The Rapids kicked off their 2022 campaign in a clash with fellow western conference top dog Sporting KC on Saturday afternoon, allowing Robin Fraser to analyze his group of players, and regain some match fitness.
The match was slow-paced, uneventful and overall not great to watch, which is always to be expected for preseason, as players knock off rust.
The first half saw both sides use mostly their strongest lineups, with the likes of Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell for SKC, against a near-full-strength side for Colorado.
The Rapids lined up in what appeared to be a 5-2-3, with Clint Irwin in goal, Lucas Esteves, Auston Trusty, Danny Wilson, Lalas Abubakar, and Keegan Rosenberry across the back. Jack Price and Collen Warner anchored the midfield, with Oliver Larraz, Diego Rubio, and Michael Barrios up top.
I expected Larraz to play central, but he was on the left-wing the whole 60 minutes he played. Larraz was also Colorado’s best and most exciting player in the first half-hour before seeming to run out of energy before halftime.
Each side had one decent chance, with SKC defender Andreu Fontas heading a free-kick wide by a few inches and Rubio missing a quick shot from a cross by Barrios right before halftime. Sporting KC dominated possession but created next to nothing.
The only real moments of note in the first half came when Esteves and Johnny Russell exchanged shoves and some choice words following a foul. Despite being a preseason match, there was no love lost between last season’s first- and third-place sides, as a few yellow cards were handed out, and some pushes were exchanged.
In response to allegations that Esteves spit on Sporting’s Khiry Shelton, the Rapids stated the Denver Post’s Brendan Ploen:
This is a very serious accusation, which we do not take lightly as it goes against everything we stand for as a club. Spitting on an opponent is completely unacceptable. We spoke with Lucas after the game and he categorically denies spitting on his opponent. According to Lucas, he was struck in the face by an opponent during the run of play which produced blood and led to him spitting to the side to demonstrate its presence. After reviewing footage of the incident from various angles, we have found no evidence to the contrary.”
The second half was all Colorado, with SKC subbing in mostly draft picks or academy players at the half. Colorado made only one change at the break, bringing in William Yarbrough for Clint Irwin.
Rubio squandered the game’s best chance, as he volleyed a cross-over from less than 6 yards out.
The game tilted further in the Rapids’ favor with a complete change of their personnel, as the Rapids introduced various young talents looking to break into the first team, along with a few veterans.
Defenders Drew Moor, Michael Edwards, Anthony Markanich (2022 draft pick), Steven Beitashour, and Sebastian Anderson all entered at the hour mark and were joined by Phillip Mayaka, Mohamed Omar (2022 draft pick), Roberto Molina (2022 draft pick), Yaya Toure, and Darren Yapi.
The changes brought the Rapids life, as essentially the whole rest of the match was spent in SKC’s half.
The young cast of players substituted into the match really caught my eye, namely Edwards, Mayaka, Toure, and Yapi. Mayaka in particular was brilliant, winning the ball back in dangerous positions numerous times, and playing a few dangerous passes that challenged SKC’s defense.
Yapi and Toure were also full of life, both having decent looks at goal and drawing a few fouls.
Of course, everything in the first preseason match of the year should be taken with a grain of salt, but the Rapids will no doubt be happy with what they saw from youngsters Mayaka, Edwards, Toure, Yapi, and Larraz, and will hope players like Rubio can find their groove again before their CONCACAF Champions League campaign begins on February 17.
The Rapids continue their preseason friendlies on Feb. 1 in a closed-door match against the Seattle Sounders, before taking on the Houston Dynamo on Feb. 5, which, just like Saturday’s match, will be streamed on the Rapids’ website for those in the Rapids’ local broadcast territory.