The Columbus Crew travels to face the Colorado Rapids this Saturday, facing off against an old foe in Gyasi Zardes, among others. This matchup will be the first time the Crew has faced their former striker since his trade to the Rapids earlier this year.
Both of these sides find themselves squarely in the hunt for an MLS Cup playoff spot in their respective conferences after wins last week. The Black & Gold defeated New York City FC 3-2, while Colorado earned a 4-3 win against Minnesota United.
Here’s what to look for from the Rapids and how Columbus can take three more road points in this match.
Colorado Rapids at a Glance:
Record: 8-6-9, 30 points
League Form: W-W-L-W-D
Leading Scorer: Diego Rubio (11)
Assist Leader: Michael Barrios, Diego Rubio (5)
Player to Watch: Diego Rubio
As much as it would make sense to put Zardes here (especially after his hat trick last week), we have to remove bias and go with Rubio. The 29-year-old Chilean has racked up 11 goals and five assists so far this year and is the heart and soul of the Colorado attack.
Rubio has bounced around throughout his career, including stints in Portugal and Spain before finding a home with the Rapids. Typically playing in the central attacking midfield, Rubio has the ability to both create and finish attacks. He also has a knack for scoring headed goals off of set pieces, something Columbus has been subpar in dealing with so far this year.
The Crew will need to do a good job locking down Rubio in order to take three points from this match.
How Colorado plays:
The Rapids are in their third gear under head coach, and former Black & Gold defender, Robin Fraser. In his tenure, Colorado has won the regular season Western Conference title and only missed the playoffs once. A large part of this is due to the team’s playing style and Fraser’s ability to sign players that fit that style.
Fraser’s team usually lines up in some variation of a 4-2-3-2 or 4-1-4-1 formation. When defending, the Rapids usually do not press high and defend in a middle block. Often they will initiate some pressure (usually from Zardes) when the ball reaches an outside back or a specific center back. This does not often happen until the ball is a few yards short of the halfway line. Despite the team’s desire to keep the defensive shape compact, Colorado has given up 36 goals in all competitions this year and average 1.6 goals against per game.
The Rapids typically look to use a combination of strength and speed to get in behind their opponents when in possession. This often begins with Colorado’s backline circulating the ball to try and draw their opponents up the field. Once this happens, the Rapids often look to play long aerial balls to the Zardes and will also look to play behind the backline to players like Jonathan Lewis, Rubio, Michael Barrios and Lucas Esteves.
Once Colorado successfully gains control of possession in the attacking half, the team looks to quickly attack the opponent’s unorganized backline and strike. This style of play, while not always the prettiest, can be highly effective when done correctly.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold enter this match after a thrilling victory last Saturday thanks to goals from Lucas Zelarayan and Cucho Hernandez. Columbus hopes to start another unbeaten streak in this game.
This match represents a good opportunity for the Crew to continue to take points on the road, as it is the only match this week, against a struggling Colorado side and in a relatively calm environment.
In order to do so., the Black & Gold need to do a good job of penetrating the Rapids defense when in possession on Saturday. Columbus often struggles to break down middle and low defensive blocks. While it has gotten better since the arrival of Hernandez, it’s still something the Crew needs to be wary of.
In order to do this, the Black & Gold need to play through the opponent’s defensive lines, whether by passing or dribbling. If Columbus is unable to do so, it will suit the Rapids’ defensive strategy and put the Crew in a tough spot.
When the Black & Gold do get in good spots, the players need to finish their chances. This has been another Achilles heel for Columbus in 2022, one that Hernandez has helped but not completely vanquished. The Crew has consistently created chances and will most likely do so again Saturday. Colorado has given up seven goals in the team’s last two matches and 36 on the year. Thus, the Black & Gold can and should be able to create chances Saturday, but they need to capitalize on them.
Lastly, Columbus need sto be able to handle the long ball when defending against the Rapids. As mentioned, this is a huge piece of Colorado’s game and another area of the game that the Crew has struggled in. The Black & Gold will need to do an excellent job of having good defensive cover and not getting too stretched.
In addition, Columbus’ midfield and wingers will need to do a good job winning the knockdowns that result from these long aerial balls as that will help the Crew retain possession and keep Colorado from being able to break into the attack.