The season keeps on rolling after MNUFC’s exciting 4-4 draw this past weekend, with the Loons on their way to the Rocky Mountains to take on the Colorado Rapids. While they were close together in the table when they played in April, their seasons have since gone in very different directions. Saturday’s matchup will pit one of the Western Conference’s success stories against one of its stragglers.

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The Occasion: MLS Week 24; Game No. 24; Road Game No. 12

The Opponent: Colorado Rapids

Head-to-Head:

In 14 matches against one another, the Rapids and the Loons have split the all-time series, both accumulating a 6-6-2 record in the head-to-head. This season alone, MNUFC has already played Colorado twice. The first was a league game at Allianz Field in April, a game that saw the Loons overpower their opponent by a score of 3-1. Goals from Bakaye Dibassy, Robin Lod, and Abu Danladi proved too much for Colorado to handle in what was an otherwise even match.

The second matchup this season came in the US Open Cup. An early MNUFC goal in the 8th minute opened up the game in this knockout competition, though the Rapids found an answer just seven minutes later. Before the game could finish, a rain delay forced the game to pause midway through, setting up a much more dry finish the next day. With the score tied at one apiece, it appeared as though extra time was inevitable. However, Emanuel Reynoso had other ideas, as his 87th minute winner eliminated Colorado from the tournament and sent his team to the next round.

Their Run of Form: D-D-W-L-W

Week 19 – 2-2 D at Real Salt Lake (goals from Lalas Abubakar and Diego Rubio)

Week 20 – 1-1 D vs. Orlando City (goal from Gyasi Zardes)

Week 21 – 2-0 W vs. LA Galaxy (goals from Gyasi Zardes and Diego Rubio)

Week 22 – 1-2 L at Seattle Sounders (goal from Jonathan Lewis)

Week 23 – 5-4 W at New York Red Bulls (goals from Diego Rubio, Keegan Rosenberry, Collen Warner, Michael Barrios, and Dantouma Toure)

Don’t read into the Rapids’ last match too much. The Red Bulls have been giving goals away for free as of late, so while scoring five goals is generally an encouraging sign, it may not say much about team progress in this case. Overall, Colorado has been spotty at best, picking up the odd result only to lose the next game. It’s anyone’s guess what kind of Rapids team will show up Saturday night.

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Last Season

In 2021, Colorado played the Loons three times. There was plenty of excitement between the two, but the Rapids managed to snatch all nine points off of MNUFC.

They first clashed in April, when an Emanuel Reynoso free-kick golazo put the Loons ahead in the 17th minute. A high-flying Minnesota United side found the back of the net again just seven minutes later via Hassani Dotson. The first half seemed to suggest that the visiting Loons would pull out the win, but Colorado wasn’t finished just yet. A dominant second half produced a Kellyn Acosta banger, sparking the comeback for his team. Goals from Cole Bassett and Danny Wilson were enough to overwhelm the tired visitors, as the Rapids earned a 3-2 win.

The next game was also in Colorado, though its intrigue was nothing compared to the first edition. A clinical Rapids side refused to give anything to MNUFC, limiting the Loons to just 2 shots on goal. Goals from Braian Galvan and Andre Shinyashiki proved to be all that was needed, helping Colorado to a 2-0 win.

Finally, these two played near the season’s end, in crunch time if you will. An October matchup at Allianz Field promised to be an important one, as teams were jockeying for playoff positions. Right off the bat, MNUFC went ahead when Adrien Hunuou scored in the eighth minute. Despite leading for 65 minutes, a late flurry of goals from Colorado in the final 17 minutes of play ended the night with yet another win going the way of the Rapids by a 3-1 score line.

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That was then, this is now

The Rapids have been around since Major League Soccer’s inaugural season. For the entirety of their 27-year history, Colorado’s team has found mixed success, without any discernible span of sustained dominance.

While they won MLS Cup in 2010, they have failed to make it to the final since then. Every five seasons or so, the Rapids seem to find themselves around the fight for the Supporter’s Shield, though they have failed to win it thus far. They achieved their highest finish last season, when they won the Western Conference and accumulated the second most points in the entire league.

While the Rapids don’t boast the star-names of other MLS clubs, they have seen their share of MLS and American soccer legends. Players like Marcelo Balboa, Pablo Mastroeni, and Connor Casey have all worn the colors, earning their way into Colorado’s Gallery of Honor.

Nowadays, the Rapids are sitting in tenth place in the Western Conference with just 27 points. Their minus three goal differential is nowhere near the league’s worst, but it doesn’t inspire confidence that a resurgence is coming. Despite a relative wealth of talent, an anemic attack has kept them from reaching the heights that they achieved just last season.

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The Attack

Colorado’s attack is better than it was early this year, but it still isn’t terribly threatening. Before the arrival of USMNT striker Gyasi Zardes, the Rapids relied on Diego Rubio for most of their attacking output. The Chilean leads the team in scoring this year with ten goals, followed by Jonathan Lewis and Zardes on four.

This season, the Rapids have most often lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, however, they have recently played three games in a row in a 4-1-4-1. Regardless of formation, they find a way to get all three of Rubio, Zardes, and Michael Barrios on the field.

While Barrios has only managed two goals this year, his four assists are the most on the team. An ever-changing midfield has failed to contribute a significant amount of goals, leaving the forwards with the entire weight of goal scoring. Fans are likely missing Cole Bassett and Kellyn Acosta right about now, though the five goals they scored against a struggling New York Red Bulls side this week will likely give them some hope. Yesterday’s goal-fest aside, this side hasn’t produced consistently enough.

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The Defense

At the other end of the field, a competent back line has given up 33 goals this year. Fullbacks Keegan Rosenberry and Lucas Esteves have been staples alongside center back Lalas Abubakar. Abubakar has had a few different partners in the middle of the defense, most recently Gustavo Vallecilla and Danny Wilson.

Injuries to CDM Jack Price and center back Aboubacar Keita, on top of the loss of Auston Trusty, have left the defensive reserves a bit thin, disrupting the ideal style and setup for Colorado. If a 4-1-4-1 is employed, expect to see Bryan Acosta in that CDM role. If they instead use their more common 3-4-2-1, we may see Acosta line up in a double pivot role with one of Ralph Priso-Mbongue or Collen Warner.

Against an in-form Loons attack, the Rapids will be hard pressed to keep the ball out of the net, especially with their relative lack of depth.

Final Thought

While Colorado put on a show against NYRB, they have done nothing to suggest that this form will continue. If they can find a way to sustain it, then they may be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season, but all signs point to their rollercoaster season continuing on. On the other hand, Minnesota United will have a very thin squad on this trip, between injuries and yellow card suspensions. This one is set to be interesting, and possibly season-defining for Colorado.

MATCH INFO

Colorado Rapids v. Minnesota United FC

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, Colorado

08.06.22 | MLS Game 24

8:00 pm CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North EXTRA, The CW - Twin Cities, 1500 ESPN)