NEW YORK – US national team legend and ex-Colorado Rapids captain Marcelo Balboa says his former club should be considered the favorite in the first-round MLS Cup Playoffs series against the Columbus Crew, despite the fact that the Crew are the higher seed.
“I’d say right now that the Rapids are not the dark horse, but they have the target on their back with how well Omar Cummings and Conor Casey are playing,” Balboa said. “People now realize that. Columbus is a little bit of an underdog now.”
Balboa, who is a color analyst for Rapids broadcasts, still believes Columbus vs. Colorado will prove to be a tight series but that the Crew will take a hit after the loss of goalkeeper William Hesmer.
“Colorado is the team that is now playing the best soccer of all eight teams [in the playoffs],” Balboa said. “If [the Rapids] get out with a result at home [in the first leg], then you’re looking at a team with a target on its back.
“I see a team here that is hungry and that is driven after not making playoffs in three years. They’re a team that believes they can beat anybody.”
A resident of Colorado, Balboa is full of praise for the squad that manager Gary Smith has built, pointing to the fact that the team is as strong as any team down the middle of the field.
However, he will not go as far as to say that the 2010 edition is the best Rapids team of all-time. Balboa was the leader of the two most successful Colorado sides to date: the 1997 squad that advanced to MLS Cup against DC United and the 1999 team that made it to the US Open Cup final. The Rapids have never won MLS Cup in their 15-year history.
“This is a comparable team and they are pretty close to being equal in talent,” Balboa said. “The biggest advantage is that this team has Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.”
Colorado will hope that Balboa’s words are prophetic and that the club’s soccer-specific stadium, which opened in 2007, will prove to be an edge in the first ever playoff game it is set to host on Thursday night (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes).