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

The switch from Gary Smith to Oscar Pareja hasn't been a smooth one by any means.
The switch from Gary Smith to Oscar Pareja hasn't been a smooth one by any means.

A winning streak you say, but at what cost?

Toronto FC have won consecutive matches in the league for the first time this season, but at the expense of their most dangerous attacking weapon, Danny Koevermans.

News of his ACL tear, requiring surgery and ruling him out for the rest of the season, has already permeated the collective conscious of the fans, media, and perhaps, even the squad, souring what has been a strong midseason corrective course.

Milos Kocic's forlorn dedication of the gutsy win in New England to the stricken front-man betrays a deep concern - if Danny is thirty percent of the team, what can the remaining fraction achieve in his absence?

Wednesday night will be their first chance.

An opportunity to move past the setback and perchance put together one of those much needed winning runs - so often rumoured to exist in far off lands such as San Jose, Kansas City, and Seattle - to make up the vast chasm of points between themselves and relevance.

Their opponent, one of the few remaining Western foes to be faced this calendar year, the Colorado Rapids present as good an opportunity at such endeavours as any.

Losers of their last three - five of their last six - and possessors of a woeful road record, Oscar Pareja's side has spent much of this season searching for a measure of consistency.

Embattled by injury, mixing good results freely with bad, and struggling with the transition from Gary Smith's British 4-4-2 to Pareja's vision of a 4-3-3, Colorado comes into town downtrodden and weary, but with a clear goal.

A closer look at the threat they possess is in order.

The Lineup

Pareja's quest to transform Smith's 2010 MLS Cup Champion-side into a more free-flowing Latin outfit has seen several key additions.

Argentine playmaker Martin Rivero, a pair of Colombian's - attacking midfielder Jaime Castrillon and left-back Luis Zapata - and American super-sub Kamani Hill, though his minutes and effectiveness have diminished over the last few months, have revolutionized the ability to play through the middle of the park.

Long-term concussion concerns have robbed Pablo Mastroeni of much of his season, leaving Jeff Larentowicz alone to man the middle of the park.

In the search for a system that works the Rapids have trotted out a variety of formations: 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, even a 4-1-4-1 on a few occasions, but with the return to fitness of the classic big man-little man striking combination of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, the diamond 4-4-2 looks the most likely and useful.

Their projected lineup is as follows: the perennial Matt Pickens, having recently made his one-hundredth appearance for the club, in goal; from right to left - Hunter Freeman, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, and Zapata across the back; Larentowicz at the base of the diamond with Brian Mullan, Rivero, and Castrillon across the midfield; Cummings and Casey up top.

football formations

Having waived Colombian midfielder Harrison Henao after only one match and shipped long-time servant Kosuke Kimura to Portland, their remaining regular options include standout rookie attacker Tony Cascio, Scottish winger Jamie Smith, Brazilian striker Edu, super-sub Hill, and defenders Tyrone Marshall, Scott Palguta, and newly acquired Tyson Wahl.

A handful of players have seen very limited action this season such as Andre Akpan and Wells Thompson, not to mention former TFC draft pick Joseph Nane who has been riding the pine or out of the eighteen all together.

Plenty of options for Pareja to tinker, but in need of points and looking to finally click, finding a measure of consistency with their strongest eleven is important at this point in the season.

Those most likely to see action, especially if Colorado trails, are Cascio, Smith and Edu, all the more possible as both Casey and Cummings are only just returning to regular action from nagging injuries.

The Form

As mentioned the last few weeks have been unkind.

A 3-0 win over Portland aside, five losses, all by a single goal, have seen Colorado lose ground on the conference leaders in the West.

They entered the international break - with a record of six wins, six losses, and a draw in fourth place in the West - on a high, winning 3-2 over Montreal on a peculiar last-minute goal from Castrillon.

A Rivero free-kick, headed back into the goalmouth by Palguta danced along the top of the bar. The referee blew his whistle and pointed for a corner kick, just as the ball fell to the Colombian Castrillon to poke home past a bewildered Greg Sutton in goal.

A win and a loss in the US Open Cup - at Tampa Bay and Kansas City, respectively - saw them bounced from that competition before returning to league play after eleven days of rest.

Losses in Vancouver and at home to San Jose followed in quick succession. All the more frustrating as both were lost in the final ten minutes.

In Vancouver, a moment of lax marking by Palguta saw Davide Chiumiento place a pin-point ball from the midfield ahead of Sebastien Le Toux, who, ghosting behind his marker, stretched for a sliding finish to meet the service and redirect it past a helpless Pickens in goal to win the match 1-0.

Intense pressure in the remaining minutes saw the Rapids twice strike the woodwork through Rivero and Freeman, but they could not find an equalizer.

Against San Jose it was a more dastardly undoing. Mullan's wonderful header in the first half spoiled by an own goal from Freeman and a disputed ninety-second minute penalty kick.

Alan Gordon tripped up too easily - from Colorado's perspective - after Simon Dawkins laid him in on goal down the left. Pickens having retracted from a sliding challenge at the striker's feet watching in horror as the referee pointed to the spot and Chris Wondolowski converted to seal a 1-2 victory for the visitors.

The Rapids rebounded in their next match, the aforementioned 3-0 win over the Timbers, a dominant performance against a largely, listless opponent who offered very little by way of challenge.

Having their way down the right-flank, the service was unending with Castrillon tapping in a Freeman cross from five yards out and Casey winning a Mullan cross beyond the penalty spot, placing his redirection down and back across the keeper into the side-netting in the first twenty-odd minutes of play.

Smith added a capping third in the final minute of regulation after Rivero laid a weighted ball down the left for Cascio to run onto. The first-year pro bore down on goal before lifting a pass over the challenge of Troy Perkins for Smith to touch in.

The Pacific Northwest challenge continued with a return match against Vancouver followed by the visit of Seattle spaced by a mere three days.

The July 4th fireworks extravaganza was dampened by another defensive miscue. Moments before the half-time whistle blew a hopeful ball from Jordan Harvey eluded two defenders - Wynne whiffed at his clearing attempt, while Moor saw the ball spin off his foot to rest inside the box. Darren Mattocks was quickest to reach to the error, scooping up the ball and sending a low shot across the keeper for the only goal of the match.

Colorado took the match to Vancouver, dominating every facet of measureable play but could not find an elusive goal, again falling 0-1 to the Whitecaps.

In Seattle on the weekend it was an entirely different story, the Sounders took the early initiative with a resurgent and repositioned Mauro Rosales wreaking havoc upon the back-line.

Floating around the pitch and sending excellent service towards Eddie Johnson and Alvaro Fernandez, despite creating numerous chances, Rosales would be forced to wait until the second half to see some productivity from his teammates.

Fernandez came to life, latching onto a right-side corner kick above the near-post, leaping over a stationary Freeman. Somewhat disconcertingly he was completely unmarked on the play and allowed to rise unchallenged to opening the scoring.

Then too did Johnson, taking one of his many chances twelve minutes on. Another Rosales corner, this one dealt with better, but not fully cleared. Marc Burch collected the ball and returned it to Rosales still hovering on the left. His cross to the back-post was met by Johnson, towering over Moor to send a downward header back across the keeper to the bottom corner.

Cummings pulled one back for Colorado after a good spell of possession. Castrillon fed Zapata on the left, his curled cross to the back-post was placed perfectly for the Jamaican striker to poke in with an aerial stab to the short-side.

The noise swelled in the final ten minutes as Steve Zakuani prepared to return to the pitch, a moment almost spoiled when a Larentowicz blast from outside the box on the right, nestled in the far-bottom-corner of the net. The strike was ruled offside, it appeared as though it took a slight deflection off Cummings in front of goal, but replays were inconclusive and the goal was lost in the moment.

Rivero, as he had in Vancouver weeks earlier, was afforded a wonderful chance to equalize in the final seconds, but sent his effort rising over the bar.

The 2-1 Seattle win saw them snap a nine-match winless run; the ending of streaks would factor again in the next match as well.

Back on home turf, facing a Dallas team riding an astonishing thirteen-match winless run, Colorado were once again undone by a lack of scoring punch and conceding late.

Having again bossed the majority of play in the first half, Colorado could not turn chances into goals. Cummings did give his side the lead five minutes into the second forty-five, running onto a lovely Casey through-ball down the right, breaking in on goal and catching Kevin Hartman cheating away from the near-post.

Cummings lashed a shot through the creeping keeper, overpowering the trailing leg left to block it and into the back of the net.

Failed marking assignments gave Dallas an opportunity to get back into the match, a half-cleared corner kick fell to Fabian Castillo on the left, he tucked back in-field onto his right foot and sent a cross to the back-post.

Disorganized from clearing their lines after the corner, nobody spotted the smallest man on the pitch, Carlos Rodriguez sneaking in behind the wall of traffic to nod across the keeper into the open side of the goal.

Colorado continued to find the better of the chances, Cummings sent a low drive that rattled the base of the post and Casey struck a lunging shot that was deflected for a corner kick.

However, they were picked apart on the counter by the convalescing David Ferreira, spotting the run of Rodriguez streaking down the right, he laid a perfect ball inside the full-back for the Panamanian to collect and head for goal. His curling goal-bound effort was headed down by Moor, but remained loose in the eighteen yard box.

Castillo wrapped his foot around the ball, blasting it high into the net past a helpless Freeman acting the pylon on the goal-line to finally end Dallas' long winless streak.

Part Two looking at tactics, areas of exploitation and points of interest will be up tomorrow. In the meantime you can always check out more of James Grossi's work over at Partially Obstructed View, and follow him on twitter @Grawsee