While the Portland Timbers faced off against a tough opponent and came out the better side last Sunday, their true test will be tomorrow night when they go on the road, once again, to take on Western Conference rival the Colorado Rapids. As we all know, the Timbers don't have the best record against Colorado so far since joining MLS and, with the Rapids now returning to full strength after a series of injuries, Spencer's side will truly be tested.
I also want to point out that tomorrow' game is very important in terms of points as well. The Timbers are currently sitting with 16 points. The Rapids with 19. A win tomorrow brings them level with the 6th place team (along with Chivas USA) and it's integral they're not allowed to break free with another three points.
In order to help us figure out this rapids team, I was lucky enough to be able to interview UZ of SB Nation's Colorado Rapids blog Burgundy Wave.
Colorado's season has hit a bit of a rough patch lately, losing their past three games. What do you attribute to this? Why is Colorado not as effective so far this season as they have been in previous seasons?
It's all about depth and chemistry. Gary Smith left the team with absolutely nothing in the depth department when he was sacked, and one of the biggest things that Oscar Pareja was tasked with was putting together a squad that could not only play his completely different system of ball, but also had a lot of good depth in it. He's done quite well in so far in building the midfield, but defensively there's still nothing to speak of and a recent batch of injuries has hit the team hard in that department. Bringing all the new faces in and swapping the lineups every week has also left the chemistry between the players a bit wanting.
It's the old Football Manager rule -- if you go out and spend on a completely new starting XI you can't expect them all to play like they've known each other for years. As such, there's a lot of discombobulation in the final third as all the guys try to figure how to link with each other, though the straight up talent in the midfield and at forward has still led to quite a few goals. As he adds more defensive players in to keep guys like Scott Palguta and Tyrone Marshall off the starting sheet, it will improve. Or we could always just wait for Marvell Wynne to get 100% healthy again and hope he never gets injured, but where's the fun in that?
We know about Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, Pablo Mastroeni, and Matt Pickens. Who are key players for the Rapids that perhaps aren't as well known, but equally as effective? What do they add to the team over all?
Oscar Pareja's prize piece in the off season was a 22 year old kid that neither you or I had heard of out of Argentina named Martin Rivero. He was said to be the 'True #10' player that Pareja's system lacked and he has not disappointed in that regard yet. Despite some early struggles getting used to MLS' physicality and speed, he has done pretty much what it said on the box. His passing is wonderful, his skill on the ball can be immaculate and he has a bullet of a shot that he's not afraid to unleash. Set Pieces have changed as well with Rivero at the helm of them, as Colorado seems to have a good chance on every corner kick -- much better than last year's mess that saw Sanna Nyassi and Wells Thompson taking them. If the Rapids can keep him for the next few years -- he's technically only on a several year loan right now -- he's got the chance to bloom into a top MLS attacker.
Past him, another name you might not know is Tony Cascio. He was the 14th overall pick in the SuperDraft but was slotted into the starting XI immediately because of some injuries to forwards. Since then, he's only missed one game up there because his play has been wonderful. He's only got two goals to his name but has put a very strong, consistent shot into the line up. He's not afraid to launch the ball toward the net and leads the team in shots right now, he's also second in shots on target.
If you could pick one spot, or player on the field as the weak so where or who is it? How does this hamper or endanger the team as a whole?
A week or two ago I would have said the center of defense because of the awful depth there, but it looks like the dominant pairing of Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne are finally together and relatively healthy again. Right now I'd have to say that the weakest player is probably Jaime Castrillon... but only sometimes. He was brought in to be a force offensively by Pareja and has had his moments, leading the team in goals right now, but tends to go invisible for games at a time. It's kind of a crapshoot, the Timbers might get unlucky and see the Castrillon that dominated Columbus or Chicago earlier in the season or they might get the invisible Castrillon that we rarely saw do much against San Jose or Vancouver. I'm ever the pessimist so I'll say the latter may be more likely, but even on his awful days he occasionally slips through, makes a goal and then is never seen again so who knows?
Where does Colorado's attack stem from? Are they a team that counters, plays in more crosses, or generally just tries to score in the run of play?
Oscar Pareja plays the guys in a 4-3-3 formation -- which is really more of a 4-5-1 formation considering how low down the two outside striker/wingers tend to play -- that features attacking up the middle. The three guys in the middle Martin Rivero, Jaime Castrillon and Jeff Larentowicz tend to possess the ball more than anyone else on the squad as they seek lanes to distribute the ball to the three high strikers. The idea is usually to get through balls up into the box so that the strikers have easy time finishing, and possessing and passing the ball so much in the final third that fouls are forced and set pieces are earned. They generally don't counter attack very much -- in fact that's been one of the weaknesses of the 4-3-3 so far, allowing too many counter attacks against -- but score lots of goals from the run of play and now that Rivero is around, lots of set piece goals as well.
Predicted starting line up?
This is a bit of a crapshoot, considering there has been some shuffling every game in the fullbacks and nobody's quite sure if Casey and Cummings are both healthy enough to start. Under ideal conditions though, this would be the starting XI I'd expect from Pareja:
Once again, big thanks to UZ for taking time to answer my questions. Visit his Colorado Rapids' blog: Burgundy Wave.