and Richardson interact at some point this season but, for now, we all pray that Casey and Omar don't get badly injured. They complement each other very well with the their respective strengths and they have now managed five goals between them in the opening three games as well as Omar's two assists yesterday.
Talking of subs and watching the game at the British Bulldog, there was no doubt who the Class VI fans wanted to come on after his blistering performance last week against the Wizards. Terry Cooke duly came on at what seems to be his normal time with about 25 minutes to go, replacing a tired Pablo Mastroeni after the captain's exploits for the US during the week. Cooke wasn't able to repeat last week's virtuosity but the fans were happy to see him as witnessed by the chants in the pub. Jacob Peterson and Ty Harden also got some gametime towards the end. Expect increasing time for Harden in central defense as he works his way back into fitness after such a long break from the game.
I can't honestly put my hand on my heart and say this was a great performance. We didn't create that many chances and we let LA into the game on at least one defensive mistake. Maybe we didn't control the midfield as much as we should have done. However, you cannot fault the effort of the team and the skill of Casey to finish so well. The Rapids now stay in LA for Tuesday's Open Cup game. I'm sure the likes of Casey, Cummings and Mastroeni will be on the flight back to Colorado today but the bulk of the squad will remain in LA awaiting some reinforcements from those players who didn't travel for yesterday's game.