As always, it's all about these two.
It's finally time for first kick and the Rapids are definitely geared up and ready to do their stuff in order to defend their first ever major MLS trophy. Against the Portland Timbers I'm betting we're going to see a hell of a match. If the Rapids want to win that match, playing their game to perfection as they did against FC Dallas in the MLS Cup final last year will probably not be required but they certainly won't be able to simply sit back on their laurels.
Here are my personal three biggest keys to the Rapids getting the W and starting their season out on the right note.
Don't Sit Back - The Rapids had a bit of an unfortunate yet deserved reputation during their summer doldrums last year - and it's long been a problem with this club - to play not 100% during a game against a percieved weaker or equal opponent. On the situations where the Rapids scored first they tended to turtle their way to attempted victory - the Real Salt Lake game in Sandy where they blew their 1-0 victory in stoppage time by allowing a Nat Borchers goal on a blown coverage way back in the box immediately comes to mind - and in situations where they fell they simply looked defeated and shocked from the outset - I'm sure we all remember the DC United match at home.
In their first ever MLS match, you know that Portland, while the weaker team of the two - are going to be very motivated to get their MLS careers started on a high note. The Rapids can prevent that simply by playing their style of football as they always know how to and keeping Portland's potent midfield out of the equation. If the Rapids sit back or underestimate their opponent, Portland has a very good chance of coming out quickly and surprising them early in the game.
Keep The Fortress Going - Past FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake, one of the most impressive stories of dominance at home last season belonged to our own Colorado Rapids. Only falling a scant two times the entire season while playing at altitude - once to the eventual Supporters Shield winning Los Angeles Galaxy and once during a 'rest the starters game' against DC United - was a very impressive statistic and one of the biggest factors in Colorado not only making the playoffs but beating Columbus and San Jose in order to get to the final to face Dallas.
Colorado just has a different air about them - pun intended - when they're at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Whether it was the atmosphere of the crowd or just the atmosphere in general that was doing it, they have to keep that magic going this year. If the home field advantage is the only thing that gives Colorado the edge over Portland today, so be it.
Casey/Cummings - People can talk about Larentowicz and his all star year sparking the Rapids to the title all they want, this team still runs through its strikers. Conor Casey and Omar Cummings are going to need to have the same form that they have had the last couple of years, probably needing to score at least 25 goals between them as usual if they want the Rapids to keep the form that they showed last year. Against a Timbers team that doesn't have the strongest defense or goalkeeping, Omar and Conor should have a chance to feast. Cummings in particular spending an entire year in the 4-4-2 rather than being forced into an unnatural winger role should do nothing but help his numbers, and he was the hottest man out of the gate last year, scoring the first goal against Chivas of the Rapids season.
This could probably be a key to the game every single week, actually. In a team that is basically built around stealing the ball in the midfield, getting it out wide and getting service into the box for the two up top, the goals will need to come. Come they will, but against weaker teams like Portland it will be essential to pile them on.