COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Colorado head coach Gary Smith has done his best to prepare his players if the Rapids and Columbus Crew have to settle their Eastern Conference semifinal series with penalty kicks.
In fact, he can probably pick up his daily coffee with the money he’s pocketed by fining his players for indecision from the penalty spot during practice.
But Smith knows his team could hold the edge either during a shootout or during regulation against the Crew, who will rely on regular backup Andy Gruenebaum again when the teams square off on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, TeleFutura).
Gruenebaum looked less than confident in the Rapids’ eyes during last week’s playoff game in Colorado, and Smith wants to exploit any nervousness the youngster may be feeling ahead of this weekend’s game.
“I thought there were one or two occasions where he was a little bit hesitant, I thought he looked a little bit edgy,” Smith said at training this week. “That moment of hesitation ... can be the difference between a goal and not.”
The Rapids’ defense, meanwhile, will once again hinge on the play of Drew Moor, who has played every minute of the season heading into the series finale.
And one big key in the series finale, according to Moor, will be the opening 20 to 25 minutes. The Rapids went down early against the Crew on Aug. 21 thanks to a Guillermo Barros Schelotto penalty kick and, despite equalizing off the foot of Pablo Mastroeni late in the first half, eventually faded in a 3-1 defeat.
Moor prefers to look at last week’s 1-0 win in Colorado for a better example of how the team should play.
“I think we will look more at last week’s game and the fact we were largely on the front foot from the start,” he said. “We want to keep them on their heels. We need to be big, to be strong. It’s going to be a dogfight for 90 minutes but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Smith echoed his defender’s thoughts.
“I am sure they will be much more inspired to get on the front foot,” Smith said of the Crew. “We want to force them backwards. If we can score a goal, we can really put the cat among the pigeons. I think we are in a good position. It’s going to be a pressurized game and it’s going to be very tight. There’s not a lot to choose between the two teams.”