The Colorado Rapids play their second to last game against an Eastern Conference opponent this weekend as they take on Orlando City SC at 7PM at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The Rapids will look to continue their fine home form (9-0-3, 2.5 PPG) and strengthen their hold on a top two position in the table in the Western Conference. Orlando City will be looking for just their second win in their last nine matches.
The Mane Land and the Wave exchanged questions ahead of this match-up, and here is what we spoke about:
Burgundy Wave: OCSC made a pretty significant change with bringing Jason Kreis in as a replacement from Adrian Heath. Was it the right move for the Lions and what has changed for the team?
The Mane Land: I think it's too soon to tell if it was the right move. The club is essentially in the exact same position now as it was a month ago: right on the cusp of the playoffs, just below the red line. I personally felt it was a bit unfair to fire a coach who had just had a five-game unbeaten streak in MLS play snapped at FC Dallas and who had managed to keep in contact with the playoff line despite not having Kaká available for half his team's games. I fully expected Adrian Heath to get a full second season to try to get the Lions into the postseason, which he may have done. We'll never know. But the call was made and here we are.
So far, we've not seen big changes. There have been small tweaks by Kreis, most recently playing Kaká on the left side with Matias Perez Garcia in the middle. Kaká did occasionally push left under Adrian Heath but not to the extent he did on Sunday at Chicago.
We've also seen Brek Shea moved back into the midfield and he and Kevin Molino have swapped sides to work as inverted wingers when on the field together. We have also seen a bit of a willingness to play different players, as Antonio Nocerino has been able to get back into the lineup and has improved as a result. But we will probably continue to see only small changes for the rest of the season while Kreis assesses what he has and what he still needs to implement his preferred tactics and formation.
Burgundy Wave: OCSC was one of the more fancied teams last year and coming into this year. What has worked and what has not?
The Mane Land: In the simplest terms, what has worked is the offense and what has not is the defense. For a good chunk of the first part of last season, Orlando had trouble finding the net and generating chances. Then Cyle Larin grew into a starting striker and the Lions were rarely blanked from that point on. This season, Orlando City has continued to score goals. The problem is that the club is shipping goals at an alarming rate, particularly on direct play that pits speedy counter attacks against a central defense pairing that lacks pace and off set pieces. Orlando has allowed more goals than all but two Eastern Conference teams despite tying for fourth in the East and fifth overall in goals scored
Chicago put in a pair of goals off of set pieces just this past Sunday. It's maddening. The team just can't seem to keep anyone off the board, or even limit the opposition to one goal most of the time.
Burgundy Wave: Cyle Larin is pretty dang amazing, but I have to think he is ripe to be sold at some point. How much longer will he remain in Orlando?
The Mane Land: He'll start the season for Orlando City next year unless someone comes in with a very high offer that can't be turned down. The club will get a higher return if it can get one more season out of the Canadian international, and he'll likely raise his stock even more with an additional season. If it's true that the Galaxy and Toronto FC have turned down six-figure offers for Gyasi Zardes and Michael Bradley, respectively, there's no reason Orlando City can't hold on to Larin as an asset who will pay off even more handsomely after his third year in MLS, or at least until next summer's window.
As a fan of Major League Soccer (and Orlando City), it's sad to think he'll go. Stars like Larin are exactly what MLS needs to hold onto in order to build itself into a league that is mentioned in the same breath as some of the European leagues - or can at least compete with Liga MX for CCL supremacy.
Prediction: Orlando is on a 10-game road winless streak and just failed to finish off a last-place Chicago side that had played on the road in the middle of the week. After that, I just can't see this team realistically winning another road match this season unless the stars align. That's doubtful to happen in the altitude in Colorado. I'm notoriously bad at predictions (although I nailed last week's) but I'll guess 3-1 to the ‘Pids.
Cristian Higuita left last week's match with an injury, as did Matias Perez Garcia (per Jason Kreis' postgame comments) but I'm not sure the extent of either. Conservatively guessing neither will start, I'll go with:
Joe Bendik; Luke Boden, Seb Hines, David Mateos, Kevin Alston; Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco; Kevin Molino, Kaká, Brek Shea; Cyle Larin.
And here are my answers to The Mane Land:
The Mane Land: It's been a while since Orlando City and Colorado last met. Who are the Rapids' key additions and subtractions since the last meeting that we should know about and how have they affected the team and approach so far in 2016?
Burgundy Wave: Wow...this is a great question. The Rapids that played in Orlando last summer is certainly not the same team that the Lions will face on Saturday in Commerce City. The Rapids dumped a whole lot of people, including those that seemed to be eyebrow raising moves. The big departures are Drew Moor and Clint Irwin to Toronto FC, Luis Solignac, Nick LaBrocca and Michael Harrington to Chicago Fire, Maynor Figueroa to FC Dallas, and Gabriel Torres, Shane O'Neill, Lucas Pittinari, Vicente Sanchez and Juan Ramirez left MLS all together. And in their place they signed some bigger names in Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard, Marco Pappa and Shkelzen Gashi.
This is a completely different team.
And these changes have changed the way the team plays--certainly--but the biggest change is attitude. Before the Rapids were pushovers who had no real identify. No one feared this team. That has changed greatly. The Rapids are a team that MLS is starting to figure out that has a real chance at the title. All of this stems from the new players on this team.
The Mane Land: Colorado has allowed only 20 goals this season and a chunk of those came at New York City FC. How have the Rapids become so good defensively? (No, seriously, please tell Orlando City how to do that.)
Burgundy Wave: The Rapids are a defense first kind of team. Make no mistake: defense is the priority for this team. The Burgundy Boys are quite comfortable playing against any team in this league--regardless of the names on the other team sheet. They have given up one goal to LA Galaxy this season. 0 goals to Toronto FC. 1 goal to Seattle Sounders. Bottom line: they just don't fear teams, regardless of who suits up opposite them. They run four out of the back, with two defensive midfielders that provide additional coverage in the back.
It doesn't always lead to the most "attractive" football, but when team has lost just three times in 23 games, it's hard to argue that the tactic is wrong.
The Mane Land: The Rapids have really turned things around since last season. What have they done differently to get results this year, where last year results could not be found?
Burgundy Wave: First and foremost, the front office appears to be really trying and seems to have a coherent plan. Gone are the days of taking flyers on poor players such as Danny Mwanga, Kevin Harbottle, and (gasp) Zat Knight. They appear to have a plan and are executing on it.
Secondly, Pablo Mastroeni is not a dumpster fire as a coach anymore. He was utter dog doo in his first two years in charge, and he seems to be learning what to do with his Starting XI and his tactics on the field. Is he perfect? Sweet Holy Applesauce, no. But he is improving. And that improvement will probably lead to him winning MLS Coach of the Year.
Thirdly, the team as a whole seems to get what it is to be the Colorado Rapids. Hard nosed, not always the prettiest, but effective football. They really appear to have figured out what the Colorado Way is and you are seeing it come to fruition: 11-3-9 and a legit shot at another star above the crest on their jersey.
The Mane Land: Can you please give us your key injuries/suspensions, projected starting XI and score prediction?
Burgundy Wave: The only major injuries are to Sean St. Ledger and Jermaine Jones. St. Ledger has been out all season and it not likely to feature against his former team. Jones is coming back into fitness and probably is not ready yet.
Tim Howard, Marc Burch, Axel Sjoberg, Bobby Burling, Eric Miller, Sam Cronin, Dillon Powers, Marco Pappa, Shkelzen Gashi, Marlon Hairston, Kevin Doyle
Score Prediction: Colorado Rapids 2:1 Orlando City