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.

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