It's not an exaggeration to say that Saturday's match may just be the most important game of the season for the Colorado Rapids. The season is essentially over for Colorado after dropping every single point in July, almost all of said points against Western Conference competition. A playoff run at this point would require almost a miraculous recovery in the standings. The Rapids have already been knocked out of every cup competition except for the MLS Cup, and the playoffs look light years away as well.
So what's left? The Rocky Mountain Cup is pretty much the only thing that the Rapids can accomplish this season. They're already down 2-0 in the three game aggregate, which is why this game is the most important game left in 2012. If they lose, the RMC chase is essentially over -- nobody expects RSL to come into Colorado and give up four or more goals in August.
Basically, to keep themselves in the RMC they'll need to get at least a point out of Salt Lake. Here's three keys to a possible shock victory for the burgundy boys...Shane O'Neill - You know that kid that the Rapids signed a few weeks ago from their academy? Yeah, he might be getting his first ever MLS minutes and maybe even his first ever MLS start in the most important game of the season. O'Neill played both midfield and forward in the academy but has been getting trained up as a defensive midfielder by the team since he joined the first team. Since the team released Harrison Henao and Jeff Larentowicz got suspended, it's essentially just down to O'Neill and Joseph Nane for that position. If I have to guess, I'd assume that O'Neill, an unproven commodity, will get the minutes over Nane, a proven, but only proven to be not all that good, commodity.
Of course, Oscar Pareja could always just play Drew Moor in the midfield LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU
Go With What Works - OK, so maybe 'works' isn't the right word, but in general this season it's been one failed endeavor after another for Oscar Pareja on the road in terms of rosters and formations. The best soccer we've seen this season has come from the diamond 4-4-2 formation, with essentially the same roster that we saw against Portland in the Rapids' last win.
You'll remember last time, he went for a weird 4-3-3 that had Drew Moor in the midfield and Jaime Castrillon as a striker, which worked about as well as you would expect it to as the Rapids fell 2-0. If he starts with the same formation and lineup he started in those well played games against Portland, Vancouver and 60 minutes of Dallas, they will have their best chance to win.
The Defense Not Screwing It All Up - You don't win many soccer games if you give up leads in every game and allow the other team to score two goals a game. That's pretty much how the defense has been doing it in July, and it simply won't cut it in Utah. I'd say that we don't necessarily need a clean sheet, but that's really not true. This team has proven time and time again this year that they can't win games unless they keep one, so the defense needs to have the game of their lives. Matt Pickens has to keep the team completely steady on set pieces, Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne have to be in 2010 form and Hunter Freeman along with whoever is on the left need to stay at home and let the midfield do the attacking work.