In 2013, the Portland Timbers played the Colorado Rapids in the fourth game of the season at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. That game finished 2-2 with Will Johnson scoring twice in the second half to earn the comeback point. This year, the circumstances are slightly different but the timing of the debut match-up is basically the same. We check in with Chris White of SB Nation's Colorado blog Burgundy Wave for the latest on the Rapids and what to expect in Commerce City on Saturday afternoon.
1. Why did the Rapids wait so long to name Pablo Mastroeni manager, and does that even matter when assessing the team at this point in the season?
It was most likely a 'just in case' situation. Pablo had never been given a managerial position before (obviously, since he only just retired) and the Rapids didn't lose Oscar Pareja until right before the draft, hardly giving them enough time to audition a few people and launch a full-scale coaching search. Pablo was named interim head coach right after that, and I think the team just wanted to see if he was going to be able to handle it. (He was.) There was also apparently quite a bit of time spent (we're talking weeks) on his contract, but they already knew at that point that he was their guy so one would assume they weren't worried about taking their time with it.
As for whether or not the lateness of the official reveal should matter when talking about the team, no. The scores of people who were suggesting that it was a huge deal for the several weeks before the season began were simply looking for a story to write. Pablo had been the team's head coach for nearly two months when the Rapids finally had him sign the contract, changing only his title from 'interim' to 'official'. Now they have a very confident and sharp (at least for a team playing its first game) performance in New York to help knock the 'team will fall apart since they didn't know who they were playing for' storyline under the rug. I imagine that this team won't be quite as bad as some people suggested, which should, week by week, kill it off a bit more just as the Petke panic quickly subsided last season in New York.
2. 2013 was a nice year for Colorado. Which of the rising stars from that campaign can be expected to be as good this season? Particularly with Saturday's game against Portland in mind.
There are a few guys who might be in line for some sophomore slumps this season, but I think we can be reasonably sure that the trio of Shane O'Neill, Chris Klute and Clint Irwin will continue to grow into their roles on the team. Though the headlines focused on Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown, those three were at the heart of Colorado's fantastic 2013 campaign. Getting a head coach that knows his defense like Mastroeni will only help them solidify the defensive mettle of the team, and now the two defenders in that group have had some time with Jurgen Klinsmann at the USMNT camp as well.
3. Portland hasn't yet allowed a goal from the run of play, including the entire preseason. Who is the biggest threat to break that streak?
Oftentimes when facing a team like Portland that knows how to stifle an offense, you need to rely on your guys that can make something out of nothing. Colorado has two such guys, Deshorn Brown and Gabriel Torres. Brown's speed and strength allows him to create piles of chances every game no matter who is defending him -- his first touch and finishing are both still youthfully volatile, which is why he doesn't pile in the goals despite getting so many chances. Torres, meanwhile, has one of the best shots and can curl one as well as anyone from outside the box if given even a few inches of space. If anyone on the Rapids is going to score a non-set piece goal on Saturday, the smart money would be on them.
4-2-3-1 Clint Irwin; Marc Burch, Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Shane O'Neill; Jose Mari, Nick Labrocca; Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna; Gabriel Torres
Bench: John Berner, Grant van de Casteele, Jared Watts, Nathan Sturgis, Vicente Sanchez, Marvin Chavez, Edson Buddle
Chris Klute OUT (hamstring), Brian Mullan OUT (knee surgery), Danny Mwanga DOUBTFUL (sports hernia surgery), Clint Irwin DOUBTFUL (quad)