The Colorado Rapids are in town tomorrow for their one and only meeting with TFC this season, and they've made a few changes since we last saw them. Gary Smith has been replaced by Oscar Pareja behind the bench, but some others (including a few ex-Reds like Joseph Nane and Marvell Wynne) have remained. We caught up with UZ over at Burgundy Wave
(You can see my answers to their questions here.)
WTR: I see from your "Palguta Index" that your defence is at critical stage. With the likes of Eric Avila, Luis Silva and Ryan Johnson in attack on Wednesday, and Torsten Frings firing howitzers on set pieces, how will the Rapids' defence cope?
BW: Well, fortunately for the Rapids, their first choice starting back four is currently healthy. What the Palguta meter measures is the depth behind whatever the first choice team would be, and the depth behind the starting tandem of Hunter Freeman, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor and Luis Zapata is scarce. (The signing of Tyson Wahl from Montreal pushed it from a level four to a level three, which isn't ideal but is better than nothing I suppose.) They'll really just have to cope by avoiding big defensive flubs, which seem to be the biggest thing killing the Rapids recently. Specifically, they'll need to get their assignments right on set pieces, something that has frustratingly plagued them all season long. If Toronto gets a free kick within 30 yards, there's a very good chance that a free header is going to be given judging by what we've seen recently.
Drew Moor ranted and raved last game about that after his own missed assignment on Carlos Rodriguez led to Dallas' first goal. From open play the Rapids have an above average defense so unless someone goes down injured and we're forced to see Scott Palguta or Tyrone Marshall, they shouldn't have an incredibly problematic time keeping Toronto's solid offense in check. The keys are avoiding injury -- or worse, a red card -- and trying to limit the number of set pieces allowed. The defense has shown that they can indeed do that, but it's been sporadic which games they decide to do that in.
WTR: A few Rapids supporters I know tell me of a "summer dry spell" in the Mile High City, where the Rapids go through a bit of a dry spell during June/July. Can you tell us a little bit more of that? Is it true?
BW: Ah, the famous 'Rapids Summer Swoons' I call 'em. It is true in a literal sense, the Rapids seem to wilt after May almost every single year. I personally don't put much credence into the whole summer dry spell thing, simply because it implies that the Rapids have ever had a dominant season that was ruined in June and July. Even the two teams that were probably the best in Rapids history -- the 2005 and 2006 squads -- had lackluster seasons when you look at it all told.
The 2005 team ended 13-13-5 and the 06 squad ended 11-13-8. When those are the seasons put together by arguably your best squads in club history, it's hard to claim that merely being mediocre in the summer is really anything special.
WTR: Expanding on that last question, how has the current crush of games helped or hurt the Rapids and their lineup? Does being knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup early helped?
BW: It's hard to say if it's really had any effect, the team under Oscar Pareja is deep enough to get through long stretches of games without suffering much in the fitness or talent department. The problems the team has faced recently have had nothing to do with fixture congestion, though by the time the Rapids face the Sounders at the end of the month after two more midweek games they may be starting to feel the heat. When the record has been as bad as it has been though, it's really hard to put any blame on the schedule.
As for the Open Cup, Pareja played mostly back ups in the two games, mostly due to the fact that the injury bug had hit the team hard early in the year. In that regard, I doubt they would have made much of a difference even had they made another round or two.
WTR: Marvell Wynne was one of TFC's players in their inaugural season, and since going to Colorado has appeared to have flourished. How has he been doing for you this season?
BW: Wynne is what he is, a really fast guy who is good but not great at defending. His performance usually seems to revolve more around who is next to him. When Drew Moor is on the top of his game in the center, Wynne tends to be on top of things as well, as he can focus on using his speed to make things happen without worries of a game-costing flub coming out of him. When he's paired with Palguta or even a less effective Moor, Wynne's game suffers a bit. He does seem to be growing out of that a bit this season, as he has been one of the best defenders on the team all told. It was incredibly noticeable when he was out with injury and the slow-as-molasses Tyrone Marshall was in his place.
OK, I know. Considering the defensive record of the Rapids this year, being the best defender is not much of an accomplishment. We'll take what we can get, thank you very much.
WTR: Can you tell us of a Rapids player the Reds should be looking out for?
BW: Martin Rivero is the guy you'll want to watch. He was the prized pick up of the offseason for Pareja, and even after being perhaps the most hyped player to ever come to Colorado -- the hype was all coming from inside the house, but still -- he has lived up to it all. The Argentine playmaker has completely changed the ability of the Rapids to put set pieces into the net and his passing and ball control are brilliant at times. He's only 23 but he looks like he'll be a world beater soon considering the growth he's already shown. Did I mention he's in the Top 10 of MLS players for assists so far this season? Not bad for a kid that young trying to learn the ways of Major League Soccer.
WTR: What is the projected lineup for the Rapids coming into Toronto, and what will be going through Pareja's mind when he does?
BW: I'm really, really hoping that Oscar Pareja doesn't over-think himself for this one. He's gotten an unfortunate reputation for trying to be too 'cute' with his lineups away from home to try and outsmart the other teams to steal three road points. Needless to say, it hasn't worked yet even a single time. (Examples: Trying a bizzare 4-1-4-1 formation against Seattle at the CLink, playing Drew Moor in the midfield against Real Salt Lake to try and add defensive presence in the center.)
Pareja's team desperately needs a win, and despite the results on the scoresheet his most recent lineup that he put out against Vancouver, Dallas and Portland has worked better than most things we've seen this season. In that regard, I'm hoping to see a slightly tweaked version of that lineup against Toronto in the usual 4-4-2 diamond formation. I assume this lineup will feature some subs only because the all important Rocky Mountain Cup derby match against RSL is on Saturday.
Matt Pickens; Luis Zapata, Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Hunter Freeman; Jeff Larentowicz, Jamie Smith, Tony Cascio, Martin Rivero; Omar Cummings, Conor Casey
WTR: ...and what will be the final result?
BW: This team was supposed to crush Vancouver and Dallas, but lost both matches. Everyone thought they were going to lose to Portland before that, but they won 3-0. This team managed to beat Philadelphia 2-1 while down to 10 men, which somehow ended up being only one of two wins they have gotten in games that the other team has scored. This team managed to get a draw out of a game where they had one of the worst first halves in franchise history, but have managed to lose more than one game where they had shot advantages of 10 or more and 60% possession.
What I'm getting at is, there's really no point in trying to predict what the $#&% this team is going to do on any given day. This Rapids team has been impossible to predict this season, so what the hell. 2-1 Rapids win, bucking every single trend that could possibly be written about coming into the match.