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New England Revolution vs. Colorado Rapids: Know Thy Enemy (Part 2)

FOXBORO, MA - MAY 7: Kosuke Kimura #27 of Colorado Rapids battles Chris Tierney #8 of New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on May 7, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - MAY 7: Kosuke Kimura #27 of Colorado Rapids battles Chris Tierney #8 of New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on May 7, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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The New England Revolution are taking on the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park this evening in hopes of stringing together two straight league wins for the first time this season. New England is coming off a surprise win against DC United on Wednesday, halting a nine-game slide, and are hoping another good result against the defending MLS Cup champions could turn their season around. Colorado, meanwhile, just decimated New York 4-1 on the strength of a Sanna Nyassi hat trick and are looking to ride that momentum as long as possible.

Colorado's major threat lies in a workmanlike midfield and dangerous forwards. Target striker Conor Casey is out for the season, but Omar Cummings, his usual partner, is just as lethal, if not more so. He assisted on all three of Nyassi's goals last week and his speed, vision, and finishing ability were a key reason for the Rapids' title run last season. The midfield engine room featuring Pablo Mastroeni and former Rev Jeff Larentowicz has the capability to shut down and dominate any team in the middle of the pitch, making it difficult for even the best offensive teams to break through.

Ryan Cochrane and Kheli Dube are both listed as out for today's match, with former with left foot pain and the latter from continuing complications stemming from whiplash. Kevin Alston and Zak Boggs are listed as probable with nagging strain and sprain issues.

Today's Q&A is with Chris "UZ" White of Burgundy Wave, SB Nation's Colorado Rapids blog.

TBM: I just watched the highlights of Colorado's dismantling of New York this past week; wow. That's what a defending MLS Cup Champion should look like. Can you explain the keys to that victory, because New York is no slouch and they aren't in the business of getting blown out like that regularly. In the process, please also tell us if you think performances like that will become more common for Sanna Nyassi, and will that sort of success trend over to his twin brother here in New England?

UZ: That victory was all about looking at New York's weaknesses and capitalizing on them. New York is a powerful offensive squad with guys like Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo et al. so the Rapids decided to instead of focusing on defending, to take their fairly depleted back line and force them to get into an offensive shootout with an incredibly fast Rapids front with Sanna Nyassi as a surprise insertion as the ACM/Forward hybrid. (He was almost playing that coveted "true #10" position!) Sanna Nyassi and Omar Cummings were amazing together as the ball just shot up the pitch every time the Rapids got possession with those two able to outrun pretty much anyone else. As a result, NY's midfield had to focus more on keeping the ball away from their own end than feeding the ball to their own guys and the Rapids managed to feast on the oft-provided breakouts thanks to good defensive performances from the midfielders like Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz taking the ball away whenever possible. It also helps that your old friend Wells Thompson has suddenly discovered a nose for goal, he's got two goals in his last two games!

Really, it was the same exact formula that made the Rapids so successful last season - focus on stealing balls in the midfield and defense, feed to Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, let the talent of the strikers take over - just magnified a bit to the tune of four goals and with an extra speed factor in there with Nyassi rather than the big man Conor Casey up front. As for Nyassi himself, it was just as much about Cummings that game as it was Nyassi, with Omar providing an assist - several of them lovely - to every single Nyassi goal. I'm going to need more time to see if Sanna has actually figured it out, but right now the future does look bright. As for Sainey, he's always seemed to me to be the more consistent of the two brothers, putting in mid-range performances often while Sanna has his completely terrible games and then his fantastic ones. Pretty black or white with Sanna, who knows if this is the game that turns his potential into consistent great performances... or if his bro will catch on as well!

TBM: Losing Conor Casey to a season-ending injury is obviously a major blow to title aspirations at DSG. How do you believe the team will deal with his absence, and who do you see stepping up to fill the void?

UZ: The team picked up Caleb Folan for this exact purpose, just in case they needed a Casey replacement. He's a big guy with good feet and a nose for goal when he's inside the box and can make the old 'Casey near post run'. Unfortunately, Folan has been somewhat disappointing this year as he still hasn't seemingly figured out that this is quite a physical league and Casey's physical play is what makes him the striking master that he is. Because of that and because Nyassi up top with Cummings looked so good yesterday against the Red Bulls, I've got to assume that we'll be seeing that as the 'default striker pairing' from now on with Folan getting the spot starts to spell one of the two.

Part of the success of Colorado this season has been their spread out offense. 11 different players have scored a goal for the Rapids this season, and they've dealt without Casey before for almost half the season up until this point thanks to a lingering hamstring injury. Certainly hopes of winning another title are shattered, but I think that the Rapids have the depth to at the very least make a bit of noise in the West with this newfound Nyassi-Cummings duo.

TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for in this match.

UZ: It's not guaranteed that you'll see him, but with Brian Mullan likely getting rested and Jamie Smith possibly still out injured you might get to see Ross LaBaeux play on Saturday. Ross is in his second year in MLS after being drafted out of Virginia last season. In the short time he's played with the first team he's shown a lot of flashes of talent as a two-way midfielder, and has looked somewhat like a slightly more offensively oriented and inexperienced Pablo Mastroeni. As I've always thought he was originally drafted to be Mastroeni's replacement, this is a good thing in my eyes.

Ross has a bullet of a shot that we really only see in practice - he actually played a bit of striker for the team during that terrible injury spat earlier in the year - and some decent defensive ball skills in the center of midfield. He's also versatile enough to play winger and in fact has played a total of four different positions so far this season. The kid should be a first team starter within two years, and it's likely that he'll be around at least as a sub on Saturday.

TBM: Who do you think Colorado fears most on the pitch for New England?

UZ: I'm going to go with Benny Feilhaber this time around. Benny is actually one of my favorite USMNT players - I was sad when he wasn't able to do the Gold Cup - and was probably the most dangerous presence on the field the last time that these two teams played minus a few bursts of life from Shalrie Joseph. Part of the reason the Rapids were so successful against New York was the fact that NY's midfield was completely ineffective the entire match, but Benny will most likely provide a bit of a hangup on trying that strategy again. Plus, he'll be well rested after sitting out the DC United match.

TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.

UZ: 4-4-2 formation: Matt Pickens; Anthony Wallace, Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Kosuke Kimura; Ross LaBauex, Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz, Wells Thompson; Omar Cummings, Caleb Folan. I'll optimistically guess a 2-0 Rapids victory with Cummings and Folan snagging a goal a piece.