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RSL vs. Colorado Rapids tactical preview: Petke’s men kick off RMC retention effort

The Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry makes its first appearance of the 2017 season.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Petke helped Real Salt Lake to their first victory last week, while their Rocky Mountain rivals, the Colorado Rapids, were handed their second loss of the season. The Claret-and-Cobalt will face a different Rapids side than the defense heavy one that climbed to the top of the Western Conference last year. With Axel Sjoberg injured and former captain, Sam Cronin, traded to Minnesota United, the once defensive juggernaut has been all but gutted.

Defense, or a lack thereof

Colorado has not had nearly the defensive showing they did just a year ago. This same time last year, Colorado had conceded the least amount of goals in the league, but now they sit right in the middle of the pack with six.

Despite still being dominate when it comes to defending set pieces, the club has been unable to stop leaking goal on counter attacks.

The Rapid’s wingers are definitely one-way players, not providing much in the way of defense. This leaves the fullbacks to deal with sometimes two or more players. Unable to cut all the passing/crossing angles, Colorado concedes time and time again on quick counters.

What to watch

RSL has been guilty of conceding goals on quick counter attacks this year, but if they are able to emulate similar attacking moves they might be able to capture an early Rocky Mountain Cup victory.

The Claret-and-Cobalt’s wide players, specifically Joao Plata and Brooks Lennon, will need to be both quick and nibble on the night. They should both also look to play off the shoulder of Yura Movsisyan in his successful False 9 role he demonstrated against the Caps.

Interplay between the RSL attackers will be essential as they look to unlock the leaky Colorado defense.

The Battle of Keepers

RSL and the Rapids have arguably the best netminders in the league at the moment - despite what the goals against statistic say. These veterans command their box and come up with miraculous saves, time and time again. With former US top goalkeeper, Tim Howard, in net for the Rapids, this match could come down to which goalie’s form is better.

What to watch

Nick Rimando and Tim Howard share a lot of things in common. Both have represented the US at the international level, both are in the twilight of their careers, and both save on average three shots per match. However, form must also be taken into account when comparing these peers.

Not only are RSL and Nick Rimando coming off a shutout, but the Wall of the Wasatch has conceded less goals on average (1.6) then his counterpart (2). This would suggest that RSL might have a slight advantage being on an upswing, but, even through Colorado might have had a dip in form, home-field advantage should never be overlooked in Major League Soccer.

Both these rivals (and friends) will be looking to best one another, as one in-match decision might make or break the result.

Keys to the Match

1. Locking down the left touchline – The Colorado Rapids have a habit of attacking down their left side (which will be RSL’s right). Dominique Badji’s agility and left foot are already a threat, but add Shkelzen Gashi propensity for drifting to the left and any defender will easily be overwhelmed. RSL’s midfield-duo will need to help right fullback cover these attacking weapons, in addition to Lennon giving a full defensive performance intermittent with his offensive shifts.

2. Quick counters – As discussed previously, Colorado struggles to defend against quick counters, in addition to spotty flank defending. Plata and Movsisyan should look to form a strong partnership with one drifting towards the wing to open up space, while the other plays off the shoulder of the central defenders. Should a cross be whipped in, the central partner needs to capitalize on the opportunity.

3. Building towards the first away victory – Being a rivalry match, RSL should be extra focused on earning some points. RSL will need to be strong defensively and decisive offensively if they hope to ice their opponent’s on their own turf. Fans were already treated to the first complete performance from RSL in months, if not years, under Petke, so there is no reason to think they could not patch another one together this week.

Expected Colorado Rapids Lineup (4-2-3-1):

GK: Howard

DEF: Miller, Ford, Watts, Mekeil Williams

MID: Azira, Gatt

MID: Hairston, Gashi, Badji

ATT: Doyle

Watch RSL take on the Colorado Rapids on Saturday April 15th at 7:00 pm MST on KMYU or listen to Bill Riley on ESPN 700.