There are two theories about how to approach the US Open Cup, theories much tested by other leagues with similar competitions around the world. Theory number one: trophies are trophies, so put your best XI on the field every match. Theory number two: cup ties against lower division teams are a great time to experiment, rest your regulars, rotate your squad, and let some of your younger players get some run.
With that in mind, we might see an interesting lineup Tuesday as the Rapids take on USL expansion team and the nearest professional soccer team to Denver, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks.
Idea 1: Play the kids
A bevy of Rapids players haven’t seen much of the field the season.
Marlon Hairston, Carlos Alvarez, Caleb Calvert, Charles Eloundou, Jared Watts, Dillon Serna, Shane O'Neill and Ben Newnam are all players who could use minutes, and might have something to prove. Some are stashed in Charlotte, I know, but any one of these guys can get on a plane to take on a USL team: they already ride a bus every week to do the same thing. I’d expect at least two or three of the young guys to start. This list is long on quickness, but short on experienced defenders or a true number 10, so there’s no way you’ll see this entire list out there. Although that’d be cool.
Idea 2: Mess with a New Formation
Pablo Mastroeni has played every minute of every game this season in the 4-2-3-1, which, ok, fine, I’m trying not to be frustrated with. Because the above young talent doesn’t have three strong central midfielders to play, and because the team hasn’t actually had, you know, success with this formation, there’s an argument to be made for going more aggressive with either a 4-3-3 or a Diamond 4-4-2. In a 4-3-3, you could start Serna at Left Wing, Doyle centrally, and Eloundou, Juan Ramirez, Gabriel Torres or Calvert on the right. A diamond 4-4-2 might let you try Gaby Torres or Dillon Powers as the attacking midfielder and pair Solignac or Doyle with a speed threat like Eloundou or Serna at striker.
Idea 3: Wingbacks
If you really want to get crazy, consider the 3-5-2 . The Rapids have two young guys who’s best (maybe only?) asset is speed up the line: Hairston and Serna. Witness the successful conversion of Brek Shea to Left Back by Orlando City and the USMNT: when you have a player with oodles of speed, this formation gives you the best options, especially considering the Rapids have a propensity to attack down the sides. Might be fun to see wingbacks, and you won’t get a better opportunity to tinker than against a so-so USL side.
Idea 4: Hey, remember Zac MacMath?
We could play Zac MacMath. It feels like a good thing to do: he was stuck behind Rais Mbolhi in Philadelphia, then comes here to be stuck behind Clint Irwin. He should get a chance in a lower-stakes game, before the tail end of the season when either we are fighting to get into the playoffs, or, more likely, we put MacMath in for a couple games because there is absolutely nothing to play for.
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All of this radical change is predicated on the idea that the Open Cup game against the Switchbacks doesn’t really matter much, which isn’t necessarily so. Hard wear is hard wear, especially in a season like this where it’s looking more and more likely we won’t be competing for MLS Cup. Also, winning the Lamar Hunt Cup would get the Rapids a berth in CONCACAF Champions League, which is something I’d like to see. I think the Dick would really get rocking if Pachuca or Cruz Azul or Herediano was the opponent, even if Commerce City might suddenly feel like a Costa Rican stadium for the night.
If the Open Cup matters, or if the Rapids feel like the need to let Solignac or Doyle get more time to gel with the regular first teamers, then we should expect to see a 4-2-3-1 with the usual suspects out there. The assumption is that those players are our best XI, and are most likely to get a result. Up to this point in the season, the regular first team hasn’t gotten many results, though. Maybe we need to experiment with some new alternatives to the existing first team.