It's become increasingly obvious that Orlando City (5-6-12, 27 points) has only one avenue to reach the MLS Cup playoffs this season.
Beat out the New England Revolution and D.C. United over the next two months, and the first postseason appearance in the club's MLS history will be on the table. If the Lions fail to improve down the stretch? Well, there's no reason to worry about that right now.
Orlando City heads west this weekend for match-up against the Colorado Rapids (11-3-9, 42 points), a club that's gone from the the Western Conference cellar to a Supporters' Shield race in less than a year. While the Rapids are banged up coming into this late-season match-up, could Tim Howard be enough to deny City a crucial result away from home?
While last week's 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire seemed to indicate the Lions may be destined for another seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference, there is reason for optimism against Colorado
Because here come Antonio Nocerino and David Mateos to save the day.
In all seriousness, both players should provide Orlando with a boost after serving disciplinary suspensions last week. Mateos won the starting center back job alongside Seb Hines even before Orlando's mid-season coaching change and should help bolster City's defense against a dangerous Rapids squad.
With Cristian Higuita facing a month-long absence due to a hamstring injury, look for Jason Kreis to rely on a Servando Carrasco-Antonio Nocerino pairing in Orlando's two-man defensive midfield. Matías Pérez García (quad) is day-to-day after picking up a knock against Chicago, so expect Kevin Molino to get the start in the attacking midfield if his tight hamstring allows -- The Original was limited in training but made the trip.
In the midst of authoring one of the league's most impressive turnarounds, the Colorado Rapids are just three points shy of Supporters' Shield-leading FC Dallas. But they will be without one of their biggest stars when the Lions visit Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Jermaine Jones is unlikely to feature against the Lions as the USMNT midfielder works himself back into match shape following a quad injury. The 34-year-old has been impressive since moving to Colorado in the off-season, scoring three goals and being named the league's Player of the Month back in April.
Orlando will also be denied an encounter with former Lion Sean St. Ledger, who was axed last season after breaching club policy during a road trip to New York City. St. Ledger has been out all season with a knee injury, after making 12 appearances with his new club.
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So that Tim Howard guy's pretty good huh?
The longtime Everton keeper's much-publicized return to MLS isn't the only reason that the Rapids have morphed into contenders, but it certainly hasn't hurt. Though a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of NYCFC was embarrassing, Howard has produced three clean sheets through his first seven appearances with Colorado.
Though Howard is already 37, goalkeepers are notorious for playing well into middle age. Fellow countryman Brad Friedel didn't retire from Tottenham Hotspur until the age of 44, so it's possible that Howard could be looking to play a few seasons in Colorado.
Another guy to keep an eye on will be reigning Swiss Super League Golden Boot Winner Shkëlzen Gashi, who became just the fifth player from MLS to appear in the Euros this summer, featuring with Albania in the group stage of the tournament. While Gashi has scored just four times in MLS, he's a proven offensive commodity that the Lions will have to keep an eye on.
Prediction: Colorado Rapids 2, Orlando City 0
The Rapids are undefeated in Commerce City this season, so asking the Lions to grab all three points is probably a stretch. As long as Colorado doesn't take the boys in purple too lightly, I don't see them having too much of a problem taking care of business at home.
I think Orlando makes a game out of it, but the Rapids score late and Howard picks up his fourth shutout since returning to MLS.