Colorado Rapids forwards Conor Casey (L) and Omar Cummings (R) - one of them my favorite player in the league, one of them out for this Saturday's game against Sporting KC. Which is which, or both?
It's a quick turnaround for Sporting Kansas City this week coming off the US Open Cup qualifying victory on Wednesday night, as Sporting head back out onto the road for league play when they take on Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. A win in the cup competition at mid-week was fun, and had to serve as a huge morale boost for the players and fans alike, but it's back to serious business in the league. And the fact of the matter is still this: Sporting KC have 4 points from eight games.
With Colorado coming off a mid-week game against New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night as well, and going through a bit of an injury crisis, this game could set up as more perfect timing for Sporting to get things back on the right track. As we do before every game, I got in touch with Chris "UZ" White of Burgundy Wave, SB Nation's Rapids blog, and exchanged a few questions to bring further insight on Colorado from someone much closer to the situation than I.
In this exercise, you may be a bit surprised to find out that my favorite player in the league doesn't play for KC, and in fact does play for Colorado. Also, how are they handling the three games in 8 day stretch as well, and what does a good defense in MLS look like?
TDW: Omar Cummings is, by my estimation, Colorado's best player, and to be honest, it's not even close. He's my favorite player in the league. But, he hasn't played a game since early May, due to injury. Conor Casey also missed a month of the season. Since that time, they have only scored 6 goals in 9 games,and have been shutout five times. In what particular ways has the loss of Cummings affected the attack, and what might they do to fix the recent struggles?
UZ: I've always been of the mind that Casey overall is the better striker and part of the reason that Cummings has turned into such a force, but that's neither here nor there obviously. Missing Cummings has actually not completely ruined the offense quite as much as missing Casey for so long did, simply for the reason that Colorado has a couple of 'Cummings-esque' players in Andre Akpan and Quincy Amarikwa.
Cummings' biggest asset is obviously his straight up speed as he's not particularly better at finishing than a lot of MLS strikers and he tends to look for the pass. The Rapids have missed his ability to get into the box ahead of all the defenders more than anything else. Honestly, the struggles have seemed to subside with the Casey-Akpan forward pairing they pulled out against New York, which considering I've called Akpan 'the next Omar Cummings' has worked fairly well.
TDW: Colorado played New York Red Bulls to a 2-2 tie on Wednesday night, at the same time Sporting KC were beating New England in their US Open Cup qualifier. How did Rapids head coach Gary Smith maneuver his starting XI in that game to prepare for this one on the weekend?
There were no players being rested, really. But that's only because there were really no players to replace the starters with the torrent of injury that has struck Colorado this year. Something that you might see as a relic of this match is a 4-1-4-1 formation, featuring either Casey or Akpan up top with four midfielders playing up high offensively and Pablo Mastroeni playing the defensive midfield position behind.
It's likely that you'll see the same lineup that we saw against New York when the Rapids play KC simply because it's the best starting XI that they can probably put out, unless midfielder Jamie Smith manages to get back in the lineup by Saturday.
TDW: For some reason, I feel like Colorado's defense as a whole is among the league's best. Discuss.
If Colorado's defense isn't the most underrated in the league, I'd love for someone to point me to another one that gets less press despite results. Colorado's defense has kept a 1-goal conceded per game average all season long, and even less at some points, even though they've faced injury throughout the season.
The strength of this defense is the fact that it's perfectly put together in terms of player style. Marvell Wynne is possibly the fastest man in MLS and his straight up speed makes him a perfect CB, while Drew Moor's defensive abilities allow him to bail out Wynne on the occasional mistake. Anthony Wallace and Kosuke Kimura are perfect wing-backs for this team, in that they both know how to provide great service into the box, can play all over the pitch - not just in the back - and are able to defend well enough that their mistakes are minimal at best.