Minnesota United travel to Colorado in search of their first ever points in MLS against the Rapids.
Minnesota have had a less than fairy tale start to their time in MLS as the expansion team have yet to earn a single point through their first two games and have been soundly beaten in both the season opener, a 5-1 demolition at the hands of Portland Timbers, and a 6-1 drubbing, in the Minnesota snow, against fellow expansion team Atlanta United.
Colorado have earned three points from their first two matches in 2017 winning their home opener in week 1, a gritty 1-0 win over New England Revolution, before losing 0-1 to New York Red Bulls last weekend thanks for an Eric Miller own goal.
Minnesota’s hopes for their first MLS win, or even first MLS point, will be buoyed by the fact that Colorado cannot seem to generate any offense, especially the kind that puts up 5 or more goals in a single match, as well as the fact that the Rapids stout defense is much less so following an injury and subsequent surgery to defensive standout Axel Sjoberg.
Sjoberg left the match against New York after injuring his left hamstring and following evaluation early in the week underwent surgery to repair damages to the muscle, ruling the 6′ 7″ center back out for six to eight weeks. In 2016 Sjoberg was a finalist for defender of the year and was the only member of the Rapids to make the MLS Team of the Year after his solid performances anchored the league’s best defense and provided the foundation for the Rapids deep MLS CUP run. Bobby Burling will likely start in place of the injured Swede and Colorado signed defender Mike da Fonte from USL side Sacramento Republic FC to provide depth at the position, but replacing Sjoberg or replicating his successful partnership with Jared Watts will be a tall order. Pun intended.
Though Sjoberg’s absence hurts the Rapid defense, Pablo Mastroeni’s side is boosted by having Tim Howard back in the starting line-up as the U.S. Men’s National Team keeper returned after almost four months out against New York Red Bulls. Howard was Colorado’s man of the match in the defeat to New York and if it weren’t for the 38 year olds dominant play in goal, Colorado could have lost by a much larger margin than 1-0. Shkelzen Gashi also returned from an Achilles injury and came on as a sub in New York and should see his minutes increase as his fitness improves.
Colorado’s banged up defense will be a boost for the Loons who have looked suspect in defense, 11 goals through two matches, while looking decent moving forward. Forward Christian Ramirez and Midfielder Kevin Molino have both scored this season and Molino in particular looks like the danger man for Adrian Heath’s side. Mohammed Saeid has also looked good for Minnesota and it’s only a matter of time before his name appears on the score sheet.
Play from the wings will be important against Colorado, especially as Axel Sjoberg won’t be present to clear crosses from the box. Set pieces were one of the few areas that the Rapids defense struggled in 2016 and if Minnesota can get into deep positions in the Rapids half of the pitch they should be able to draw corners and free kicks and create some opportunities to test the weakened Rapid defense.
For Colorado the emphasis will be defending well and counter attacking, the same formula that brought the Rapids success in 2016. Pablo Mastroeni should deploy a speedy line up consisting of some variation of Shkelzen Gashi, Dominique Badji and Marlon Hairston on the wings with Kevin Doyle leading the Rapid attack. Dillon Powers has been disappointing playing the #10 role for the Rapids this season and with Shkelzen Gashi returning to full health it’s possible that Mastroeni will decide to play Kevin Doyle as the #10 and play either Dominique Badji or Caleb Calvert up top. Doyle played in the creative midfield role just behind Badji in several games towards the end of the 2016 season to varying success, and with Dillon Powers struggles to create clear cut chances, Doyle may see some time in midfield.
Both sides play a counter attacking style which will come to a head in this match. Colorado should be the more comfortable team on the ball and should retain the majority of possession, but often that possession is fruitless in the absence of creativity.
Minnesota United FC