Part One, looking over their lineup and form, was posted earlier today
Looking over recent weeks, the primary concern that will vex Toronto FC is the ability of Kevin Doyle in the air.
He may only have four goals in seventeen appearances, but all four have come in Colorado wins, and each has been the game-winner.
Doyle is a constant threat with his devastating ability to make timely runs and to find the space he needs to get the required touch on any ball into the area.
Consider his goal against Houston a few weeks ago. Sam Cronin puts a ball into the area for Sean St. Ledger to chase, he just manages to keep it in – Houston begged to differ – regardless, Doyle stays with the play, making contact with a leaping header, darting in front of AJ Cochran at the back side to touch past Tyler Deric:
That veteran savvy, knowing exactly where to hold his run, creating the separation needed to attack the ball, and the exact moment to act in order to win the touch is the sort of thing that only comes with experience; or innate talent.
With word arriving Friday afternoon that Ahmed Kantari will be suspended, it will fall on Damien Perquis and one of Eriq Zavaleta or Nick Hagglund to confront that aerial ability – each is a poor match-up for TFC, who would be wise to limit set-piece opportunities against the sizable Rapids.
Combine his presence in the box and Colorado's ability to work the wide areas, especially in the form of Vicente Sanchez, and the Rapids have a dangerous partnership that should have done more for them this season.
Sanchez is a very interesting character. He joined the club back in 2013 and every time he takes to the pitch something is liable to happen. Unfortunately for Colorado (and viewers), he has struggled with injuries, limiting him to roughly 1000 minutes per season – his current total of 1121 is the most he has ever seen in MLS.
He is a trickster, capable of pulling the most ridiculous out of his back-pocket. He is no spring chicken at the tender age of 35, but what a joy he must have been to watch in his youth – spent largely with Mexican side Toluca.
Always up for a shot from anywhere, a good example of Sanchez' threat, which combines Doyle's aerial ability, came in Colorado's win over Sporting KC.
Sanchez destroys Seth Sinovic out wide, a player he had running battles with all night, to gain the end-line, hanging a ball up towards the back-side for Doyle who lurked off the shoulder of Kevin Ellis. Ellis, unaware of the forward's position, seems to think he has time to allow the delivery to come to him, but Doyle cuts in front, getting the flicked touch to help the ball on to the far-side of goal:
Sanchez is a handful wide, Toronto will be fortunate if he does not play, otherwise, they need to keep him closely marked, track those runs, and prevent him from finding the space to pick out crosses. For the defenders, the advice is too attack the ball. Seconds and inches are vitally important with Doyle on the prowl.
Another goal from that same match further displayed how Sanchez can do damage. Having broken the ankles of Sinovic with a turn, Sanchez tears into the area, but still has the awareness to lift his head and spot Maynor Figueroa in space on the far-side of the box. Rather than driving at goal, he wisely rolls a pass along top of the area for the Honduran, who finishes with the aid of a slight deflection:
That tactic of playing a low ball into the area is something Colorado seems to be fond of. There was a play in the Houston game that saw Cronin drive a low ball, obviously not a shot, into the area, hoping for a touch. It was cleared by the Dynamo defense, but nervously so, nearly resulting in an own-goal.
Toronto needs to be aware of those passing lanes that develop in the midst of a play, and be wary of the low ball hammered in in hopes of it pin-balling around off the forest of legs.
One last note on the Rapids attack is that they can be lightning quick on the counter. Chicago was burned early by such a play when they met – the goal proved the game-winner standing up for the remaining 89 minutes.
Following a turnover in midfield, Gabriel Torres finds Doyle, who had drifted way out to the right to get involved – having a forward who puts himself in those smart positions to contribute is invaluable. Doyle turns on the ball, quickly laying a pass in behind the Fire back-line for the streaking Torres, who had continued his run. Surging up the right, Torres lifts his head to play a perfect curling, square ball for Dillon Serna making a run up the back-side for a simple touch into the back of the net:
Torres has looked very lively this season after struggling mightily upon his arrival in MLS. He looks fit and hungry, making him a dangerous forward. Serna, despite limited playing time, is third in team scoring (three goals), despite featuring in half the time of Doyle and a third of Torres. He in particular is very capable from range, of which Toronto will have to be wary. Both Sanchez and Torres too can strike from distance.
As regards that quick break threat, TFC will need to be on their toes, quick to spot such situations building and ready to turn quickly and chase if necessary. For a defender, t is always better to keep the play in front, but should Toronto's back-line try and play too high, they will get burned.
At the back, Colorado are incredibly stingy.
There is only one team in the league that has conceded fewer goals than Colorado's thirty – Vancouver with 28 – if the Rapids could score, just 26 goals in 28 matches, they would be a much more dangerous force.
In fact, only seven of their games have been decided by more than one goal. That is definitely a skill, but a dangerous one, as the balance of the points depends on so many possible factors. Concede a penalty kick, or fall behind by two, and the game is all but over.
One thing that Toronto has struggled to do of late is going at the opponent's defenses with pace. Too often, they have dawdled on the ball, allowing the opposition to pack their men between the ball and the goal, making progress ever more difficult.
If TFC can pull that off, whether centrally or wide, the Rapids can be had.
Colorado has a tendency to get overstretched when put under direct pressure. Bobby Burling conceded a penalty kick against Houston by a quick Brad Davis move, playing a ball behind the back-line for Will Bruin. Burling reached out his arm to block the delivery, but it was that he was caught out by the ball and Bruin's run that is instructional.
That incident was more about pace and spotting runs, but a similar problem popped up on Dom Dwyer's goal for Sporting KC. A quick one-two move between Krisztian Nemeth and Benny Feilhaber allows the former to move up the left. Another quick step saw Nemeth past Axel Sjoberg, cutting inside towards goal.
Now, at this point Colorado is already in a panic. One centre-back was drawn out wide by the initial move, and Nemeth cutting in forced the other to come across, leaving left-back Figueroa alone in the middle with multiple attackers. He attempts to cover both as Nemeth touches towards the lurking Dwyer, who powered a shot past Clint Irwin:
There is a lot that Toronto can learn from that move: the use of width to create central lanes, the willingness of runners to get into those channels, and the combination of individual talent, such as the Nemeth cut, with the team moving as a whole towards goal. Too often Toronto is caught slow and watching; they need to move together.
That same sort of lack of awareness nearly proved costly in the waning moments, when Dwyer was able to get on the end of a low ball into the area. Had Irwin not made two fantastic reaction saves, Colorado's inability to either cut out the ball or mark the man would have cost them the victory:
The lesson for Toronto is get at them, don't sit back and look to craft perfect looks. Try things, get into those positions, and put the ball into dangerous places. Good things will happen.
There is one other manner in which Toronto should look to do some damage that echoes the above notes, namely try and catch Colorado napping.
Like NYC FC last match, Colorado has shown that despite their defensive ability, they are prone to occasionally switching off.
Steve Birnbaum's late equalizer for DC United on the weekend is a perfect example. Having nearly held off one of the league's best sides for over an hour, Colorado, disgruntled with a foul call, were slow to get in position and even worse at spotting the threat of Fabian Espindola in acres of space down the left. Taylor Kemp spots this vulnerability and plays to him, sending Colorado into a panic.
In their effort to get out to pressure, the marking in the middle evaporates, allowing Birnbaum to find the space to get on the end of the incoming ball:
A bit of imagination can go a long way on the soccer pitch. Perhaps it's time for one of those Sebastian Giovinco free-kicks to be played wide, change the point of attack for a smashing drive from Michael Bradley... nobody would expect it.
Points of Interest
This is the only regular season meeting between the two sides this season.
The two have played thirteen times over the years with Toronto winning seven, Colorado five, and drawing a single clash.
Seven of those matches have been played in Toronto, where TFC has won six, the Rapids 0-1 win last season ended that impressive run. Former TFC forward Edson Buddle scored the winner. There have only been two away wins in the series, each winning once at the other's ground.
Colorado has won the last two, overturning a previous Toronto unbeaten run that stretched four matches.