COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – In a league filled with a mixture of styles, Colorado unabashedly steers towards the English end of the spectrum.
From the accents of Rapids coach Gary Smith and assistant Steve Guppy ringing around the training ground to the emphasis on wide players and flank service to the off-field partnership with Arsenal, the Rapids are about as English as Eastenders.
It's no wonder then that Colorado has found success with a traditionally English front pairing: the burly target striker (Conor Casey) and his whippet-quick partner (Omar Cummings). That isn't to say that Colorado adheres to the lump it long doctrine (it doesn't) or that Casey and Cummings operate solely in those traditional roles (Cummings tends to drift wide to find space to use his pace and doesn't live on knockdowns, while Casey is surprisingly adept with the ball at his feet for a player of his stature), but it is to say that Casey and Cummings have taken the traditional English front pairing and made it work in MLS in a big way.
Casey (15 goals) is second in the Golden Boot race, while Cummings (8 goals, 12 assists) has blossomed into a genuine MVP candidate. The scary thing for teams around the league? Smith thinks there's more to come from his front duo.
“What we're finding with the pair of them is that the relationship is evolving,” Smith said. “They're finding out more about themselves. There's some link play to be had centrally. Conor's comfortable with bodies around him and he draws lots of pressure. He's just relieving that pressure and the ball at the right time for someone else to take advantage of it.”
Colin Clark | Rapids' tricky left winger is out for the season
Smith and the Rapids have had to adapt their style recently as a string of injuries to their wingers – Colin Clark, Jamie Smith and Jacob Peterson are all out long-term with knee injuries – has allowed teams to clamp down on Casey and Cummings. Despite the additional attention his strikers are receiving, Smith remains confident that his front pairing will continue to do the business as the Rapids try to sew up a postseason berth.
“They've attracted more attention over the last month than before, but with the right amount of aggression and the right amount of positive edge, those guys will still get their chances,” Smith said. “There's no two ways about it. We played here against San Jose last week. While we controlled huge parts of the game, chances were few and far between, but there were still three or four very good chances. They will create them, it's just a matter of whether or not they are clinical enough.”
The Forecast wasn't nearly clinical enough in its picks last week, mustering a mere three out of seven thanks to second-half stumbles by Chivas USA and D.C. United. With six matches on tap this weekend, the Forecast will have the chance to atone for last weekend's wastefulness.
Last week: 3/7 (43%)
For the season: 79/172 (46%)
The Playoff Picture Heading Into Week 29
(Note: End-of-season tiebreakers are not in play in this table.)
1. Columbus (12-4-10, 46 pts., 4 games remaining)
2. Chicago (10-6-11, 41 pts., 3 games remaining)
1. Houston (12-8-7, 43 pts., 3 games remaining)
2. Los Angeles (10-6-11, 41 pts., 3 games remaining)
1. Colorado (10-8-9, 39 pts., 3 games remaining)
T2. Chivas USA (11-9-5, 38 pts., 5 games remaining)
T2. Seattle (9-7-11, 38 pts., 3 games remaining)
4. New England (10-9-7, 37 pts., 4 games remaining)
D.C. United (8-7-12, 36 pts., 3 games remaining)
Toronto FC (9-10-8, 35 pts., 3 games remaining)
Real Salt Lake (9-11-7, 34 pts., 3 games remaining)
FC Dallas (9-12-6, 33 pts., 3 games remaining)
Kansas City (8-11-7, 31 pts., 4 games remaining)
San Jose (6-12-7, 25 pts., 5 games remaining)
New York (4-17-6, 18 pts., 3 games remaining)
Chicago @ Los Angeles – 11:00p.m. (ESPN2)
Cuauhtemoc Blanco | Chicago playmaker will miss out for a second consecutive week with a hamstring complaint
The television types will be holding their breath hoping David Beckham (inflamed right Achilles tendon) can feature. Beckham expressed confidence that he could do just that on Thursday after coming through training this week unscathed. Cuauhtemoc Blanco won't be as lucky; he's set to miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury. Blanco's absence will place even more emphasis on Brian McBride and Chris Rolfe (questionable with a hamstring issue) in the attacking third, though one wonders if Patrick Nyarko could find a place in the lineup given the Galaxy's lack of pace at the back. Los Angeles stormed into Toyota Park in August and came away with a 2-0 victory, but the Fire could get a point here given its exemplary away form (6-2-5) and the Galaxy's rather mediocre home form (5-4-4).
Seattle @ Columbus – 7:30p.m.
Sigi Schmid returns to Columbus with his flagging Sounders FC squad in desperate need of a boost. This is one of those matches everyone had circled when the schedule came out, but the importance of the match is almost squarely on the visitors in this one. One win in six (1-2-3) isn't the type of form Seattle wants as it chases an inaugural season playoff berth. Schmid will need considerably more from his wide players – Steve Zakuani on the left, in particular – and more through the middle to break the Crew down, though it won't have Nate Jaqua (suspended) to provide a more robust presence up top alongside Fredy Montero. Columbus has adjusted fairly well to Chad Marshall's absence (left MCL sprain) and continues to chug along. Frankie Hejduk (suspended) will miss out, but Jed Zayner has done well enough in that spot this season when asked to contribute. Don't discount Schmid's intimate knowledge of his former side as Seattle tries to grab a point in the league's most difficult road venue, but don't expect the Crew to permit its former coach and his new club to leave with any points either.
Prediction: Columbus win.
Chivas USA @ D.C. United – 7:30p.m.
United absolutely has to bounce back from a disappointing 2-1 loss to San Jose last Sunday. Most of the pressure will fall squarely on Milos Kocic, who will deputize for the injured Josh Wicks (sprained MCL/dislocated shoulder) with pool goalkeeper Chris Sharpe serving as the backup. Can Kocic backstop a fading playoff run? He won't have Rodney Wallace (suspended) to cover ground in midfield to aid in that quest. As for the Goats, they must be kicking themselves after letting New York emerge with a 1-1 draw at the Home Depot Center last Saturday after Sacha Kljestan pulled a stoppage time penalty kick wide. With games in hand, the Red-and-White still looks like a good bet to make the postseason, but this game takes on some importance for them as well. A draw would do the Goats just fine, but they'll have to find that result without the suspended Marcelo Saragosa. United has dropped its past two matches at R.F.K. Stadium after ripping off an 11-match unbeaten streak to start the campaign, so D.C. desperately needs a victory here as it enters into the back half of its homestand. United likely won't obtain the result it craves because the Goats make a habit of forcing disjointed sides even further from their rhythm.
New England @ Colorado – 9:00p.m.
“I remember the game here last year,” Smith said on a chilly early fall morning in suburban Denver. “It was late on in the season and it was one of my interim games. New England came in here and showed a huge amount of resilience. They played a great game, to be honest. We went in front and they equalized early in the second half. They're a side that's capable of absorbing pressure. They've got players within the group that are quite adept at breaking quickly and creating something off the cuff, so we're going to have to be mindful of that edge in (their) team.”
There's a good chance the Revolution will have to absorb plenty of pressure once again with a raft of players out injured – Edgaras Jankauskas (adductor) and Steve Ralston (torn ACL) didn't make the trip, while Jay Heaps' (hamstring) status is up in the air after his early substitution in Wednesday's 1-0 loss at FC Dallas – and Wells Thompson suspended for his late dismissal against the Hoops. New England soaked up the pressure well at the Cotton Bowl, but its defensive solidity ultimately yielded zero points.
In order for Colorado to grab all three points and all but seal a playoff berth, the Rapids will have to do a better job of translating pressure into chances than it did in its three recent draws against San Jose (twice) and Kansas City. Wide players Jordan Harvey and Kosuke Kimura – whether as fullbacks in a 4-4-2 or, more likely, as wingers in a 3-5-2 – must stretch the field and provide decent service for the Rapids' dangerous front pairing in order to facilitate the attack. New England's traditionally not very good in Colorado (3-11-2), but anticipate a similar game to the one that played out here last year given the fact that the Revs almost have to grab something from this match with their remaining schedule (v. Columbus, v. Chicago, @ Columbus) and submitted a similarly tenacious (if offensively limited) performance on Wednesday night.
New York @ San Jose – 11:00p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)
Juan Pablo Angel | New York talisman grabbed late equalizer at Chivas USA last weekend
Though it may not appear to be a good television match at first glance, this game may be worth a peek if you're sitting at home with nothing to do late on a Saturday night. San Jose has perked up considerably since that nearly three-week layoff in early September. Two draws in a home-and-home against Colorado and a victory at D.C. United last weekend shows that the Earthquakes haven't yet turned their minds to golfing excursions with Ryan Johnson (nine goals, including two in his past three games) a menacing presence up front. New York is also in-form after the Red Bulls continued its revival under Richie Williams by picking up only their second road point of the season in last Saturday's 1-1 draw at Chivas USA. No surprise that Juan Pablo Angel scored the goal (New York's third on the road this season) upon his return to the lineup. Even when hobbled by a bad ankle, the Colombian striker is still among the league's most ruthless players in front of goal. While a draw looks likely enough, no amount of good form from the Red Bulls will make the Forecast feel comfortable about picking them to snatch points on the road.
Prediction: San Jose win.
Kansas City @ Houston – 3:00p.m. (Telefutura)
This match could be a bit of a trap game for the Dynamo. No league game last week to keep the MLS pump primed. A disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Pachuca in midweek Champions League play with its first team on the field. No Brian Ching (and no John Spencer) through suspension. Add in Kansas City's recent form (3-1-1 in its past five matches) and the Dynamo have some things to ponder ahead of this one. At a time with less at stake, Houston could drop points here. With Cam Weaver in decent form as Ching's likely replacement and Los Angeles' viable challenge for top spot in the West looming, the Dynamo will somehow find a way to lean on its experience to soldier through this deceptively difficult fixture and seize the three points it needs.
Prediction: Houston win.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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