Know Your Enemy: Colorado Rapids - Part One: Lineup and Form

Dick's Sporting Goods Park - Home of the Rapids & Scene of Saturday's Match - USA TODAY Sports

The first installment of Waking the Red’s Know Your Enemy series, previewing Toronto FC’s upcoming opponent, Colorado Rapids - looking at the lineup and form.

Still reeling from the midweek humbling at the hands of rivals who shall not be named, TFC must quickly regroup for a return to league action with a difficult away fixture in the lofty heights of the Rocky Mountains.

When it comes to misfortune – using the term liberally to apply to Toronto’s Wednesday debacle – Colorado is well-acquainted with those throes of fate, as injuries have decimated their side.

As discussed in the ‘How You Doin’?’ feature, the Rapids could field a pretty impressive starting eleven from those currently unavailable.

Before the match, a closer look at Colorado Rapids is in order.

The Lineup

Hard to believe at times, but with all dark clouds there comes a silver lining.

For the Rapids coach Oscar Pareja that hidden positive came in the form of their strength in depth.

With regular starters falling by the wayside, the squad has stepped up, and though results have been difficult to come by, it is not for lack of effort or quality.

From surprising goalkeeper, Cling Irwin – formerly of the CSL’s Capital City FC (he even managed to score a goal while there) – to impressive rookie contributions from Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown, the Rapids are a side that has thrived on contributions from all comers and a work ethic that has kept them in each match, despite the decreasing availability of the first team.

Video of Irwin's goal - because keepers scoring is always fun.

Projecting a lineup without knowing who is fit is a difficult proposition, but with that caveat in mind, here goes: Clint Irwin in goal; from right to left – Brian Mullan, Drew Moor, Shane O’Neill, and Chris Klute across the back-line; Nathan Sturgis holding down the centre of the park with Nick LaBrocca, Dillon Powers, and Danny Mwanga ahead in the midfield, and Atiba Harris paired with Martin Rivero up top.

football formations

Pablo Mastroeni is nearing fitness, after a season lost to post-concussion syndrome and a series of less-serious muscle issues since resuming his on-field career, making a brief cameo in the final ten minutes last match in Houston. He could start in the holding midfield role over Sturgis, but whether Pareja will risk his leader from the start is unclear and perhaps not worth the potential cost.

Tony Cascio has been noticeable by his absence after such an impressive first season in MLS last season, perhaps Pareja is expecting more from the young man – both on the pitch and in training.

Kamani Hill too has seen minutes few and far between after impressing as a super sub early in 2012. He started against Houston last weekend and could feature again, if Pareja opts to begin the match with the returning Rivero on the bench and Brown remains unavailable.

Jamie Smith, scorer of some wonderful goals, has seen spot duty on the right, and could be said to be ahead of LaBrocca on the depth chart. That said, there is value to fielding players against their former sides, part of the reason Sturgis and LaBrocca get the nod in the projections.

Marvell Wynne, another former Red, picked up a quad strain against Seattle and looks unlikely to return, while midfield general, Hendry Thomas landed awkwardly against Houston and appears set for a spell on the sidelines.

Their recent troubles add to the list of bizarre tragedies that have befallen the side.

Rivero broke his foot in an early preseason match, landing innocently and fracturing a bone; goalkeeper Matt Pickens had his forearm broken in a clash with Salt Lake defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe in the third match of the season; Jaime Castrillon’s contractual situation saw a clean-up operation on his knee delayed and is still away from the pitch, while Edson Buddle’s knee has flared back up and limited his availability.

Such absences have forced others to step up, rookies Powers and Brown have been mightily impressive, barely flinching in the face of the increased challenge as they stepped from the collegiate to the professional game – Brown picked up a quad strain in training, but should be ready sooner rather than later.

A quick note, readers may have noticed a real former TFC feel to the current Rapids with names such as Wynne, LaBrocca, Sturgis, and Buddle jogging the memory to past days.

The Form

Despite all the set-backs, Colorado has done shockingly well, prompting some to begin whispering of their candidacy as dark horse contenders for the league in 2014.

They enter Saturday’s match sitting in eighth place in the West on nine points after as many matches.

Much like TFC, none of their league matches have been decided by more than a single goal; they remain in matches, fighting to the end.

Recent results have been disappointing; they took a lead through Moor at the end of the first half in Houston, raising their hands as potential destructors of the Dynamo’s home streak.

But poor defending and Giles Barnes combined to draw Houston level; the two would draw 1-1.

The previous week they fought bravely against a Seattle side in desperate search of their first win, eventually succumbing to a well-taken, if fortunately offered, goal from Obafemi Martins, who happened upon the rebound from a powerful Shalrie Joseph strike from outside the box.

That loss ended a two-game winning streak - three unbeaten – that displayed signs of a side capable of more, after going winless through the first month of the season.

Losses away to Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as at home to Philadelphia, and draws away to Salt Lake and at home to Portland, saw the Rapids winless through their first five matches of the schedule – a tough schedule to be fair.

A 1-0 home win over Salt Lake, with Harris grabbing the winner early and celebrating the birth of his daughter in the proper footballing style, set the stage for a revival - and put Colorado in the driver’s seat for their first Rocky Mountain Cup series victory since 2006 – and was followed by a away win of the same score-line in LA, over Chivas.

Brown scored the lone goal from the spot after he was brought down in the box by Eric Avila. Chivas were handed a life-line from the spot, but Jose Correa sent his effort off the bar.

Toronto will have a challenge on their hand, regardless of the eleven chosen.

The second installment of the series will be available later this evening (right here in fact), reviewing the available game film, noting their successes, exposing their flaws, and pointing out a few interesting tidbits in the build to tomorrow’s match.

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