Monday, June 22, 2009

International Call-Ups Make Second Striker Vital

Omar Cummings, Conor Casey and Pablo Mastroeni, three key players for the Colorado Rapids, may all be missing in coming weeks as the Rapids try to continue to build on their successful start to the season.
Cummings, MLS Player of the Week for his performance in the victory over DC United on Saturday, has been called into the Jamaican squad for the upcoming Gold Cup. Casey, still in South Africa with the US team as they continue their improbable Confederations' Cup adventure, is in the preliminary US Gold Cup squad, as is Mastroeni. Common wisdom dictates that players don't appear in both competitions so Casey may be available for the July 4 home game against Chicago but the Rapids' topscorer has not played that much in South Africa and Bob Bradley may want to see more of him. Cummings, for sure, will not be available for that game as Jamaica opens its Gold Cup competition July 3. He should be available to play this Wednesday against Dallas and in the away game at Seattle at the weekend. Gary Smith will need him as he has proved inspirational in Casey's absence, netting three times and providing the assist Saturday for Colin Clark's game deciding goal. His upcoming absence and the uncertainty surrounding Casey, however, makes the quest for another striker even more urgent.
The Rapids have filled one roster spot with the veteran midfielder/forward, Pat Noonan, who played the first 45 minutes of the game on Saturday. Smith was happy with Noonan's contribution even if he did have to pull him a little earlier than ideal. "It was perhaps more premature than I would have liked," he said of his decision to withdraw Noonan at the half. "But there are a lot of stresses in Pat’s life at the moment and I thought he was very decent. He offered up the type of shape that we require in the team and his endeavors with and without the ball were very pleasing." Before the weekend's game, Smith admitted he wanted another forward in the team by July and that may be even more pressing now with all the international games coming up. "He will come from outside the MLS, definitely, and we want him here by the end of the month working with us," said Smith. The Rapids have clearly been working for some time to net these two forwards and I would expect an announcement on the second piece of the puzzle later this week.

The game on Saturday? It had moments of prettiness but the game was really about Cummings. It was an in the end comfortable victory over a top MLS side but the Rapids still played better soccer in the Seattle 2-2 draw. If it hadn't been for Cummings, it would have been quite conceivable to be down at halftime as both the players and Smith freely admitted after the game Saturday. The second half was a different story as the Rapids scored the crucial third goal and killed off the resistance, controlling the rest of the game. "We were sloppy in parts of the the first half," said Mastroeni. "In the second half, we came out sharp and, with another goal, the altitude can kick in for visiting teams." Smith conceded the difference between the two teams in the first half, save for a great save by Matt Pickens, was Cummings. "Omar was outstanding," Smith said. "He's improved enormously and he has a much better understanding of what is required of him when he doesn't have the ball -- he is thinking about his game."

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