The Rapids take the field Tuesday in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the 103rd playing of the competition. This is the first round when MLS teams enter the competition, and all but the poor San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers will be facing lower league sides from the NASL, USL, PDL, and USASA (Go La Maquina!)
In addition to the trophy and bragging rights, winners of the 2016 Open Cup earn one of the United States' four slots to the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League. That also guarantees MLS clubs additional funds for General Allocation. So as much as MLS clubs tend to not take the opening rounds of the tournament with full seriousness, winning the thing can be very good.
The Rapids face a re-match of their foes from last year, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, an upstart USL club. The Switchbacks got to this point by knocking off Arizona FC on June 1 in round three, and the Boulder amateur club Harpos FC on May 18 in round two. #bullshitpubteam .
For a full treatment of our brothers to the south, check out the awesome coverage of AndJasonSez on Burgundy Wave. But if you just want a quick and dirty primer, Jason did an excellent season preview that will cover the basics. Site Boss John Rosch also has times, places, records, etc. coming in to this one.
Rapids manager Pablo Mastroeni will be embarking on his third USOC campaign as a coach. His first campaign was, err, memorable. In 2014 a wild fracas on-field led to red card ejections for both Mastroeni and Atlanta Silverbacks skipper Eric Wynalda for leaving the technical area. Which was especially odd, since according to Wynalda, both coaches were summoned onto the field by the referee.
Anyhoo, most managers worldwide like to rest their regulars and give the kids a look in these early stages of their domestic cups. In the past two years, Mastroeni has proved no different, as last year he played Serna, Hairston, and even Ensign Joseph Greenspan. With that in mind, here's my best guess as to the starting XI:
Starting at the back, Chris Froschauer is highly likely to get his first professional start. MacMath has played every minute for the 'Pids to this point. The kid from Ohio State has been waiting for his shot patiently. No better time than right now, especially since he's soon to be pushed to the number three when Tim Howard arrives.
The back line is Burch-Watts-Miller-Castillo, as much due to necessity as it is a chance for the youths. Centerback Bobby Burling is out. Axel Sjoberg is playing like an MVP, and deserves a rest. Sean St Ledger has been out four to six weeks for the last eight to twelve weeks. If he's healthy, this would be a great game to get a run in, but only a trained psychic could predict that.
That means that not only does the team have few options at centerback; the team has their best chance to audition two temporary replacements in a low-stakes game right now. You ought to see Miller and Watts, if only to suss out which of them is the best regular replacement for Burling for the next five weeks.
If the Rapids are going to rest Mekiel Williams, then rookie Dennis Castillo would get his first start. I love me some Castillo, so I hope that happens.
Your midfield of guys that haven't played every minute (Sam Cronin), aren't away at the Euros (Shkelzen Gashi), aren't on duty at Copa America Centenario (Jermaine Jones) and aren't recently coming off injury (Dominique Badji) are the five dudes you see above. Azira deserves a rest, but the only d-mid on the roster besides Cronin is Watts, and he's likely playing CB from now on. Marco Pappa is also available, but he's coming off of injury and probably needed for Saturday's clash against Chicago Fire, so I anticipate if we see him it'll be coming off of the bench. I think Badji will be on the bench too.
Why Serna as attacking mid and Powers at CDM? Serna started there last year in the USOC, and he doesn't have the poise or physicality to fill in at d-mid. It's Powers by default.
Up top, it's Conor Doyle, who hasn't seen the field much this year: just 23 paltry minutes to date. Badji could start here, or come off the bench, as long as he's healthy.
If he's not healthy, the only other option is regular Kevin Doyle. But I expect the Rapids will rest him, too, ahead of the Chicago match. Colorado did call up Caleb Calvert on May 26, but he's ineligible to play in this match, since he is cup-tied to USL club Charlotte Independence from the earlier round match they played against the Carolina Railhawks.
So expect a bench of Badji, Pappa, Cronin, MacMath, Sjoberg, Williams and K. Doyle.
I'll be there at DSGP, giddy as a school girl. As a fan of upsets and history and getting a look at your kids and quirky little oddities, the USOC is right in my wheelhouse. The crowd for these things is always great, albeit small, since it's usual 3,000 die-hards that want to make noise for 90 minutes. Last year the Switchbacks came in a little overwhelmed by their first game against an MLS side, and received a 4-1 beat down as a result. This year, I expect Colorado Springs to be a little more confident and a little less awed by the bright lights.
Should be a good one. Hope to see you there.