COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Rapids head coach Gary Smith said recently that his squad would focus on very winnable home games to help secure a place in the playoffs, something the team has not done in the past two years.
The second part of that equation is to eke out some draws or more on the road. That won’t be easy the way the schedule falls for the currently hot Rapids. Road trips to Salt Lake City, Dallas and Los Angeles don’t exactly sound like gimmes.
But first up is another difficult away trip to New York. The Rapids enter Saturday afternoon’s game against the Red Bulls on the back of two straight 3-0 victories at home against Houston and Chivas USA.
So, mission partly accomplished. Two very winnable games won, and convincingly so, too, especially the one against Houston where a marauding attacking threat from the Rapids secured victory within the first 25 minutes of the game.
Things are always different on the road though. Smith and his players, confidence high, know this will be a tough one. The Red Bulls, who disappointingly lost to Real Salt Lake last weekend with their internationals gone, will welcome Rafa Márquez, Bouna Coundoul, Dane Richards and Roy Miller back from duty with their countries.
“I would think if they can beat us at the weekend, they’ve almost booked their place in the playoffs,” Smith said at training earlier this week. “It would be a confidence boost and a relaxant for them.
“If we can get a result, we go level with them. We then come home again and put a huge amount of pressure on the teams that are chasing. We are away from home after two good wins and are very confident. There’s a lot at stake for both groups.”
Yes, there is. Smith and his players know this is a very glamorous and good team they are up against with the likes of Márquez, Juan Pablo Angel and the small matter of Thierry Henry. But the feeling among the Colorado squad is that this game is for the taking, marquee players or not.
Their strike pair of Omar Cummings and Conor Casey is suddenly hot, the defense is back to its stingy self of early season and the midfield is both steely and creative. New York on a moderately hot afternoon hold no fears for the Rapids.
“This group is feeling good about themselves, as you might expect after a couple of wins,” Smith said. “They are beatable, let’s not forget that. It’s not like going to Old Trafford and having 65,000 people screaming down your neck.”