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Frustrated Colorado Rapids Will Look to Avoid Falling Further

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Wow, what a busy week! The FO have announced season tickets would remain flat, the field would be widened, TicketMaster would be fired and Caleb Porter would be hired.

What's that? We have two games in six days against the Colorado Rapids? Oh ... right.

When Stumptown Footy previewed the Colorado Rapids ahead of their first match this year against the Portland Timbers, the Rapids weren't in great shape. They had taken only ten points from their previous eleven games, as Head Coach Oscar Pareja dealt with injuries in every part of the lineup.

Since the Rapids beat the Timbers 3-0 in late June both teams have gone into a bit of a tailspin, but as bad as it's been for the Timbers -- eight points in ten matches -- Colorado has fared worse: just one win and one draw in their last ten.

In the process they have fallen from a safe bet for the playoffs to just two points ahead of lowly Portland -- and the Timbers have a game in hand against them. All of that with a reasonably healthy lineup. Healthier, anyway, than the lineup they had in the first third of the season.

So, what's wrong with the Rapids?

1. Finishing

According to UZ at the SB Nation Rapids blog Burgundy Wave, the keys to victory against the conference's worst team are finishing, finishing, and finishing. Indeed, the Rapids have lacked proven finishers for most of the season, and to make matters worse, their proven finisher, Conor Casey, hasn't been finishing either.

Since rejoining the team in May, Casey has looked a step behind his teammates, while logging two goals and 24 shanks in 883 minutes of play. Observe: Exhibit A.

Meanwhile, Omar Cummings has continued to have nagging injuries, while 33-year-old Brazilian striker Edu has had injury issues of his own, making just nine appearances since April. That's put more pressure on Kamani Hill to perform, and he, too, is questionable for tomorrow's match as he recovers from a quad strain.

That leaves wingers Brian Mullan and Jaime Castrillon to pick up the pieces, but playing out on the wings they aren't getting many chances.

2. Defense

Only one team in the Western Conference has allowed more goals than Colorado. I'll give you one guess as to who that is.

Colorado suffers from a defensive condition that Timbers fans are all too familiar with: a constantly changing lineup that has impeded players' familiarity with their defensive roles. As pointed out in our June 28 preview, the Rapids were allowing a goal more per match when lining up in a 4-3-3 than with a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1. Now they're giving up goals no matter how they line up, even as they have more consistently used a 4-5-1.

The attacking players need to get used to their defensive roles; they can't leave it all on Matt Pickens, Marvell Wynne and Jeff Larentowicz to keep the ball out of the net.

3. Nerve?

This is a fuzzy area, which is why I've used a question mark above. But one interesting stat out of the Rapids' 2012 season so far is that they have taken points out of just four games in which they allowed their opponents to score. Their record in games in which Pickens has not earned a clean sheet is 2-16-2.

They have fallen behind in quite a few games this season -- seventeen times, to be exact. From those seventeen games they have managed to take just one point in the standings.

Like a turtle, once you knock them on their backs, they just can't seem to find their footing. Portland sports fans are fairly accustomed to this sad state of affairs, so there are a lot of theories to explain the problem. I personally chalk it up to a lack of confidence among the players. They fall behind and lose their nerve.

This is a particularly intriguing consideration, given Portland's improved ability to score in recent weeks.These should be an interesting couple of games.