Three Points: Rapids look to solidify identity in critical six-game stretch – The Denver Post

The Colorado Rapids will resume their regular season in a little less than two weeks with a shot at ending a three-year postseason drought.

A strong start followed by a disappointing showing at the MLS is Back Tournament leaves little clarity about just how legitimate that chance is — even with an expanded bracket.

Here’s what we’ll be watching once the regular season resumes:

The meatgrinder

The Rapids’ schedule is expected to consist of 18 more games, six of which were announced Saturday.

Those six all come against Western Conference opponents and feature two legs of the Rocky Mountain Cup. Colorado lost 2-0 to Real Salt Lake in an uninspiring opener in Florida, but the Rapids are looking to win their rivalry for the first time since 2015.

“We were bitterly disappointed with the performance against Salt Lake,” Rapids general manager Padraig Smith said. “The players are going to be absolutely determined to put that right.”

The Rapids also have a game against first-place Sporting Kansas City, who beat them 3-2 in a highly contentious match in Orlando. Sporting made a big splash this offseason adding Mexican forward Alan Pulido, and it seems to have paid off.

A sneaky match to look out for is against San Jose. The Earthquakes had a run of crazy games in Florida, with Matías Almeyda’s group displaying a dangerous attack en route to the quarterfinals.

FC Dallas has not played since March after getting booted from the Florida “bubble” due to a COVID-19 outbreak. It’s anyone’s guess what they will be after nearly six months off.

The Houston Dynamo have shown they can be dangerous, drawing the Los Angeles Galaxy twice and LAFC once. They have a capable offense but generally have struggled.

These six games could go a long way in determining what happens on Decision Day, currently set for Nov. 8. At the very least, it will kick off a brutal stretch that will include 18 games in 78 days.

“We’re looking forward to getting back and proving that we can build on the wonderful start we had (in February and March) and the wonderful final five months that we had last year,” Smith said.

Forward Focus

When the Rapids last played they still had yet to find the right mix of attacking players.

Both Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio scored double-digit goals in 2019. Kamara has two in five games so far this season, but the veteran’s play seems to have taken a step back. That opens the door for Rubio or reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki to take over at striker.

Kamara could become expendable, especially with Jonathan Lewis making a strong case for more minutes. The winger has produced a goal or assist every 90 minutes since joining the Rapids in May of 2019.

Offseason pickups Nicolas Benezet and Yonies Namli have settled into roles and shown flashes, while it’s unclear what roles Braian Galván and Nicolás Mezquida will play.

This group alone could push the Rapids into the playoffs. They’re highly skilled and deep. But it’s also the part of the field with the most intrigue.

“Ultimately what the depth does is provide the ability to change things as required,” Smith said. “But ultimately the depth is no good if we don’t get the results that we need.”

COVID Concerns

Both Dallas and Nashville never got a chance to compete in the bubble due to an outbreak. As is being seen in Major League Baseball now, health is having as much of an impact as performance. The onus will be on the teams themselves in this next phase.

Playing during a pandemic has its challenges, and one of them is financial. Where local guidelines allow, there will be a limited number of fans at the games. For now, the Rapids are not one of those teams, but they are examining the feasibility for some point this season.

Rapids schedule

DayDateOpponentTime (MDT)

Sat.Aug. 22Real Salt Lake7 p.m.
Wed.Aug. 26at FC Dallas6:30 p.m.
Sat.Aug. 29Sporting Kansas City7 p.m.
Sat.Sept. 5at San Jose Earthquakes8:30 p.m.
Wed.Sept. 9Houston Dynamo7 p.m.
Sat.Sept. 12at Real Salt Lake7:30 p.m.

Source: Read Full Article