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Rapids vs. Galaxy - Three Keys to the Game

One of those keys might involve not letting this guy take another penalty kick ever again.
One of those keys might involve not letting this guy take another penalty kick ever again.

Must win this, must win that. We hear the 'must win' mantra all over the sporting world every single season, but it rarely is an actual game that a team has to win to save themselves. Unfortunately, there's not much hyperbole involved when saying that Colorado's upcoming game against the LA Galaxy is 'must win'.

Colorado is currently eight points out of the playoffs, with the Vancouver Whitecaps and LA Galaxy the teams currently in the fourth and fifth playoff spots for the Western Conference. (FC Dallas is currently four points ahead of the Rapids in sixth place, but passing them probably won't be as much of a hassle.) If the Rapids want any hope of getting past the Whitecaps, they're probably going to need to win the rest of their games, affording maybe one loss or draw in there. If that loss is to the Galaxy, that will essentially guarantee that they can't catch up to LA in the end, knocking out one of the few options they have ahead of them in the 'teams they can overtake' category.

It's very unlikely that they'll be able to catch up to LA even if they win out the rest of their games, but the only chance they'll have is if they can beat LA twice in their final few games. The harder task will likely be the game at the HDC, but can the Rapids take the win? Stranger things have happened...

Don't Overthink, Oscar - I mentioned in my tactics article a few days back that Oscar Pareja showed a lot of tactical maturity in his second game against Portland. The question is, can he do it again? Pareja has had very many frustrating performances as manager this season, at least tactically and especially on the road.

Remember his attempt to play a high line against San Jose? His strange 4-1-4-1 formation against the Seattle Sounders? His attempts to shoehorn Conor Casey and Omar Cummings together simply because of the names, even when the two weren't actually healthy enough to both play? His allowing Cummings to take the awful PK in the team's last game against the Galaxy even though so many better options were available?

All mistakes, and hopefully all mistakes that he has learned from. Pareja is going against a legendary coach in Bruce Arena, and if he tries to outsmart Bruce he's going to get burned. Hopefully he'll take a look at what worked against Portland and what worked in the first LA game and craft a gameplan and roster based on that.

Hendry Thomas vs. Galaxy Midfield - LA might have a few weak spots this year, but their midfield is pretty damn stacked. Getting back Juninho was one of the best moves of the offseason for any MLS team. Landon Donovan and David Beckham are one of the best 1-2 punches in any MLS midfield. Fortunately, the Rapids have finally gotten a replacement for Pablo Mastroeni, and it's going to see how well Hendry Thomas does against a midfield far better than what the Portland Timbers were throwing at him.

Thomas had 110 successful passes and only nine unsuccessful ones since he started playing games for Colorado, unbelievable numbers for a guy who was supposed to be suffering fitness issues. His coverage of Juninho especially will be important -- he has burned the Rapids by being left completely unmarked in the center of the field before. If Hendry wants to earn a long term contract, these will be the games that he shows he deserves one in.

Go For Broke - Colorado has actually played better against LA at the Home Depot Center in recent years than at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Why is that? Nobody knows for sure. Perhaps they put in that tiny extra bit of work at LA, since the games always seem to be ones with big playoff implications. (The 3-1 win in 2010 comes to mind, as does the hard-fought 1-0 loss there last season.) So how can you channel that into Friday's match? Just go for broke.

If the Rapids lose, they're pretty much knocked out. Sure, they won't be guaranteed out like Toronto FC is, but the chances will go from Rapids 2011 territory to RSL 2009 territory in terms of things that would need to go right in order for them to get into the playoff race. There's no room for error in this game, everyone needs to put on the game of their career in order to keep this race alive. If anyone takes a day off or phones it in like Edu seems to every single game, it's probably over. Remember, the Galaxy are trying to work toward a better playoff spot themselves.