The New England Revolution must play their second match in four days tonight against the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City. The Revs and the Rapids are actually in fairly similar positions in their respective conferences, sitting in sixth but still within a sniff of the playoffs, but the Rapids have actually played two more games.
The Rapids have been inconsistent on the year, and like the Revs did earlier in the season, have struggled with offensive production at times. It's a team that's dealt with youth and inexperience, especially in the attack, but is still somehow keeping itself in the hunt.
Today's Q&A is with UZ of Burgundy Wave, SB Nation's Colorado Rapids blog.
TBM: The Rapids find themselves in something of a similar situation to that of the Revs; right on the fringe of a playoff spot with a little less than half the season left to go. What's been the key to Colorado's success, and what's held them back from the top five?
UZ: The key to Colorado's success has been their defense, and their offense has kept them out of the top five. It's pretty much as simple as that. After last season, where they were leaking goals like my old CR-V used to leak oil, it's been a welcome surprise to have Shane O'Neill come in and turn the defense into one of the better ones in MLS. Clint Irwin's rapid rise has helped matters in the back as well, and Nathan Sturgis/Dillon Powers have both paired well with Hendry Thomas to give the Rapids better possession, keeping it away from our goal more often.
Unfortunately, the offense, which was mediocre but not horrible last year, has misfired terribly in 2013. It's not completely unexpected, since the team is made up almost entirely of youngsters. (Most of the non-youngsters are guys like Atiba Harris, so we'll just focus on the youngsters.) When your team is mostly under the age of 23, you expect chemistry and finishing issues. It just comes with the territory. We've had plenty of finishing problems, especially from our young phenom Deshorn Brown. It's the sort of thing that you don't worry about because finishing can be taught and is often the last thing that a young striker really gets together, but at the moment it's frustrating. We've also suffered the injury woes of young playmaker Martin Rivero, which has made it so the midfield and offense have had trouble linking at times.
TBM: A lot was made of Oscar Pareja and his attempts to implement a new system in Colorado, but success apparently has been mixed. How do you feel about his preferred tactics and do you think he'll ever put it together fully?
UZ: I do think he will, because he's already shown mountains of growth in his managerial and tactical mindset compared to last year. Again, building a team full of nothing but young players will give you a bit of leeway, since there's always the youth excuse. Through the injuries we've seen and the mistakes we saw last year though, I'm pleasantly surprised that the Rapids are even doing half as well as they have been this year. Pareja deserves a lot of credit for even the modest improvement we've seen, and any FC Dallas fan will tell you that he's always been a great soccer mind. It seems far more likely that he'll pull it all together than not.
TBM: Welcome to the no-All Stars club! Now, there's a few more still to be picked for the reserves, but nobody from either of our teams will be playing, I guess. Realistically, who among the Rapids do you feel were snubbed?
UZ: The only Rapids player that I could possibly give an All-Star shout to is Dillon Powers. He's our resident rookie of the year candidate, and he's played like the 'American Xavi' all season in the Colorado midfield. He has had some misfiring issues offensively and he's prone to the occasional boneheaded turnover though, which has kept him on the same up-and-down streak that every Rapids player has been riding this season. I'm perfectly content with having no All-Stars, to be honest. I couldn't really say that anyone was 'snubbed'.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
UZ: I was going to say Shane O'Neill, but I'm not sure he counts as under-the-radar any more since everyone saw how amazing his potential was during that U-20's run in the World Cup. (He was the only player who didn't look completely terrible during that thrashing against Ghana, if you'll recall.) Instead, I think I'll go with Chris Klute. Klute was picked up in a fairly minor move last year from the Atlanta Silverbacks on loan, and has quietly turned into one of the best left backs in Major League Soccer since. So fast was his rise that the Rapids were already tripping over themselves to make the loan into a permanent buy by the start of 2013, and finally got the deal done a week ago.
Klute's passing is superb, his tackling is clean and always on the money, he's got enough speed to keep up with just about anyone in MLS defensively and he can cross as well as any other fullback out there -- the reason why he leads the Rapids in assists right now with five. If the Rapids are making noise offensively on Wednesday, you can probably keep your eye on Klute as a reason why.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
UZ: I'm going to have to pull for a Rapids win at home, they're on a fairly good run and, if not for Joe Willis turning into Peter Cech for an evening, would probably be on a several-game winning streak if not for that 0-0 draw against DC. When they win they tend to shut out the opposition, so I'll say a nervy 1-0 final.