tBG) The Colorado Rapids are currently third in the Western Conference on the back of a stingy 1.1 goals conceded per game. What makes the defense such a strength, and what can be done to break it down?
BW) Part of the reason the defense has been good is because Pablo Mastroeni has had his guys playing a defensive system similar to what we saw last year, when Oscar Pareja's Rapids had the second best season defensively in team history. They tend to play something that is often called a 4-4-2, but is really more of a 4-4-1-1, featuring two defensive midfielders in the middle to create a block of four with the center backs. That, along with the Rapids' love of holding onto the ball, allows them to collapse the defense when the other team has it as often as possible, which means fewer chances created -- their Achilles heel is along the wings -- and fewer goals conceded. But regardless of the tactics being used, the personnel is probably the biggest part of the success defensively for the Rapids. Drew Moor has quietly been one of the best CBs in the league for about six years now, Shane O'Neill and Chris Klute are both youngsters gunning for the US Men's National Team, and they have two very capable right backs in Marvell Wynne and Thomas Piermayr. Combine that good-looking starting group with a lack of major injuries in the back so far through the first half of the season and you've got a recipe for defensive success.
tBG) Colorado hasn't won on the road since defeating Toronto FC 1-0 back on April 12. What does the club need to do to prevent another long flight back to Denver?
BW) That statistic is a bit misleading, since nearly all of Colorado's games since then have come at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, but it is undeniable that the Rapids' worst performances have come away from home this year. It's something of a mystery as to why that's the case, since all of those losses have come in vastly different ways. A lack of killer instinct early hurt them against Seattle in a game they ended up losing 4-1, hideous and uncharacteristic defensive mistakes killed them against FC Dallas, and some really bad finishing turned a game that probably should have been a draw or win into a loss at Real Salt Lake. The Rapids are clearly a team that is still working on growing into themselves, being comprised of so many youngsters, and those kinds of things are always going to happen, and they've happened at DSGP as well. (See: That Dillon Powers pass against Columbus last weekend.) Really, the best way to win on the road for the Rapids is the same as the best way to win at home: play your best roster -- Mastroeni has been rightly criticized for way over-rotating his squad at times this season -- and hope that it's a good day for finishing instead of a bad one.
tBG) Our clubs don't play very often. Can you give the Philadelphia Union fans a sense of what to expect from the Rapids?
BW) Funny enough, in the five years since the Union came into the league the Rapids have changed themselves identity-wise more times than they had in any other five-year period in the team's history, so I wouldn't blame a Union fan for not knowing quite what was going on out in Colorado. As it stands right now, the Rapids are in the midst of a successful youth revolution. 24 and under talents like Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna, Clint Irwin, Chris Klute and Shane O'Neill began flooding into the team over the last two seasons and all of them have found their place in the starting XI or 18 since then -- they've also got some intriguing other youngsters on the team like Carlos Alvarez, Gale Agbossumonde, Gabriel Torres and Charles Eloundou. Since they're a young team with a young coach, it's somewhat hard to tell you what exactly to expect tactically, but you can probably bet on something resembling a 4-2-3-1 with Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown at the center of the attack. The Rapids like to hold the ball as much as possible and create chances down the wings, with heavy emphasis on high runs from the fullbacks. The absolute biggest Achilles heel on the entire team is finishing, but they usually manage to create enough chances for themselves when things are clicking that they grab a goal or two out of it.
As for the rest of the culture surrounding the team, it's getting better than it might have ever been before. The newest front office to take over the team has done a wonderful job reaching out to fans, increasing season ticket numbers, slowly turning DSGP into a less generic and more homey stadium for the Rapids to play at, and generally making being a Rapids fan an exciting affair. The team got their highest ever point total last year, and look poised to break that record if they repeat their record from the first half of the season in the second. The Rapids are obviously still one of the less notable teams in MLS, and get talked about very little on the national level, but it looks like that might be in the process of changing very rapidly, and I think everyone in the Centennial State is pleased.
Predicted Lineup: 4-4-1-1: Clint Irwin; Chris Klute, Shane O'Neill, Drew Moor, Thomas Piermayr; Charles Eloundou, Nick Labrocca, Jared Watts, Dillon Serna; Dillon Powers; Deshorn Brown
Predicted Score: I could see this one fizzling out into a somewhat cruddy draw, unfortunately. Colorado on the road has been muddy at times, and both teams probably have a goal in them. 1-1.