COLUMBUS, OH - AUGUST 20: Emilio Renteria #20 of the Columbus Crew celebrates his first half goal against the Philadelphia Union on August 20, 2011 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
For the second consecutive year, the Colorado Rapids will open the MLS Cup playoffs against Columbus Crew. Last year, the Rapids needed penalty kicks in the second leg to send the Ohio club packing. This season, MLS unveiled a Wild Card round that is just one match, with the Rapids hosting as the higher seed.
Columbus enter the postseason with wins from two of their final three games. However, the month of September was not kind to the Crew as they were winless in five matches, including only one draw. It is also noteworthy that the final game of August featured a Columbus side that was humbled 6-2 at CenturyLink Field to Seattle Sounders FC.
Meanwhile, Colorado closed out the regular season with a wins over FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps, sandwiched by a 0-0 draw with geographical rivals Real Salt Lake. The Rapids defense has been strong in the month of October in MLS league play. However, production from the forwards has been very disturbing. It is clear the club has missed Conor Casey and his 6 goals this season was surpassed by defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz on the final matchday of the season against Vancouver Whitecaps.
Larentowicz finished the season with 7 goals. Conor Casey and Caleb Folan each tallied 6 goals while Sanna Nyassi finished with 5 goals. However, three of those tallies for The Gambia speedster came in a mid-season 4-1 home win against New York Red Bulls. Rapids defender Drew Moor had 4 goals on the season, including the game-winner against FC Dallas just a few weeks ago.
The Dick's Sporting Goods Park grounds crew worked hard to clear snow from the pitch on Wednesday. The Denver metro area had approximately 5-6 inches of snow on Wednesday and temperatures are expected to be below-freezing by kickoff. The Rapids could be without the services of midfielder Pablo Mastroeni as the Colorado captain has been recovering from a concussion sustained against Real Salt Lake. Jamie Smith could partner with Jeff Larentowicz in central midfield if this is the case.
The Crew will be without versatile midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo as the Nigerian will serve a suspension after receiving two yellow cards in the final match of the season against Chicago Fire. Crew Defender Danny O'Rourke is questionable due to knee problems. Colorado's defense will have to be organized as Emilio Renteria and Andres Mendoza have combined for 21 goals this season.
With home field advantage, Colorado are viewed as favorites to send Columbus packing for the second consecutive season. Also, due to the New York Red Bulls 2-0 win over FC Dallas in the other Wild Card matchup, Colorado would find itself in the Eastern Conference bracket with a win over Columbus. This would mean a semifinal matchup over two legs against Sporting Kansas City. The Rapids are sure to be happy knowing they would avoid LA Galaxy in the second round but need to take care of business at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on a cold Thursday evening.