Thursday, May 15, 2008

A View From the Other Side: Colorado -vs- RSL

Colorado Rapids vs Real Salt Lake
from the perspective of deron (Big Soccer)

In 2005 the Rocky Mountain Cup was born.

The initial response about the cup was that it was manufactured, contrived, totally made up. I admit, at the time, I agreed with the naysayers. I just did not care. My sole contribution to the cup was the suggestion that it be an ice-pick mounted on a board rather than a cup. I was voted down. The important thing was, and is, that the fans were having fun.

The first two seasons of the Rocky Mountain Cup went as planned, for Rapids fans. The Rapids left with the cup. Checketts was upset by Mastroeni's antics. The RSL fans worried the visiting Rapids contingent.

The wheels came off last year in a fitting end to a dismal season for the Rapids. We watched the Salt Lake boys walk away with the silver cup. Taking our last hope of obtaining the final playoff spot left with it. We watched as an ex-Rapids fan favorite played on the wrong side of the ball. While our compensation for the player road the bench.

The rivalry, born our of a contrivance, has taken on a life of its own. The 2008 season begins a new chapter with this kickoff game of the 2008 Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry.

What will be the story of this season? Rapids fans will have the opportunity to watch two well regarded ex-players, Nat Borchers and Kyle Beckerman, suit up in RSL kits. Feelings will be mixed. The current mood in Rapidland is to ignore the injustice, because our own Rapids are doing okay without them. But no one wants to shout it too loudly. Our position in the west has been less about the stellar play of the Rapids, there's been moments, and more about the inability of anyone in the west to string together consistent performances.

The Rapids enter this game with this cloud of uncertainty. The team has won with its veteran players. It has lost with its veteran players. Its won and lost games with youth. The distribution of goals and balance of performance between starters and newbies suggests a team with an even mix of talent. Who will emerge as the Rapids starters?

Fernando, to his credit and against history, has been patient with the players he has started. For the first three games of the season he kept the same group of youthful players starting. In the last two games he has stuck with another group that has a more veteran tilt. Rapids fans expect that we will see this same group start tonight.

In defense the Rapids will stick with a four man back line of Kosuke Kimura, Ugo Ihemelu, Fecundo Erpen, and Jordan Harvey. Harvey and Kimura are young players who have put in solid performances on the flanks. The Rapids players have rotated boneheaded blunders among its central defenders. Erpen's had his, and last week Ugo delivered his in the form of a hand ball in the box. The Rapids misfortune has been that these blunders have marred an otherwise solid defense. RSL will have a hard time breaking down the Rapids defense, but should be ready to pounce on the mistake that is sure to happen.

In midfield, Clavijo will start Pablo Mastroeni, Jacob Peterson, Nick LaBrocca, and Christian Gomez. Ostensibly the team will line up in a 442, but LaBrocca won't spend much time on the wing as he plays more centrally. Peterson will push up looking in to get behind the RSL defense. Mastroeni and Gomez will play traditional a-mid, d-mid roles. The decision to cede the left wing appears to be made in an abundance of caution. Gomez needs to play deep with two forwards in front of him. His lack of defense, and Clavijo's commitment to defense, creates the need for LaBrocca to play as a second ball winner. It has worked so far largely due to Jordan Harvey's steady play at left back.

Tam McManus has taken himself out of the equation at forward. Omar Cummings will certainly start. Omar's play thus far has consisted of a lot of hard work, good running, and too much dithering in front of the goal. Last week he scored a pretty goal that was a simple text book shot, low and towards the far post. The Rapids need more of those from him. The Rapids fans will be hoping his goal will open the flood gates that should follow all the hard work. In the absence of Tam the Rapids are likely to start Herculez Gomez. Herc's goal account remains empty thus far. One thing we know about Herc is that he won't dither with the ball. He'll shoot. And, he'll shoot often. The polar opposite of Omar.

Its a solid if unspectacular group that the Salt Lake boys will play against. For the Rapids the game rides on the performance of Christian Gomez who seems to be growing in his role with the team. If he is on RSL will face a lot of opportunities. If Gomez is not on the game will likely get mired in a midfield struggle with one team giving up the winner on a mistake.