Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting Kansas City - Three Questions with The Daily Wiz

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!

Ahead of the two legs against Sporting Kansas City starting tonight at 5:30 PM, Justin from our fantastic SKC blog The Daily Wiz and I exchanged a few questions about SKC and our Colorado Rapids. First up are my questions with him, then I'll list my answers to his questions.

UZ: Sporting Kansas City obviously have an incredibly deep striker group. With all of them seemingly at equal standings - three of them are tied with 9 goals a piece - which player do you think is the most dangerous in the group?

Justin: If I had to choose, I’d have to go with Kei Kamara. Usually we’ve seen Kamara, Omar Bravo, and either Teal Bunbury, or CJ Sapong up top for Sporting KC. 

Bunbury has shown flashes of greatness at different points throughout the season, but he’s not consistently able to deliver those kinds of performances. It seems his form will change from match to match, or at times, from half to half. Sapong has had a great rookie season, but to this point, he’s been better with his back to the goal, and finding his teammates to create chances, as opposed to taking the defense one on one as a pure striker.

Omar Bravo has been very good this season, and has no doubt lived up to his Designated Player status in his first season in MLS, but he has been prone to disappear at times. Kamara, in my opinion, has been the most consistent threat for Sporting KC this season. He’s continually been dangerous on the right side for Kansas City , causing problems for opposing defenses.

More after the jump!

 

UZ: After Livestrong Sporting Park opened, Kansas City got a ton of support and points at home moving them from last in the league to first in the East. Ahead of the road leg of this series, how has their road form changed since they got their new home?

Justin: While I do think Sporting KC is a good team whether they are on the road or at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park , I would say they aren’t as dangerous on the road.

Obviously, they struggled early in the season, when they played 10 consecutive road games to start the season. Since then, and the opening of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park , Sporting KC have been good on the road, but I don’t feel they are nearly as dangerous as they are at home. I’m not sure if that has something to do with confidence, but you can definitely see the difference. Which is why finishing first in the Eastern Conference was such a huge deal for the club. If they take care of business on the road on Sunday, I would have to think they’d feel pretty good about their chances when they play the second leg match on Wednesday.

UZ: Give us a rundown on SKC's usual lineup, formation and tactics.

Justin: Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes likes to attack, and he likes to attack often. The 4-3-3 formation he favors allows his team to do that quite well. Vermes likes for his team to force constant pressure on the ball, so needless to say, Sporting KC is an extremely aggressive team, which can cause them problems. At times, they’ve maybe been too aggressive, allowing teams to have success on the counter-attack. If Sporting KC can pressure the ball, but still remain disciplined on the defensive side of things, they are one of the tougher teams in MLS.

Usually we see a pretty consistent lineup from Vermes, with Jimmy Nielsen in goal, and with a backline of Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, and Seth Sinovic.

The backline has been solid for most of the season, and at this point, Vermes has his four guys that consistently start for him. Myers is having a break out year at right back, having finally gotten over the injury bug that had plagued him his first couple of seasons in Kansas City. Besler has been a rock in the middle of the Sporting KC defense, and one could make an legitimate argument that Besler is the team’s MVP. Sinovic has been a steal at left back, as he was released by both New England , and Real Salt Lake before signing with Sporting KC. He’s been very good on that left side, attacking up the flank and providing service to the Sporting front line. Collin’s been a big piece of the Sporting KC puzzle, as he provides toughness, and is never afraid to challenge opposing teams’ forwards (which is probably why he has 10 yellow cards this season).

Graham Zusi, and Julio Cesar are entrenched in the Sporting KC midfield at this point, with team captain Davy Arnaud, and Roger Espinoza splitting time at the last midfield spot. Roger had been playing a lot at the holding midfield role, but the emergence of Cesar at that position has allowed him to move higher up the pitch, and attack. Zusi has been amazing this year, and has quickly become one of the most dangerous long distance shooters, and set piece takers in MLS.

Up top, Vermes almost always starts Omar Bravo at the left winger position, and Kei Kamara at the right, with Teal Bunbury, and CJ Sapong switching in and out at the center forward position. As of late, Bunbury has seen the majority of the starts, and I expect he’ll start on Sunday, as well. Bunbury is a mixed bag at this point, but if he starts a game hot, he can cause major problems for opposing defenses. The only problem is that he only plays up to his potential half of the time, which is probably why we’ve seen so much of Sapong, who’s the more steady, consistent forward out of the two.

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Justin: Rapids midfielder Jamie Smith tore his ACL in Colorado's 1-0 win over Columbus earlier this week. How will the loss of Smith impact the Rapids as they continue their playoff push?

UZ: It's going to be an immense loss to Colorado. On a team that's built mostly around role players and defensive mettle, Jamie is one of the few purely offensive minds that you'll find on the team. Some of the best goals on the season were either set up by or scored by Jamie. He's also the best set-piece server on the team, but Gary Smith has confusingly started to use Sanna Nyassi in his stead in that regard lately even when Jamie was healthy so I guess that it's not quite as big of a problem that we're losing our service-master. Either way, it's just another tick in the wall of first team starters that are out for the season along with Conor Casey and Anthony Wallace. Since Colorado's problem this year was a complete lack of depth, that most certainly can't be a good thing. Look to see Wells Thompson on the wing in his stead.

Justin: If you had to name three Colorado players that are critical to the team's success, which three players would you name, and why?

UZ: Drew Moor, Pablo Mastroeni and Omar Cummings
Moor is the best player on the Rapids and it's not even a close race. He single-handedly (headedly?) kept the Columbus Crew away from the goal last match despite an absolute barrage of crosses into the area unleashed in his general direction during a frantic last few minutes. The one match that he missed this season, the Rapids looked confused and listless, albeit against the current Supporters Shield holders. As he goes, the Rapids go; in confidence, defensive mettle and all sorts of other things.

Pablo might or might not be healthy for the match, but for the Rapids sake he'd better be. There's a reason he's the captain and that reason is that he's the most steady and consistent player on the field except possibly for Moor. The replacements we have for him in the midfield aren't exactly shining stars either, has anyone even heard of Joseph Nane and Ross LaBauex around the league? The Rapids managed the Crew game without him, but Kansas City have far too much offense to overlook the hole in the central midfield that Pablo could potentially leave.

Omar Cummings has had a terrible season. After being an MVP candidate last season he seems to have taken the fame to his head and started to bring about quality on the pitch that he just doesn't have. He's tried shots from way too far out, passes that even Messi wouldn't dare and cheeky backheels instead of wide open shots half the time. And worst of all, he hasn't scored. Four goals in a season is not nearly enough for a so-called star player. Fortunately, he seemed to find himself against the Columbus Crew as he finally netted another goal for himself inside the 18 yard box where the goals should be coming from. He's shown before that he can net them in bunches if he gets hot, so we're hoping that he is indeed going to get hot. If not, I don't know where the Rapids offense will come from.

Justin: To borrow a great question from you; give us a rundown on Colorado's usual lineup, formation and tactics.

UZ: The Rapids play a very conservative straight ahead 4-4-2 formation.

The defense has a good mixture of size, speed and grit with Miguel Comminges, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor and Kosuke Kimura helping keep balls away from our fairly frightening (to us) goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Comminges and Kimura play as wing-backs with Kimura especially coming up almost as far as a striker at times to provide confusion on the side and more options for crosses.

With both Smith and Mastroeni out it's possible that you'll find them with an offensive midfielder in the center but normally they go with two box to box defensive guys in the center, Pablo along with Jeff Larentowicz being the old standard. Look for Wells Thompson, Jeff Larentowicz, Ross LaBauex and Brain Mullan to play the matches if Mastroeni misses them. Ross is a fairly young and more raw version of Pablo Mastroeni with more offensive than defensive flair to him so it should still be an interesting one to see next to the all-defensive Larentowicz. (Don't let his 7 goals fool you, they ALL came from booming shots on free kicks.)

Up top the Rapids either like to do the classic Target forward + speed option with Caleb Folan and Omar Cummings or try and simply burn past the defense with Sanna Nyassi up top. Considering how ineffective Folan has shown himself lately I expect to see the speed line up top with a mix of Omar, Sanna and perhaps Macoumba Kandji.
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