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Know Your Enemy: Colorado Rapids – Part One, The Lineup and The Form

For the last time this season, a full two-part examination of TFC's upcoming opponent, the Colorado Rapids ahead of Saturday's encounter

The moustache may be gone, but the man, and his club, remain
The moustache may be gone, but the man, and his club, remain
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

What can be said after a match such as that? A third-straight disappointing loss, and such a poor time to fall flat.

Ahead of the New England game, it was suggested here that the game was 'must win', a deplorable, if necessary term. Not in any mathematical sense, but in that heads have a way of dropping in this town. Add in the result in New York and people (strawmen, indeed) have been in a near-state of panic: the sky is falling; the wheels come off.

Though nobody expected it, Toronto FC could have earned a point in Seattle – afterwards it was determined that maybe the Sounders were not any good, lessening the courage of that performance. Against New England, a team that has surged to the top of the table, TFC showed that they could dominate a game against one of the league's best, only to be stung by soft goals, the architects of their own demise. It was a result that echoed the 0-0 draw earlier this season with a DC side that sat back, looking to steal when the rare chance fell their way.

Of course that vulnerability is an issue; has been all season, likely will be into the future. Should Toronto go out there and play lock-down instead, looking themselves to hit on the counter, or waiting for the eventual mistake to provide the chance? Maybe.

Not to be overly cliched, but sometimes you gotta dance with the one who brought ya. Now is not the ideal time to be trying out something new, or, maybe it is, depending on the timescales one references.

There will be nights were Plan A fails – the New York City match a case in point. That a physical side on their wonky pitch can so throw off Toronto is a worry, but it is too soon for tales of doom and destruction. Six matches remain, after that the state of the sky can be assessed; the wheels inspected.

Five of those next six are to be played at home, a cozy month, albeit from an uncomfortable reality. Up first, an early kickoff on Saturday, is the most important one since the last one and before the next.

The Colorado Rapids come to town for the first and only meeting between the clubs in league play this season; a closer look at this weekend's enemy is in order.

The Lineup

Having taken up the managerial reins at the beginning of 2014, guiding the team to an eight-placed finish in the West, Pablo Mastroeni used the off-season to heavily renovate his side.

Brian Mullan retired, options were declined on a plethora of players – eleven all told – including Gale Agbossoumonde and Edson Buddle, formerly of TFC, as well as the likes of Carlos Alvarez, Kamani Hill, Dimitry Imbongo, and Nick LaBrocca, a handful of whom would eventually be re-signed.

Tony Cascio and Danny Mwanga were lost to the Expansion Draft, both landing in Orlando, while Marvell Wynne was selected in the Re-Entry Draft, finding himself in San Jose.

A few trades – keeper Joe Nasco to New England and Chris Klute to Columbus – a bit of the mutual consent termination – Jose Mari and Zat Knight – and a few transfers – Deshorn Brown to Norway and recently Shane O'Neill to Cyprus, the same club that 'signed' Doneil Henry – rounded out the departures.

While that cleanse occurred, the rebuild was already in progress. Michael Harrington joined from Portland, Bobby Burling picked up via the Waiver Draft, while Zac MacMath was acquired on loan from Philadelphia.

Further MLS experience continued to pour into the club: Marcelo Sarvas and Sam Cronin on trades from LA and San Jose, respectively, while Jame Riley would be signed on a free on the cusp of the new campaign. LaBrocca and Alvarez re-signed as well.

Buttressing those domestics, were a series of South American imports. Lucus Pittinari arrived on loan from Belgrano, Juan Ramirez as a young designated player from Argentinos Juniors, both Argentine midfielders. Come May, fellow countryman, Luis Solignac, a striker, would follow.

A couple of SuperDraft selections joined as well, the towering Axel Sjoberg and speedy forward Dominique Badji; Joseph Greenspan, a third draftee, would join later in the season, having come to an agreement with the US Navy.

As if that was not enough change, veteran presence was added all over the pitch. Irish striker Kevin Doyle was signed in March, but only arrived with the conclusion of Wolverhampton's English season in May, sooner than expected it must be said.

And the summer transfer window saw Mastroeni add a pair of experienced defenders in Sean St. Ledger, who was released by Orlando City, and Honduran international Maynor Figueroa, both of whom have been excellent pickups.

Heading into Saturday's match, there are two players listed as unavailable: Solignac and Sjoberg, with a hamstring and undisclosed injuries respectively, leaving Mastroeni with largely a full squad to choose from.

Colorado may be well off the playoff line, currently seven points shy of sixth in the West, but they will not have thrown in the towel, so expect a strong eleven.

Their projected lineup is as follows: Clint Irwin in goal; from right to left – Drew Moor, Bobby Burling, Sean St. Ledger, and Maynor Figueroa across the back; Lucas Pittinari and Sam Cronin will sit deep, with Vicente Sanchez, Marcelo Sarvas, and Gabriel Torres across the midfield; Kevin Doyle will top the formation.

football formations

There are plenty of possible alterations, especially further afield. Marc Burch has seen some time at left-back of late, while Jared Watts has been a utility defender, taking up several positions along the back or in the midfield. Riley has seen and done it all, a useful piece in any side.

LaBrocca could be introduced centrally or wide in the midfield, no doubt he would love to face his former team, and the Dillons, Powers and Serna, have found minutes fewer this season given the glut of midfielders at the club. Either could feature in the forward three. Sarvas could drop into the holding positions to open up that central attacking role for either youngster.. The energy of Powers in the middle against Michael Bradley could be one tact.

The same could be said of Ramirez or Marlon Hairston, who recently returned from a brief loan to Charlotte, though they are more likely to feature in the wide slots. Up top, Torres could move forward, if Doyle does not start, while Badji brings a touch more pace than either of the other two options.

The Form

The Rapids currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference on 34 points after 28 matches, just one short of eighth, but five behind seventh.

Their season began in the most goal-less of manners, going the entire month of March – three matches – without either conceding, or scoring a goal; 0-0's ruled the day.

They would lose April's opener against New England, only to hammer then league-leaders Dallas with a four-goal output. A loss to Seattle followed, before a run of four-straight 1-1 draws ensued against a series of tough opposition including Dallas, the Red Bulls, LA, and San Jose.

Seven of their first ten matches were draws.

A win over Vancouver would be their last for over a month, as they lost four of their next six, before another match in Vancouver returned them to winning ways.

That match on July 4 heralded the first of three-straight, including wins against Salt Lake and in Seattle, before August began with the reverse, a trio losses – home to LA and Columbus and away to San Jose.

Fortunes then reverse one more, as another streak then ensured, this time of the winning kind. They beat Chicago 0-1 on the road – an early Serna goal the difference, then returned home for 2-1 wins over Houston – Sanchez and Brad Davis exchanged first half penalty kicks and Doyle scored a winner in the 79th minute – and Kansas City – Dom Dwyer opened the scoring, but Figueroa and Doyle responded – in turn.

Vancouver would finally get one over on Colorado with the start of September, the Rapids losing 2-0 on their travels. Goals four minutes apart from Octavio Rivero and Cristian Techera beginning in the 73rd minute doomed an otherwise solid defensive road performance.

Most recently, a 1-1 draw against DC sets them up for a possible run up the table with the start of fall. A pair of centre-backs exchanged the goals, Burling giving the Rapids the lead, only for Steve Birnbaum to answer in the 87th minute of play.

They enter in good form, with just one loss in their last five, and location (home or away) seems not to matter much – they have split their last four road results, two wins and two losses.

Mastroeni's Colorado should not be taken lightly. Toronto will need to show up, should they hope to stop the rot and the worry.

Part Two, dissecting their strengths and weaknesses will be posted later today