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.