For a new posting feature that I hope to make a regular occurrance here at The Daily Wiz, I went outside the Wizards fan community for some insight on Saturday's opponent, the Colorado Rapids. Sure, it's not exactly a revolutionary idea in the blogosphere, but the different perspective will tell you more about the Rapids than I ever could.
Many thanks to Craig de Aragon for being the test run guinea pig for this weekly installment. Craig is a Rapids supporter from Denver that I met through the powers of Twitter. (Follow him @GCSBlog) You can also find his blog work at a couple of different places: No Fan Alone: Colorado Rapids Supporters and God, Country, Soccer.
1. Since these teams' week 3 meeting that Kansas City won 1-0, they've certainly gone in far different directions. The Wizards have picked up as many points through their last 12 games as they did in their first 2, while Colorado currently sits in a four-way tie with FC Dallas, San Jose and Toronto FC for the eighth and final playoff spot. How did things go so right for Colorado, and who are some players that are responsible for their current league position?
The Rapids success this season can be attributed two main reasons: one, some of the pre-season acquisitions have really jelled with this club, and two, the defense has been very stingy.
The trades that brought in both Marvell Wynne and Jeff Larentowitz were immense. Both those players have hit the ground running, filling wholes that a lot of fans, including myself, didn’t know this team had. Marvell Wynne began the season at center back, something he had never done, and filled in quite admirably. Once Julien Baudet was healthy, Wynne moved to his normal right back spot and has been closing down gaps and controlling that right side all season.
Meanwhile, Larentowitz is a skillfull destroyer - a "Ginger Ninja," as he is called. Larentowitz playing along side Pablo Mastreoni as the two holding mids has created a barrier in the midfield that opposing offenses have to plan for and get through in order to even get to the back four. Suffice to say that the opposition knows it’s going to have a tough day when they play the Burgundy and Blue. I would also be remised if I didn’t mention Drew Moor as one of those players that is responsible for the club's success. His steady play at center back has been a calming influence and would get my vote for team MVP at this point in the season.
2. As Wizards fans, my readers know all about Claudio Lopez. He spent 2 seasons with the Wizards and was a quality player. But, just this past weekend, I caught your pleas via Twitter for Rapids coach Gary Smith to insert Lopez into the game. The exact quote was "Halftime - This game is in dire need of a shake up. It's time for Lopez." (And to that, I made a snarky comment.) My question is this: can a team that relies on Claudio Lopez as a game-changer be considered a "dangerous" side?
That’s a very good question. One that’s going to take a little bit of history to answer. Bare with me.
This season, the Rapids changed formations from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1. They call it a 4-3-3, but they’re not fooling anyone. That meant Omar Cummings, who had played up top along side Conor Casey, is now pushed to the right wing with Casey being the lone man atop the formation. With two holding mids, (Larentowitz and Pablo) there are basically four "attacking" players in the formation. Left wing Jamie Smith, center mid Mehdi Ballouchy and the aforementioned right wing Cummings and striker Casey.
In that formation, the central mid plays a huge roll in distributing and keeping the offense moving. Mehdi Ballouchy has probably had his best season so far as a pro moving into that spot, but with all due respect to his abilities and contributions, he’s no Claudio Lopez. At the beginning of the season when Lopez was acquired, we were all anxious to see him on the field. We figured we’d have to wait for him to get fit. Well, a few months later, we still haven’t seen him, save for a few 10 minute stints off the bench. When he has been on the field, everything seems to work better. His skill and touch fits the role that the 4-5-1 central midfield spot requires much better than those of Ballouchy’s.
My pining for Lopez to be on the field was based more out of frustration that we haven’t seen him out there to see if he’s actually still got something left in the tank, rather than expecting him to be a savior. So to answer your question, they look dangerous when he is out there and yes, I would much rather see him go 60 minutes than Ballouchy go 80, but is bringing him in to make offense something that can be relied on? We haven’t seen him play enough to know for sure either way.
3. Let's pretend you're the Rapids manager and you're in charge of signing a roster and bringing in talent to improve the current roster. Ideally, you'd like to sign a designated player. What type of player - position and style - does this team need to make the step from fringe playoff team to MLS Cup contender?
Based on my long winded (typed) answer to question 2, my quick fix for this team if I was GM would be to get a DP creative midfielder. I know that’s easier said than done, but I would send my scouts out everywhere to try to find me a young, exciting, creative player, preferably from Latin America, and one that fans know who he is. (Although that last one isn’t necessary) I think this team is solid enough in all other areas to make a run; they just need that spark of creativity that my DP would bring. Oh yeah, another thing - I’d also get us a shirt sponsor.
4. How does an outsider to the Wizards fanbase see this team right? Don't hold back.
As an "outsider" to the Wizards, I kind of see your team a lot like ours. There were a lot of offseason moves. In our case, most have worked out, where as it doesn’t seem like things have jelled with the new guys in KC. All I remember hearing about at the beginning of the season was the Indian guy that was coming to the team, but I haven’t heard anything about him since he got here. It seemed like that was a good pick up at the time.
From a historical prospective I think we’re even more similar, both coasts forget about us; plus the Rapids and Wizards both have always had to fight for relevancy within MLS. I think for that reason, I’ve never really considered KC a rival, even though they were geographically our closest foes until Salt Lake showed their ugly faces. The only thing that makes me hate KC is that you have a star on your jersey, and we don’t.
I wish the team was called the Wiz and used the rainbow motif still, so I could make fun of you a little more. I’m also really intrigued by your new stadium. I check in on the webcam every once in a while to check the progress. It’ll be good to get out of that shoebox you play in right now. I kind of like the setting of CAB; it looks cool on camera, but playing soccer on a field the size of a tennis court really inhibits the speed of the Rapids, which hurts them every time they play out there. Maybe it’s the 150 degree temperature, too. I kid, I kid - my wife is from out there in KC; I can joke about it. Anyway, I look forward to visiting the new stadium when I am in town the next time.
5. Can you offer any predictions on Saturday's game? A Rapids starting XI? Score? Goal scorers?
It would surprise me if this team didn’t roll out the starting line up it’s been using most all season. Ballouchy wasn’t able to travel to Toronto last match, but he should be back in the middle for this game.
The Rapids definitely play better at home than on the road, so I expect this to be a fired up bunch come Saturday. It wouldn’t surprise me if they found a couple of goals,; maybe a penalty kick. Conor Casey is about due to score one of those. I can see this being a tough game offensively for KC. A defensive lapse against Toronto cost the boys a goal and a point. So I expect that they did extra work and are more motivated this week to shore things up back there. I’ll say the final score will be 2-0 Rapids with the goal scorers being Casey (PK) and Jamie Smith.