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RSL v. Rapids Tactical Preview: RSL face revitalized Rapids side on creative peak

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly a month ago the Rocky Mountain Cup 2016 series began. It was Colorado Rapids that traveled to Rio Tinto in a very different situation. The Rapids sat below Real Salt Lake in the standing with a 2-1-1 record and seven points. The Rapids were also the lowest scoring and least conceding team in the league with three goals for the club and two goals against. As Jermaine Jones has now entered the club after his suspension and Kevin Doyle has returned from injury, Colorado is starting to look like a completely different side than the one that took the field a month ago. With part one of the Rocky Mountain Cup already in the books, the second part will almost certainly be a completely different beast altogether.

There are two sides to every coin, just like there can be two sides to every club

As mentioned before, the Colorado Rapids are not the same team that the Claret-and-Cobalt beat last month. In fact, a lot about the squad has changed. The injury bug, that hit the Rapids hard in the first part of the season, is dissipating and influential players are once again taking the pitch for the men in Burgundy. With all the talk about Colorado being first place in the league, let alone the Western Conference, let's explore what makes them so different from last time these two sides faced off.

Before RSL v. RSL After RSL
Games Played 4 1 4
Points Secured 7 0 10
Goals Scored 3 0 9
Goals Conceded 2 1 5
Avg Chances Created 11.25 11 10
Shot Accuracy 50% 67% 68%
Possession 52% 46% 47%
Pass Accuracy 78% 71% 71%
Avg Pass Length 19 m 19 m 21 m
Avg Defensive Actions 45 46 56
Avg Duels Won 43% 46% 46%

Lets start out with the similarities. First, the Rapids have captured a similar number of points from each stretch. In the four matches preceding and then following the match at Rio Tinto, Colorado has been able to secure the 1.5+ point average threshold that usually leads to a playoff appearance in both cases. The club has also managed to retain similar duel winning percentage. Other than that, the only similar statistic is the average number of changes created per match.

For being such a stingy defensive squad in the first stretch of 2016, the club has apparently devolved in that respect. The club only allowed two goals in the first four matches, but in the last four they have conceded five. In other words, the Rapids have went from a team that allowed 0.5 goals to over a goal per match. Despite this, the Rapids have managed to significantly increase their defensive actions per match - meaning tackles, blocking passes/shots, and clearances. This stat is supports the fact that the club has switched to a high pressure style, now imposed with the addition of Jones.

The Rapids have also adopted a counter-attacking soccer style, similar to that employed by RSL. As a result, their overall possession retention has decreased, as well as their pass accuracy, but their average pass length has increased. Employing longer, less accurate passes, Colorado has been able to utilize their wingers to overload the defense or simply get in behind attacking fullbacks. In either case, Colorado is more focused with creating space to exploit than simply creating chances from the back as they were previously.

Colorado, however, has blossomed offensively. It is hard to believe that a team that only scored three goals in their first four matches has turned into a team scoring over two goals on average. This is even more impressive when coupled with the fact that the club's average change creation has decreased (ever so slightly).   Like RSL, Colorado is becoming more clinical with the chances that they create. Still, the Rapids remain towards the top of the league in number of scoring opportunities created:

Chances Created by Club

To put this into context, if RSL were facing the Rapids 2.0, for a lack of a better term, Colorado might have found the back of the net on these occasions:

In all, the Claret-and-Cobalt need to be wary of the Colorado Rapids and not allow them to get in behind the defense so easily with the new/recovered fire-power that the club is now fielding. But, on the other hand, with a club so occupied with attacking soccer at the moment, RSL might just be able to find the back of the net a few times for themselves through individual skill.

Haute-Vienne's Growth

Solignac is a small town in the Haute-Vienne region of France. The majority of the population is involved in agriculture, so it is safe to assume the populace knows how to grow things. In relation to his namesake, Luis Solignac has sure grown as a striker in a short period of time.

Solignac was a menace for the Claret-and-Cobalt a month ago, and since then he has been on a bit of a tear. The Argentine has scored two goals in his last four matches and managed to set up eight scoring opportunities for his teammates. Not only that but he also looks more confident, and a confident striker can be dangerous for any opposition.

Against RSL, Solignac had five total shots. Of those, two were blocked, one was off-target, and the other two were saved by Nick Rimando. Although he started off a little bit worse for wear, Soliganc excelled against the tired legs of second half RSL. In that match alone he created two of the Rapid's ten chances. In all, he was easily the best player on the pitch for Colorado.

RSL will have to be careful when facing Solignac as he is probably lacing his shooting boots now. He will continue to be a problem, even on the wing, but paired with Shkelzen Gashi and Kevin Doyle, expect RSL's defense to have their hands full (I'd expect Wingert to be called upon in this match at left-back to handle Solignac's shenanigans).

Other things to keep in mind:

3. Marco Pappa is out with an injury, but this does not mean that Colorado's attack will be any less potent. Quite the contrary, with Kevin Doyle back in the fold and Jones playing as a respectable No. 10, Colorado looks to be more potent in the offense.

2. Marlon Hairston is expected to take the spot of right-back for an injuries Eric Miller. Miller played against RSL the last time these two clubs met and did not perform all that well. Even if he wasn't injured, one would expect Pablo Mastroeni to mix things up with that recent memory probably still bouncing around his head. The Generation Adidas and Louisville product comes from impressive athletic linage, being the cousin of the NBA's LaMarcus Aldridge. Not only that but he offers Colorado something completely different than Miller which could be the spark Colorado needs to regain their defensive shape.

1. RSL has a game in hand on Colorado, but other than that their standing are eerily similar. Must be something in that Rocky Mountain water.

Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com.
Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com.
Expected Lineups

Colorado Rapids (4-2-3-1)

GK: MacMath

DEF: Hairston, Burling, Sjoberg, Mekeil Williams

MID: Cronin, Azira, Solignac, Jones, Gashi

ATT: Doyle

RSL (4-3-3)

GK: Rimando

DEF: Beltran, Glad, Olave, Wingert

MID: Beckerman, Sunny, Morales

ATT: Martinez, Movsisyan, Allen

Keys to the match:

Capitalize on space opened by attacking fullbacks

Overload Jones (Beckerman-Sunny)

Centerback cover and communication (Olave-Glad)

Watch RSL on Saturday, May 7th at 7:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on KMYU, Altitude or MLS LIVE.