Colorado lead the all-time series against Columbus 15-10-8.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)
OUT: MF Danny O'Rourke (L knee surgery), GK William Hesmer (R shoulder fracture); QUESTIONABLE: FW Emilio Renteria (R knee inflammation)