Orlando City is now a perfectly meh 1-1-1 since Jason Kreis took over as head coach, although last week’s draw at Chicago felt more like a loss than a road point, considering the circumstances (worst team in the league, coming off a midweek road game, with the Lions leading in the second half). Things certainly don’t get any easier this week, as the club heads to the thin air of Commerce City, CO, to take on the Colorado Rapids — the second-best team in the Western Conference and the best defensive side in MLS.
But Orlando has done well against good Western Conference teams before. So, who knows? Maybe the lads in purple will bring us back all three points for the first time since visiting New York City in March.
There’s virtually nothing left of the Rapids club the Lions faced at home last June in a 2-0 Orlando City win. So, we called in the experts to help us learn more about the 2016 version of the Colorado Rapids. John Rosch from fellow SB Nation blog Burgundy Wave was kind enough to stop by and tell us more about his favorite team. And you can read my answers to John’s queries over at their place.
It’s been a while since Orlando City and Colorado last met. Who are the Rapids’ key additions and subtractions since the last meeting that we should know about and how have they affected the team and approach so far in 2016?
John Rosch: Wow...this is a great question. The Rapids that played in Orlando last summer is certainly not the same team that the Lions will face on Saturday in Commerce City. The Rapids dumped a whole lot of people, including those that seemed to be eyebrow-raising moves. The big departures are Drew Moor and Clint Irwin to Toronto FC, Luis Solignac, Nick LaBrocca and Michael Harrington to Chicago Fire, Maynor Figueroa to FC Dallas, and Gabriel Torres, Shane O'Neill, Lucas Pittinari, Vicente Sanchez and Juan Ramirez left MLS all together. And in their place they signed some bigger names in Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard, Marco Pappa, and Shkelzen Gashi.
This is a completely different team.
And these changes have changed the way the team plays. certainly, but the biggest change is attitude. Before, the Rapids were pushovers who had no real identify. No one feared this team. That has changed greatly. The Rapids are a team that MLS is starting to figure out that has a real chance at the title. All of this stems from the new players on this team.
Colorado has allowed only 20 goals this season and a chunk of those came at New York City FC. How have the Rapids become so good defensively? (No, seriously, please tell Orlando City how to do that.)
JR: The Rapids are a defense-first kind of team. Make no mistake: defense is the priority for this team. The Burgundy Boys are quite comfortable playing against any team in this league — regardless of the names on the other team sheet. They have given up one goal to LA Galaxy this season, zero goals to Toronto FC, one goal to Seattle Sounders. Bottom line: they just don't fear teams, regardless of who suits up opposite them. They run four out of the back, with two defensive midfielders that provide additional coverage in the back. It doesn't always lead to the most "attractive" football, but when team has lost just three times in 23 games, it's hard to argue that the tactic is wrong.
The Rapids have really turned things around since last season. What have they done differently to get results this year, where last year results could not be found?
JR: First and foremost, the front office appears to be really trying and seems to have a coherent plan. Gone are the days of taking flyers on poor players such as Danny Mwanga [ed. note: sigh], Kevin Harbottle, and (gasp) Zat Knight. They appear to have a plan and are executing on it.
Secondly, Pablo Mastroeni is not a dumpster fire as a coach anymore. He was utter dog doo in his first two years in charge, and he seems to be learning what to do with his starting XI and his tactics on the field. Is he perfect? Sweet Holy Applesauce, no. But he is improving. And that improvement will probably lead to him winning MLS Coach of the Year.
Thirdly, the team as a whole seems to get what it is to be the Colorado Rapids — hard-nosed, not always the prettiest, but effective football. They really appear to have figured out what the Colorado Way is and you are seeing it come to fruition: 11-3-9 and a legit shot at another star above the crest on their jersey.
Can you please give us your key injuries/suspensions, projected starting XI and score prediction?
JR: The only major injuries are to Sean St. Ledger and Jermaine Jones. St. Ledger has been out all season and is not likely to feature against his former team. Jones is coming back into fitness and probably is not ready yet.
Lineup: (4-2-3-1) Tim Howard; Marc Burch, Axel Sjoberg, Bobby Burling, Eric Miller; Sam Cronin, Dillon Powers; Marco Pappa, Shkelzen Gashi, Marlon Hairston; Kevin Doyle.
Score Prediction: Colorado Rapids 2:1 Orlando City.
Big thanks to John from The Burgundy Wave for stopping by and giving us a bit of a scouting report on the Rapids.