Preview: Crew vs. Rapids

Crew try to stop rampant Rapids in semifinal first leg

Colorado Rapids (12-8-10, 46 points, fifth place in Western Conference) vs. Columbus Crew (14-8-8, 50 points, second in Eastern Conference) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.  

Colorado lead the all-time series against Columbus 15-10-8.

TV info

9 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes 

Game Intro

The first leg of this Eastern Conference semifinal is the first-ever
playoff game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for the Rapids, and the first
postseason game for Colorado since 2006. By virtue of a tie against Real Salt Lake and a San Jose Earthquakes loss to the Kansas City Wizards, the Rapids moved from sixth in the Western Conference to fifth.

In a congested West, however, that seeded them into the Eastern
bracket. It has been argued that their bracket is the easier of the two,
and they face a Columbus team whose performance has slipped in the last
month. 

Colorado Rapids

The Rapids are coming off possibly their worst disappointment of the
season. After leading 2-0 against Real Salt Lake Saturday night, they
allowed their rivals to salvage a draw in stoppage time and retain the
Rocky Mountain Cup.

Before that disappointment, a home defeat against D.C. United
notwithstanding, the Rapids had enjoyed a very good last couple of
months that included a five-game winning streak at home, a pair of ties
on the road against RSL and FC Dallas and a confidence-boosting win against the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.

The Rapids, back to almost full strength in terms of personnel, will
be looking for similar or better than the 1-0 home victory over Columbus
on June 5. 

Columbus Crew 

The Crew struggled toward the end of the regular season as a tiring
schedule appeared to catch up with them. They did, however, end the
campaign with a couple of morale-boosting victories in the CONCACAF
Champions League against Joe Public of Trinidad and a final MLS game
against the Philadelphia Union last weekend.

But the win was tainted by a season-ending shoulder injury to goalkeeper William Hesmer. Hesmer appeared in all 30 regular-season games, but now makes way for Andy Gruenebaum.

The Crew have their entire defensive unit available, and they will need them to step up. 

Heroes and villains 

Colorado front line vs. Crew defense: Conor Casey and Omar Cummings
are peaking at exactly the right time. After a slow start, particularly
for Casey, the pair began to click. The evidence? Twenty-seven goals
between them. 

“The relationship between the forwards has found another level,” head
coach Gary Smith said this week. Smith also has the option of using Macoumba Kandji, either off the bench or in a three-man offensive line-up.  

WATCH: Gary Smith talks to MLSsoccer.com

The Crew defense has been comparable to the Rapids this season, with
just two more goals allowed. But through September and October, Columbus
allowed 14 goals in an eight-game stretch. If they want to stop the
Rapids’ offense, they’ll need to return to their best. 

Stat that makes you go “Hmm…”

The Rapids are the only active MLS team with a losing record at home during the playoffs.

 

Keys to the Game
Colorado
  • Get on the board early and take charge of this vital home game.
  • Defensive skills must be at a premium to counter Schelotto.
  • Don’t get caught on counterattack, as has happened in previous games here against Crew.

Columbus
  • Be strong in defense and protect Gruenebaum.
  • Try to get out on the counterattack.
  • Use Colorado 'keeper Matt Pickens' disparaging remarks ("I like our draw, I'll put it that way") as motivation.
Injuries
Colorado

OUT: MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross
Schunk (R ACL tear); PROBABLE: FW Quincy Amarikwa (L ankle sprain); MF
Jamie Smith (L hamstring strain)


Columbus

OUT: MF Danny O'Rourke (L knee surgery), GK
William Hesmer (R shoulder fracture); QUESTIONABLE: FW Emilio Renteria
(R knee inflammation)