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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids

After winning their first road match of the 2017 season, can the Lions keep the magic going at home against a difficult opponent to break down?

Austin Warren, The Mane Land

Orlando City (5-1-0) returns home after a successful business trip to New York City, where the Lions claimed all three points from Yankee Stadium. The Lions will feel good to get back into the cozy confines of Orlando City Stadium but they’ll face one of the tougher defenses in MLS when the Colorado Rapids visit tomorrow afternoon.

The Rapids have conceded just nine goals in six matches so far this season — good for the sixth fewest in MLS — and allow the third fewest shots against per game (10.5), behind only New England (10.4), and Sporting Kansas City (8.9). The problem with Colorado is the team has only scored five times en route to a 1-4-1 record.

For more on the Rapids, John Rosch from SB Nation’s Colorado 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.

Colorado's fortunes seem to have reversed so far in 2017 after a resurgent 2016 season. What's the biggest difference with the team this season?

John Rosch: I think there are a number of differences this season. The first of which is difficult to quantify: luck. The Rapids had nine 1-0 wins in 2016 and seemed to have that bit of luck behind them. They defended well and were completely comfortable in sitting back, absorbing pressure and sitting on a 1-0 lead. Regardless of who was in goal, there was no fear of holding a 1-0 lead.

The last home match (vs. RSL on April 15), they held a 1-0 lead going into the last 10 minutes of the match and surrendered two goals that were completely preventable. That bit of luck they had last year is simply gone.

Also, the team has been beset by injuries, losing 2016 starters Axel Sjoberg and Shkelzen Gashi for extended periods of time. They were not just starters, but they were leaders on the pitch.

And, I think that the tactical inflexibility of Pablo Mastroeni has hurt this team. A 4-2-3-1 is fine if you are playing good defense and can score on the counter. But the Rapids cannot do either this season. As this team and franchise evolves, so must Pablo. Right now, this team does not look like a playoff team (yes, it is early), but it is up to Pablo to find the right formula for this team to start stringing together results. Remember, in 2016 the Rapids went from April 13 to July 30 without a loss. That feels like a lifetime ago. All is not lost, but things are not working right now.

How did the recent trade of Marc Burch and Sam Cronin to Minnesota affect the team?

JR: It has been, in a word, brutal. Losing your captain and starting defensive midfielder (Sam Cronin) was one thing, but to lose a quality starting left back in Marc Burch has ripped this team apart. They are completely out of sorts and it will take time to get over it. The large concern is that the Rapids did not have a quality replacement for Burch and the replacement for Cronin broke his back in his first game as a starter (Bismark Adjei-Boateng). Certainly you can't predict injuries, but the Rapids got hosed in these moves and it is clear that they did not have a plan B when plan A went down the tubes.

What do you see as the key match-up in this game that could decide the outcome?

JR: I will be curious to see how the Rapids deal with a very prolific front line that Orlando City has. The Rapids will (most likely) start Bobby Burling and Jared Watts in central defense and can they hold off Cyle Larin? And I might be more concerned with whether the Rapids get a decent looks on goal. For all of the credit that Orlando City is getting offensively, their defense might be best part of this team. The Rapids don't generate much offense, so this one will be tough for them.

What injuries/suspensions will keep players out Saturday, and what is your projected starting lineup and final score prediction?

JR: Injuries: Sjoberg and Adjei-Boateng are out and Dillon Serna is a question mark.

Suspensions: Tim Howard, Kortne Ford.

Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Zac MacMath, Mekeil Williams, Bobby Burling, Jared Watts, Eric Miller, Micheal Azira, Mohammed Saeid, Shkelzen Gashi, Dillon Powers, Marlon Hairston, Alan Gordon.

Predicted Score: Orlando City 2:0 Colorado Rapids.

Big thanks to John from The Burgundy Wave for stopping by and giving us a bit of a scouting report on the Rapids.