These are heady times for the Colorado Rapids. After two years of veritable suckitude, the burgundy crew that nobody expected to climb out of the Western Conference cellar play against the five-time MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy. And the Rapids are the higher seed, giving them the home game in the second leg next week.
But first, they travel to Carson to face an LA Galaxy squad that’s long on experience, but also will put up a starting XI that’s hard to predict. Will Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, or Gyasi Zardes be healthy enough to factor in? Is Landon Donovan fit enough to start? Is Emmanuel Boateng suddenly the real deal? Is their best CB pair Steres and Van Damme, or De La Garza and Van Damme?
Here are my three keys for the game:
1) Contain Giovani Dos Santos
When Dos Santos is given a little bit of daylight in the final third, or a a little bit of space in zone 14 (that 10 yards of space above the 18 yard box and between the lines) he will kill you. The Rapids will need to drop a defensive midfielder back to body him up, or push a CB up to keep him in check while bringing a d-mid around front to deny the pass into the Mexican international. When Dos Santos is kept quiet, generally, LA is kept quite too.
2) Do not concede more than one goal
Nil-nil, 1-1, or 1-0, Rapids are all great results, considering how formidible Colorado is at home this year. You really just want to get out of StubHub with things still pretty close. That means, most of all, do not give up two goals or more - going home needing two goals is a very tall ask for a Rapids squad that only scored two or more goals in 10 games out of 36. Colorado are not a prolific scoring team, so keeping tight and organized, even if that means being a bit boring and safe, is really the order of the day. If the score is 0-0 after 45 minutes, we should all feel pretty darn good.
3) Unleash the JJ
Jermaine Jones hasn’t started since July 4th, but the team keys off his rollicking, chaos generating high-press in beautiful ways. If he starts and does his number 10 super destroyer act like we’ve seen against the Red Bulls and Seattle and RSL early in the season, we should be A-OK in this match. In a related note, the Rapids three best players this year offensively have been Jermaine Jones (3 goals, 2 assists, 4 clean sheets in only 8 starts), Shkelzen Gashi (9 goals, 4 assists) and Marlon Hairston (3 goals, 6 assists). The three have never started together. So if Pablo goes that way and it all clicks, its not impossible that this team actually puts LA on their heels early.
OUT Dillon Serna
QUESTIONABLE Robbie Keane (hip flexor), Steven Gerrard (hamstring), Gyasi Zardes (foot),
How to Watch
Match Date/Time: Sunday, October 20, 2016 at 3:00 PM MST
Venue: Stubhub Center, Carson, California
TV Information: ESPN
Radio: 950 AM Altitude
Live Stream: MLS Live (blackouts apply), Watch ESPN/ESPN3
Weather at Kickoff: 69 degrees, overcast, 15% chance of rain