We have reached the doldrums of mid-season. The newness of opening day has worn off and the intensity of the playoff race starts after the all-star break. Beginning Saturday the Rapids average a match a little more than every three and a half days until July 7th, or six in 22 days. What will we learn about the Rapids? How will our stingy defense look? Will the Rapids recently shortened injury report grow again? I feel like the Rapids are set-up perfectly for this period of the season and will become more confident after this stretch and here's why.
The Rapids have a good problem right now, namely too much depth. We know that Head Coach Oscar Pareja loves competition. There are no guaranteed spots. The best defense in the Western Conference (and second best in MLS) is going to take a hit with Shane O'Neill in Turkey for the under 20 World Cup. But with new acquisition German Mera and championship tested veteran Brian Mullan in reserve, Pareja will be able to switch around the line-up and see what works best and get Mera accustomed to the MLS style of play if and when the injury bug hits again.
The midfield has seen many changes this year with the aforementioned injury report. Jaime Castrillon can provide some relief while challenging for a spot in the crowded midfield. Kevin Harbottle had a hat trick in the reserves game last week and is making a run at some first team MLS minutes. The Rapids have held every game close, not losing by more than a goal all season. The midfield is seemingly over-flowing with talented and competent players. It's the attack and specifically the finishing of the forwards that is what's keeping the Rapids from the top of the table.
While watching the U.S. Mens National Team match against Panama last night, I was in awe at how Micheal Bradley and teammates fed the ball to Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey and saying to myself, "This is what Edson Buddle is supposed to do." If Buddle can stay healthy and start getting good service from a healthy Martin Rivero and Jaime Castrillon then there would be no stopping Colorado. Deshorn Brown's growing pains hopefully will be over soon and give the Rapids a lightning fast ball winner that can stretch the opposing defense.
With the depth of the Rapids the early injuries are going to help in the next few weeks. The young players received valuable experience and with a game every couple days hopefully Pareja can tailor line-ups to which team the Rapids are playing. I don't know how this season is going to end. Although if I was able to tell the future, I wouldn't have to spend so much money on half the weddings I go to because the divorce rate is 50-plus percent. I don't know what the line-up is going to look like after the 22 days ending July 7th. But the Rapids must start these 3 weeks with a win against the San Jose Earthquakes this Saturday.
On the Rapids unbeaten streak they have seen a coach manage his last game and on Saturday will see one (Mark Watson) coach his first. By the way, that's two reigning coach of the year award winners "leaving" their respective teams in the last week in American sports. George Karl said that award was cursed. What will we know about the team after July 7th? The cream will rise to the top. The Rapids unbeaten streak will probably end due to the crazy road trip across the entire continent. Maybe we will have a clear picture on the starting 11 with the injured players coming back. Hopefully this team that is competitive in every game can come out on the other side trending the same way they have since mid-March. Up the table.