Man, wasn't this game a lot more exciting to talk about three weeks ago? Colorado and FC Dallas looked to be two of the top teams in the Western conference, probably battling for the #3 spot in the West at the very least with Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy being ahead of them... that was the outlook a couple of weeks ago as the season was just in its infancy.
Now, Colorado is at the top of the table being the only undefeated team in the league that has played three games. They also have the best offense in the league as it stands with a +6 goal differential, outscoring their opponents 8-2 total so far. Dallas have faltered quite a bit since the season has started to the tune of an 0-2-1 record and only a single goal in their first three games, with that lone goal being a backheel by Milton Rodriguez against the Chicago Fire in their season opener. Their offense has easily been the most wasteful in the league as Ben pointed out yesterday in our game preview, shades of Kansas City last year with less striker talent.
That said, Dallas are always a tough draw (pun!) in Pizza Hut Park and they were able to draw with Colorado every time they met last year - even in the MLS Cup Final which had to go to extra time - so this game should be a cracker. Here's the three biggest keys to the Rapids keeping their record perfect.Stifle in the Midfield - FC Dallas lost two of their best offensive players - both strikers - after the season ended, Jeff Cunningham and Atiba Harris. The two of them combined for a total of 15 of Dallas' 42 goals last season, just under half of them. The lack of offensive talent up at striker has shown in their lack of goalscoring this season. Fabian Castillo is probably their best striker right now and he's still a very young and raw prospect. Milton Rodriguez has shown some promise but has been incredibly wasteful. The Colorado defense might not be the best in the league but the key is going to be to worry less about the men up top and focus on keeping that talented midfield from having any good chances. Last year's MVP David Ferreira is still on there and even guys like Brek Shea can be dangerous. The cup battle last year was termed a 'battle of the midfields' by some and probably every Colorado v. Dallas game for the next couple is going to carry the same moniker. It may be easier for Colorado to deal with since they don't have Dax McCarty any more, though.
Striker Hot Streaks - With Conor Casey confirmed for being out of the game, it's very, very likely that we'll see a Caleb Folan and Omar Cummings tandem on the front lines. If Gary Smith doesn't roll out those two, he's probably doing something wrong. While every first team striker not named Casey has a goal right now, Cummings and Folan have looked super-human in their appearances on the first team. Folan could have easily had a goal against Chivas USA and then scored two brilliant ones on DC United. Cummings' first was brilliant as usual and his second was a classic 'right place, right time' sort of goal. Those two are on fire early in the season and those are the guys that should be getting the ball most often against a pretty good Dallas defense.
Play To Win - The two games the Rapids played in the regular season against Dallas last year were incredibly frustrating for Rapids fans. Both ended in draws - 1-1 at home and 2-2 away - and both were a fine mix of lackluster play and just plain bad luck on the Rapids part. Omar Cummings played terribly in the away match and Danny Earls had to sub in for an injured Anthony Wallace, blowing a 1-0 Rapids lead at the time. In the home match Julien Baudet got an unfortunate own goal. Dallas spent all of last season getting draws out of games like that to the point where they wound up with the league record of draws. They haven't looked quite as good this season but with Kevin Hartman in goal and decent talent all over the pitch the Rapids will need to come out strong, fast and play to win the entire game if they want to be sure of getting 3 points against the Hoops.