I got the chance to chat this week with Jake Shapiro over at our sister site Burgundy Wave (SBNation’s Colorado Rapids site). We exchanged a few questions about Saturday’s Colorado Rapids vs Sporting Kansas City matchup and the clubs more generally.
We Asked Them
Q. Diego Rubio seemed like a good fit in 2019 with the Rapids after being traded from Kansas City, but he then struggled for a couple of years. How do the fans feel about him being a relied upon as a starting forward for the team? Cheating a second question into this one, what are your expectations for Rubio this year?
A. Rubio actually started his Rapids career brilliantly, scoring 11 goals and notching five assists in 2019. One could argue if he took penalty kicks instead of Kei Kamara, Colorado would’ve completed their last-ditch effort run to make the postseason.
Rubio has been polarizing to the fanbase since. Called on international duty and dealt with a few injuries, his stats have come down. But mainly, Colorado hasn’t had a true striker in years. Rubio is a solid forward and better as a false nine, but he’s been thrust into a role he really shouldn’t be in. Rubio is coming off one of his best games in Burgundy, getting MLS’ Team of the Week for his performance against Atlanta. Colorado’s biggest question is if there are enough goals on this roster to be decent. Rubio, perhaps unfairly, has a lot of that weight on his boot.
Rubio scored in each of his first two appearances against Sporting but hasn’t netted one in any of the last five. Which Rubio will we see?
Q. Robin Fraser has really turned the Rapids into contenders in the last couple years, what makes him special and how has he done it?
A. He’s a great communicator with his players and staff, has a clear message and ideas of what he wants from his team, and his development of the Rapids youth has been impressive. Selling Sam Vines, Cole Bassett and Auston Trusty to Europe over just a few months backs how Fraser has helped some of the Rapids young talents take their final steps of development.
On the field, I’ve been impressed with his ability to change tactics to what his roster may be on a given day and by the club’s resilience under the manager. Since Fraser took over towards the end of 2019, Colorado has been one of the better teams in the league. Now they just need to do it in the postseason, which makes their early CCL exit all the more disappointing.
There’s a small test for Fraser on Saturday; Peter Vermes’ club has punished Colorado to a 1-3-3 record in the two’s matchups. The only Rapids victory came in that 2019 season when Sporting was already out of the playoff picture.
Q. Who are the Rapids players that you could see really making a difference against SKC on Saturday?
A. Rubio is the easy answer but we already discussed him. William Yarbrough is a guy who didn’t get enough credit for his efforts last week and has been terrific in Colorado. The keeper has proved to be a solid addition to the club after coming over from Liga MX in 2020. The Rapids have yet to score on a set-piece this season and are extremely dangerous there. Look for Jack Price to target Jonathan Lewis and/or Andre Shinyaskhiki to generate a dangerous chance at some point during the match.
They Asked Us
Q. What’s the fanbase’s expectation of SKC this year?
A. Having Pulido out all season injured definitely hurts the ceiling for this team, and thus the poll of the Blue Testament writers at the start of the year, in general, had us finishing 4th or 5th in The West. I think there is definitely some hopefulness for a higher finish if a couple of our new forward-line signings or homegrowns can really pop. Another limiting factor is we still need to figure out how to defend better in transition.
Q. With Alan Pulido out for the year, who is the player that steps up/stars?
A. Just going to give the same answer I did last week to Dynamo Theory: Pulido being out definitely hurts, although he was routinely out last year with injuries or national team duty. Last year we made up for that by both our starting wingers, Daniel Salloi & Johnny Russell, having simply superb years. Together those two bagged a stunning 47 goals + assists in 2021. So far it seems like Salloi is on pace to do it again getting a goal in all but one of the pre-season games and in the opener last week. Russell is consistent as well so I expect to see him on the scoreboard a lot this year again. Lastly, new signings Nikola Vujnovic and Marinos Tzionis both seem like they could be real contributors.
Q. What do Sporting fans think of the Rapids? Do they fear the club, or think this past year was just a blip? Is there a sense of respect about team building? Or is it all jokes until the club wins a playoff game?
A. I think respect for the Rapids is definitely growing, a successful 2021 obviously helped. But everyone can see that Robin Fraser is doing something special and much more attractive on the field than COL coaches in years past. Add on top of all of that, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is just a tough place to play with the altitude and inclement weather. So yes there is a healthy respect, but I think most games between us feel like a toss-up trying to call them.
Who is your SKC player to watch and briefly why for Saturday’s match?
A. Left-winger Daniel Salloi - He is a streaky but lethal finisher. He flubbed a couple of chances last week but I would guess he gets on the board Saturday. And I know you said just one player but watch our U-22 initiative left-back Logan Ndenbe, he has been sneaky good and fun to watch.
Extra Answer: You didn’t ask this but FWIW I am definitely not still bitter about the missed handball call against RSL on decision day that catapulted the Rapids ahead of SKC… definitely not.