Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rapids Looking To Douse the Fire

The Colorado Rapids will attempt to something they have yet to do this season tomorrow, win back-to-back games. Unfortunately they have the best road team in the league, the Chicago Fire, coming to the Dick. This will be the first appearance by Mr. White (aka Cuauhtemoc Blanco) in Denver as a member of the Fire. Kickoff at the Dick is at 1pm, with a morning tailgate starting between 10 and 11 in Lot AA.

Here's the injury report:

OUT: GK Justin Hughes (L groin); DOUBTFUL: DF Greg Dalby (R ankle); FW Conor Casey (R ankle); QUESTIONABLE: MF Mehdi Ballouchy (concussion); PROBABLE: DF Ugo Ihemelu (concussion)

DISCIPLINE: Suspended after 2 more yellow cards - Colin Clark, Pablo Mastroeni

My lineup prediction:

Erpen - Gibbs - Petke - Harvey
Cooke - Pablo - LaBrocca - Clark
McManus - Cummings

Other than the injury to Casey I expect Smith to run out the same lineup as he did last week in Dallas. While I agree that a consistent lineup is key, I really think we're leaving two of our best 11 on the bench in Christian Gomez and Bouna Coundoul. I realize integrating a player like Gomez into a midfield that seems to have developed a good relationship is difficult so I can see why Smith will leave Gomez on the bench. I have no idea why Burpo will continue to start (as reported by Nick Thomas) over Bouna. His play over the last two games has been horrible, with poor decisions leading to both goals given up to FSL, and only Dallas' inability to hit the broadside of a barn from the inside keeping a clean sheet in Dallas.

Critical Matchup: Pablo vs. Blanco

Long time antagonists on the international stage, this will be only their second matchup in MLS, and first at the Dick. One of the classic images of World Cup 2002 was Blanco being this close to punching Pablo in frustration after being stopped, again, by Mastroeni and the rest of the Yank's defense in route to dumping Mexico out of the tournament in their unforgettable 2-0 win. Pablo will have to summon that kind of defense again to shut down the Fire's playmaker and keep Colorado in the game.

Keys To Look For:

  • Can Burpo step up his game and show why he deserves to be the starter?

  • Do McManus and Cummings work together better than McManus and Casey?

  • Can Gibbs and Petke keep Rolfe contained? With Barrett gone Rolfe is the biggest weapon the Fire have after Blanco.

  • Who wins the air war? Both teams like to use outside wingers to cross into the box, the team that can take advantage of those crosses will be the one to win the game.

  • If our offense can't break down the Fire, will Smith finally turn to Christian Gomez?

Prediction: 1-1 draw. The Fire are too good, even on the road, to expect to hold them scoreless, especially if Burpo's questionable play continues. I think the Rapids defense can limit the damage though, and I expect the paring of Cummings and McManus to result in at least 1 goal.

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