United will be missing Jaime Moreno, Ben Olsen, and Bobby Boswell all at the Copa America; while the Rapids will be missing Herculez Gomez, Kyle Beckerman to the Copa, and Ugo Ihemelu to suspension. Likely the ever injured Connor Casey will be out for the match as well as he came up lame in Colorado’s loss to Dallas last week.
Soehn has replacements lined up and with game experience already in this short season to fill in for all of his departed players, which should give DC an edge in this match. Guy-Roland Kpene has shown lovely spark and imagination at forward several times this season or Rod Dyachenko might get a chance to redeem himself for that egg he laid in Salt Lake. Justin Moose, or possibly Clyde Simms or Stephen deRoux could all come in to cover for Olsen. In the back, Devon McTavish has been a revelation in filling in at various spots along the backline already.
Truth be told, DC’s young players and subs have arguably played better and certainly with more energy than the veterans to this point in the season. United might well profit from the aggression and determination these youngsters bring to the table. Especially given the total lack of effort displayed last week, the youth movement might be just the ticket to give quite a boost to the overall team morale.
Clavijo on the other hand will be shopping at the geriatric clinic to replace his missing starters. Kirovski likely replaces Gomez, Cancela should step in for Beckerman, and Prideaux should be the guy replacing Ihemelu. All of them good players, but they are also at or near their sell by date for sure. They might have the edge in class and skill, but no way they should have the energy and effectiveness to stay with United on a sweltering day in RFK.
Looking at the matchups, Fred and Gros against Cooke and Gargan along the left side are the key that DC must win. Cooke is their best passer and must be contained or better yet forced backward for most of the match. Fred has shown the skill and flair lately to unbalance a defense and Gros played his best defensive game ever in that losing effort in Salt Lake, so if the cards fall properly, DC should gain the advantage they need down the left side.
Moose and Namoff against Hernandez and Vanney might be trouble for DC, but Namoff has been the most consistent defender for DC all year, and Moose should run Vanney to a standstill. However, if Namoff can’t go due to a balky hamstring, then DC looks decidedly thin in the back and will have to rely on either Simms or deRoux back there. Simms is the more defensive option, but deRoux would be a good choice too as DC plays better overall with an attacking presence out of the back.
In the center, Mastroeni has always been trouble for Gomez, but it’s time for Gomez to put his stamp on a game. He’s certainly capable, but we’ve only seen glimpses of his MVP form this season. But even at worst, it’s an even matchup down the middle considering Carroll should be able to contain Cancela well enough.
Unfortunately, that’s where all the good news on offense ends. Colorado’s defense is as good as any in the league. True they have lost four in a row, but they’ve all been close games against the elite in the West. They lost 1-0 to Dallas last week which followed a 2-0 loss to Chivas and 2-1 loss to Houston. And they got surprised by TFC playing its best game of the season to lose 2-1 in Toronto to start the losing streak.
Emilio and Kpene or Dyachenko might well struggle to get around the Rapids slow, but very savvy defense, and Coundoul in goal has been a particular thorn for DC already in his short career. It’d be nice to see Emilio rip them up like a dog in a butcher shop, but that seems to be asking a bit much just now. Still, even playing badly Emilio scored against them in the season opener and got the face saving goal last week. Luciano is starting to round into form and if the midfield finds him in the right spots he could be deadly.
United’s best bet is to use their speed advantage with quick passing and wide play to stretch the Rapids defense off kilter. Now would be a good time for the midfield to show a little dominance. They’ve hardly won the midfield battle all year, but it will be critical to be able to do the things they want to do in midfield in this match. If they do that, then DC should score at least once and that might be all they need.
The Rapids will have scoring problems of their own given their play of late and the players they’ll be missing. United’s defense shouldn’t be troubled too much overall as Colorado has really struggled to score for the past month with only two goals in June. With Casey dinged up and Herculez out, that streak doesn’t look to be improving anytime soon. Roberto Brown was a handful the first time DC saw him, but he’s a known quantity now, and United’s defense is playing better overall despite backsliding in RSL.
Historically, Colorado has never done well in RFK including losing MLS Cup ’97, but they have some galling ties to look back upon. Incredibly, the Rapids have only beaten DC once ever in regulation in RFK and that was way back in 1999, and only have one other shootout win in 1997, but that’s it for their success here. However, they have come in here plenty of times in boiling hot summer games and played United to a standstill. Colorado has tied DC two of their last four games here including 1-1 last August that helped us down the road toward the worst record in MLS after the All Star Break.
Still, United has won 7 of 13 from Colorado in RFK to go along with four ties, so history is on United’s side if the universe stays in its proper order. Obviously, if DC plays the way they have most of the season, they will struggle and this game just seems to have draw written all over it. But RFK has usually been a safe haven and right now would be huge swing in momentum if they stick it to Colorado just one more time. Another desultory performance leading to a tie, or a loss (God forbid) could be ugly given that United heads out to KC and Houston next week.