With another point earned and results going the good guys way, FC Dallas moved back above the red line after a hard-fought draw against New York City FC last weekend. With the midweek games further going Dallas’ way, the Hoops head to the mountains to take on the Colorado Rapids. Colorado is now in ninth place in the Western Conference with 39 points on the season. Dallas is up to seventh, with 45 points, tied with Portland in sixth and one point ahead of San Jose.
In what is surely one of the most remarkable turnarounds in league history, Colorado finds itself hanging by a thread for a shot at the playoffs after starting the season with only two points from their first 11 games. They fired coach Anthony Hudson after nine games and turned things over to interim coach Conor Casey. Casey turned things around and picked up 25 points over his ensuing 16 MLS games, but it wasn’t enough to make him official head coach. Colorado hired coach number three, Robin Fraser, away from Toronto at the end of August and have continued to pick up steam, winning four of his first five games. Dallas will be his sixth game. It’s been a long time since Dallas bagged a 2-1 win in the first meeting between these two. Let’s have a look at what this new look Colorado team is working with now.
Up top is Kei Kamara in his 16th season in MLS. The big #9 has 12 goals and an assist on the season, his third straight year with double digits and sixth season with 10 or more. We all know the book on Kamara, he’s a self-described “in-the-box” striker who can put away half chances with the best of them (check out his bicycle from last week). He’s can easily hurt Dallas with his physical style and finishing.
One thing coach Fraser has tried to instill is strong wing play. Colorado is blessed with two speedy ones in Jonathon Lewis and Sam Nicholson. Lewis has five goals and three assists and is a huge threat out on the wing. His speed will be an issue for Reggie Cannon, even if Cannon himself is a bit underrated in his own right. Lewis only has 15 starts on the season as he was in and out of favor with the two previous coaches. On the other side is Nicholson, who has two goals and four assists. The Scotsman is also a speed threat who likes to whip in crosses to Kamara and others waiting in the box. These two wingers have been the key for Colorado’s offense since Fraser took over. He has worked with Colorado to solidify their defense and allow the speed and threat of the wingers on the outside to help keep other teams honest. They provide a release for counterattacks and long diagonals when in possession. This ability to switch the field and focus of the attack quickly is what Dallas will have to keep watch over. Another attacker to watch out for is rookie of the year front runner in Andre Shinyashiki. The 2019 draft pick has seven goals and two assists in his 1500 minutes. He’s been a regular starter since the end of May and can play as a striker or winger. With everyone healthy he probably is the first man off the bench.
In the middle is Diego Rubio playing the #10 spot with Kellyn Acosta and Jack Price in the holding midfield roles. Rubio is Colorado’s second leading scorer with 10 goals this year to couple with four assists. He’s continued to improve every season he’s been in the league and has even been called up to the Chilean National team this season. He’s a tricky midfielder, more attacker than straight setup man. He will take possession over from the middle of the field and break into space whenever possible, looking to push the ball out wide after drawing defenders to him or to take the space and create a chance for himself. Obviously Kellyn will run box-to-box and provide a sturdy platform in defense. His 2g/2a so far aren’t anything to write home about, but he’s never been a stat stuffer. Price is the real revelation thus far. He’s got good range like Kellyn and in this formation they both move forward evenly. His passing range sets him apart and makes him a key figure for Fraser - as noted by the need to play long diagonals and quick switches. He also leads the team with 11 assists, an astounding 10 coming from set pieces. This should be a real worry for Dallas as they haven’t been great at defending set pieces for a number of years. (I say that more from memory than actual statistics, so if you disagree, no arguments).
In the back, the Rapids have Keegan Rosenberry on the right and Sam Vines on the left. Both are solid if unspectacular defenders, although Rosenberry did just score his first goal of the season two weeks ago. Vines is technically in his second year in MLS, but he only played in one game last season, and only 45 minutes at that. But he’s been a steady presence since June in the back line and has made great strides over this season. The center back pairing will be Tommy Smith and Lalas Abubakar. Smith has three goals on the season and in fact was the lone goal scorer last time around vs Dallas, so keep an eye out. He has a nice chemistry with Jack Price on set pieces. Abubakar is another young defender who was given a chance right about when Anthony Hudson was deposed by the later deposed Casey. He has made the most of the opportunity and is becoming a key figure in the back line. Backing all of them up will be…well, we aren’t quite sure. Clint Irwin has been the main man with Tim Howard out due to injures over the past month or so but seeing how this will be Howard’s last home game and second to last game of his career, there’s a feeling that the hamstring injury he’s been nursing may allow him to play in this one. Howard, for all flaws, is a big game keeper and they don’t come much bigger than your final home game ever.
Key Matchup: Matt Hedges vs Kei Kamara
Usually anytime there is a big, strong central striker like Kamara, that player is the focal point for his team’s offense; and so, it is with Colorado. Their new found focus on wing play makes Kei even more dangerous as those wings are on the ball more than ever and are constantly looking for him, pumping in crosses high and low. Hedges and Ziegler will need to be at their best to keep Kamara off the score sheet. It is more important for Dallas to keep a clean sheet, look to score one or two, than get into a shootout they may not be able to win.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Cobra Attack - He just keeps going. He cannot be contained. He’s on fire! Whatever you want to say about the big Czech, he just keeps scoring; hitting five goals across his last five starts. Dallas needs to ride him all the way to the playoffs, and then buckle down for a few more games and hope he keeps producing. Honestly, I think we are all at a loss for how crazy the fortunes have turned for the big guy, but I’m glad they did.
2. Defensive Wall - With back to back draws against two of the league’s hottest attacks, Dallas’s back four (+ Jesse) have really come through in the clutch against the two toughest teams at the end of the schedule. But there’s no time to let up. With points so tight, they need to keep up the steel curtain act and shutdown Colorado. A clean sheet is always the best way to three points and this D can manage that.
3. No Let Up - To echo the above point, Dallas’ back has been against the proverbial wall for almost a month now, and results are breaking their way. But this is not the same Colorado team from before. Dallas must keep the pressure up, on both the opponents and themselves. No easy goals, no switching off. The playoffs are in their grasp, they just need to strengthen their grip.
Woooo-weeeee! This is going to be something. Technically, Colorado can still make the playoffs if they win out and a lot of things break for them (a whole lot of things, but still). Dallas on the other hand probably secures a post season berth with a win considering that the two teams beside and below them end the season facing each other. Can they do it? I want to say yes, but Colorado has a history of spoiling nice things for Dallas. Remember just last year, last game of the season, with Dallas fighting for the two seed against hapless Colorado? The loss knocked Dallas down to fourth in the West and handed them a first-round date with Portland. So, let’s just say I’m leery of Colorado and important results. In the end, I think it’s a nervy 2-1 win for Dallas as they cling to life in the last few minutes of the game. Please prove me wrong Hoops.