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Matchday 2 Preview: Sporting KC away to the Colorado Rapids

The Diego Rubio Derby (minus Diego Rubio).

Colorado Rapids v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Sporting KC @ Colorado Rapids

When: Saturday, March 4, 2023 at 8:30 PM CT

Where: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park

How to Watch/Stream: Apple MLS Season Pass (subscription required)

With a disappointing start to the season, Sporting Kansas City will get a chance to make things right in a week two clash with the Colorado Rapids. Sporting, coming off a 1-0 loss to Portland, looked very shaky to start but grew into the match. Ultimately, they got no points and are tied for 8th place with 0 points and a -1 goal differential.

Things were a little worse for the Rapids in week 1. On the road at Seattle (with their atrocious turf), the Rapids were absolutely battered for a 4-0 loss. But, like SKC, it’s early. What will Robin Fraser do to try to get right against Sporting KC?

Week 1 saw Colorado run out in a 4-3-3 formation with Darren Yapi playing the 9, flanked by Michael Barrios and Sam Nicholson. The midfield three consisted of Connor Ronan, a new signing from English Premier League side, Wolverhampton Wolves, Cole Bassett, and 20-year-old homegrown, Ralph Priso-Mbongue.

The back line was anchored by Designated Player, Andreas Maxso, and Lalas Abubakar in central defense with Keegan Rosenberry and Alex Gershbach at fullback. Fraser subbed in U-22 Initiative player, Max, and LA Galaxy castoff, Kevin Cabral, but to limited effect.

The Rapids were overrun on the wings and were especially susceptible to crosses and attacks from Jordan Morris cutting in from a wide position. Statistically, Seattle and Colorado shared a relatively even amount of possession and had mostly similar passing statistics. Seattle dominated in duels with a 66-39 advantage and won 12-6 on tackles. The Rapids played with little physicality, which may be in part due to the youth of the midfield and Darren Yapi.

Notable absences

Colorado’s leading scorer from 2022, and former Sporting KC forward, Diego Rubio is currently sidelined with a knee injury that will keep him out for a few more weeks.

Chad will get additional information on the injury report, but forward, Jonathan Lewis, missed the first match with a knock. (Update: Here is that injury report for both teams!)

Sporting KC’s tactics

Sporting KC as usual played out of a 4-3-3 in possession but dropped into a mid-block 4-4-2 when playing defense. This is a new tactical wrinkle for Peter Vermes, who changes the overall tactics of the team, but rarely deviates from the 4-3-3 shape.

Seattle was able to twist Colorado into a pretzel by making them defend in transition. Sporting is known for their buildup play and possession, but the danger is that the possession is sometimes too slow to shift the defense and find openings. If Sporting is not going to play more directly, Willy Agada will have to make those darting runs between Maxso and Abubakar that we were so accustomed to in 2022.

Final Thoughts

The 2022 Rapids missed the playoffs and finished 3 points ahead of Sporting KC in the Western Conference. They had a -11 goal differential and while they added some pieces, the Rapids are missing their starting 9, Diego Rubio.

Sporting will be missing Johnny Russell and Gadi Kinda, but could start to see more minutes for Tim Liebold and says a prayer to anyone who might listen a few minutes for Alan Pulido. I don’t expect Pulido to actually play, but he was officially listed as questionable for week 1, which puts his return to action in view.

The key for Sporting Kansas City’s success against the Rapids is to not make the same self-inflicted errors the team made against Portland in the first 15 minutes of the match. Portland did not really outplay Sporting, but all three of their major chances came from silly errors. First, Robert Voloder’s back pass to a Timbers forward forced John Pulskamp into an incredible double save. Second, Ben Sweat’s failure to play the ball out for a corner and delay in getting back to set a line led to Portland’s first goal. Finally, Graham Zusi took a quick free kick that led directly to a Timbers breakaway that was ultimately wasted.

This Sporting KC team has as much or more talent than the Rapids. The experience of Remi Walter and Erik Thommy should allow them to take advantage of the Rapids’ youth in the midfield. However, the team will struggle to win a point on the road with three errors out of the back.

FiveThirtyEight gives a 43% chance for the Rapids to win, 30% for Sporting Kansas City to pick up all three on the road, and 27% for a draw.

What do you all think? Will SKC get right? Can they snag a point on the road? Will Chad ever come around to appreciate how cool the Rapids’ away kit actually is? [Editor: Hey, I rated that kit fairly high!]