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Everything that could go wrong for the Colorado Rapids did. Three players got hurt and had to be subbed off, a questionable red card put them down a man and by the end of 90 minutes, they were 2-0 losers. A Teal Bunbury brace led Sporting Kansas City to the win in Colorado, putting them well on their way to the Eastern Conference final, with just a second leg back home at Livestrong Sporting Park to see out.
Just 23 minutes into the match, the Rapids were dealt their first blow when Caleb Folan went out after spraining his knee. Before halftime, Kosuke Kimura also went off with a sprained foot. By halftime, the fans were bored to tears after having to watch an ugly first half, but the Rapids were in more trouble because they were down to just one sub and without two starters.
A good takeaway by Julio Cesar opened the door for Sporting's first goal. He got the ball and quickly transitioned into the attack, spotting Bunbury making a run in behind the defense. Cesar slid the ball in for Bunbury and the striker left Matt Pickens no chance with a clinical finish just inside the far post.
Only 10 minutes late, Kansas City doubled that lead and Colorado was sent down to 10 men. Bunbury got in behind Tyrone Marshall, who came on for Kimura, and then hit the ground. The contact was minimal, but it was a borderline penalty and the referee granted it. The real problem was that despite the ball running towards Pickens and Bunbury having no chance to get it, the referee also showed Marshall a red card. Bunbury buried the penalty to make it 2-0 against the 10-man Rapids.
On that same play that saw Marshall get sent off, Drew Moor also sprained his shoulder. He too had to be taken off and the Rapids were in a world of hurt. Not only had they dropped their home leg of the two-legged tie 2-0, but three starters went off injured. Two of those injuries were to defenders and Marshall will also be ineligible for the second leg while he serves his red card suspension, possibly leaving Colorado without anyone at the back as they try to come back from this two-goal deficit. The defending champions could be done.
The Colorado Rapids may be down a man and down two goals, but they're not going to give up. Unfortunately for them, they need to get past Jimmy Nielsen to really make this late push count and right now they can't The Sporting Kansas City keeper was named the team MVP and he showed why in stoning Macoumba Kandji in the 75th minute as the Rapids try to cut into this 2-0 Kansas City lead.
Kandji was played in down the left and the lanky striker did well to outrun the defense before turning towards goal and ripping a shot at the back post. Nielsen had come off his line to cut off Kandji's angle though, then got down well on the shot to parry it wide of the goal.
Sporting's 2-0 lead is still intact and even if the Rapids get another chance, they'll have to get past Nielsen. As opponents have learned all year, that's no easy task.
The Colorado Rapids just can't catch a break. It started with Caleb Folan going off injured so after 23 minutes they already had to make one sub. Not long after, Kosuke Kimura went off injured too so before halftime they had already been forced to use two of their subs. Then, Tyrone Marshall was controversially shown a red card so they were down to 10 men and on the same play Drew Moor was injured so he had to come off. 59 minutes in, Colorado had used all three subs on injured players, were down to 10 men and worst of all, were down 2-0.
It's been a nightmare for the Rapids, who really will have trouble even giving themselves a chance at advancing now. They're down two goals with a second leg looming in Kansas City and they aren't sure if Folan, Kimura or Moor will be back for it. These defending champions are in a world of hurt.
Make it two for Teal Bunbury, two for Sporting Kansas City and a huge blow to the Colorado Rapids who are now two goals down at home and down to 10 men. That is after Bunbury drew a penalty for a foul on Tyrone Marshall, a foul for which he saw a red card. Bunbury then converted the penalty for his second goal of the match and now Sporting leads 2-0 in Colorado with a second leg remaining back in Kansas City.
Bunbury slipped in behind the Rapids defense, but Marshall was right on his back. The Kansas City striker then hit the grass, looking back to the referee for a penalty, which was granted. It's tough to tell how much contact there really was and how much Bunbury sold it, but the ball looked to be rolling towards Matt Pickens. That would mean Bunbury had no chance at the ball, removing the "clear goal scoring opportunity" so even if Marshall is whistled for a penalty, he shouldn't have seen red.
It's tough break for Colorado and one that may lead to the end of their season. Oh, and the Rapids still have 30 minutes to play down a man.
Hey! It's a goal! It's actual excitement and good play! Party! Yeah, this match, which was horrendous for the first 45 minutes, finally has something to talk about and it's thanks to Julio Cesar and Teal Bunbury. Cesar did well to take the ball away as the Colorado Rapids were looking to get forward. It left Colorado out of position and disorganized at the back. It's something that Bunbury took advantage of, making a quick run in behind the defense and Cesar fed him. That left Bunbury in alone on goal for the clinical finish to put Sporting Kansas City in front after 49 minutes.
Colorado has been completely devoid of any creativity all match and there's no indication that they are going to find chances now. Meanwhile, Sporting has found their legs and have the momentum to go along with the goal. That's a problem for Colorado, who still have a second leg in Kansas City to play.
Did you tune in to the MLS Cup playoff match between the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City in hopes of seeing some good play? Things like skill and explosiveness and a high pace? How about even some organized and good defending with some smart tackles. If so, you got none of it in the first half because it was an ugly 45 minutes that lacked skill, excitement, chances and even solid defending. it was just all kinds of bad and if you didn't watch the second half you'd probably be smart.
The most optimistic of us were hoping that Sporting would push with Graham Zusi, Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and CJSapong, forcing the match to open up. We ignored that the Rapids can and do make every match the most boring and ugly 90 minutes ever though. They're doing that now and everyone watching has to suffer because of it. Lucky us.
At this point the Colorado Rapids are probably hoping more that they have 11 healthy players at the end of this match than they do that they win. This match is only 36 minutes old, yet the Rapids have had to make two substitutions already because two men have gone down injured. First, Caleb Folan went down after spraining his knee. Now, Kosuke Kimura had to be substituted because he was injured while sliding for a ball.
The Rapids have brought Tyrone Marshall in for Kimura, meaning he will pair with Drew Moor in the center of defense, while Marvell Wynne will slide outside and play right back. He shouldn't have too much problem with the switch considering he played right back until switching to the center last season.
Now Colorado will have to go the remainder of the match with only one substitution left. This is on top of the fact that they are playing on two days rest compared to Sporting Kansas City's seven. Advantage, Sporting.
"It's your fault." "No it's your fault." "I hate you!" "You're not invited to my birthday party!" That's a lot like what the argument between Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City players went like. Matt Pickens took exception to C.J. Sapong running into him when the goalkeeper came out to punch a cross and the two had a couple words. Naturally, everyone else from both teams had to jump in, causing players who had nothing to do with the original problem to get upset. All the while, guys are half-heartedly pushing and shoving, making for one of the sadder skirmishes in a long time.
The one good thing to come out of the skirmish was Baldomero Toledo was smart enough not give out any cards. He talked with Pickens and Sapong, made his point and that was it. On a weekend when he and other MLS refs have been shaky at best, Toledo got this one 100% right.
Caleb Folan and the Colorado Rapids have been dealt a tough break as the striker has gone down injured and forced the Rapids to use a substitution just 23 minutes in. Folan was injured just a few minutes before he was subbed off when he gave chase to a free ball. Aurielien Collin was chasing it down for Sporting Kansas City too and as Folan tried to avoid him then run at goal, his leg gave out from under him. His leg turned awkwardly and he went to the turf in obvious pain. It was the dreaded non-contact injury that so often results in a serious injury with a long layoff.
With Folan unable to go, Colorado brought Macoumba Kandji on. He's athletic and fast, but he doesn't hold the ball up nearly as well as Folan. That means Omar Cummings will have to do some of the hold up work, which he can do, but it isn't ideal because it keeps him from being the sniper he can be so good as.
Let's start counting the list of things that we've learned from the MLS Cup playoffs. Number one is that you don't need to be good in the regular season to win a title. Thank you Real Salt Lake for teaching us that in 2009 (not that there aren't other examples). Number two is that you don't need to be a good team to win MLS Cup. The Colorado Rapids taught us that last season. Number three is that going studs up on a challenge and hitting an opponent in the knee is perfectly okay. We learned that from Baldomero Toledo today.
Yup, a Rapids player went on late and high, hitting Kei Kamara on his knee with the studs, but Toledo was perfectly fine with it. He didn't even call a foul because studs to the knees is what you expect in soccer, apparently. Thank you Toledo for teach us this.
The Colorado Rapids did nothing of note in the first 15 minutes. They gave the ball away, couldn't generate chances and even their tackling was sloppy as they picked up a few fouls. Somehow though, they managed to get the first really good chance of the game. Of course, the Rapids lack anything that resembles creativity in the midfield so Sporting had to create the chance for them, but hey, a chance is a chance.
Colorado got a bit of possession and then into the final third, but they couldn't do anything with it. Completely out of ideas, they played a cross into the center and unsurprisingly, it was a poor cross. It found Aurielien Collin, who decided that heading the ball backwards toward goal was a good idea. Omar Cummings hopped on it, but instead of bringing it down and having a shot, he tried to head it and put it wide. Good chance, wasted.
The Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City have gotten their Eastern Conference semifinal tie underway at Dicks Sporting Goods Park in Colorado and it looks like mother nature has cooperated. The snow that dumped on the Denver area on Wednesday is nowhere to be seen and while a bit chilly, it's nothing bad at all. Heck, half the players are in short sleeves so the cold shouldn't affect things. The sun is also out and the pitch is in perfect condition. Things couldn't be any more perfect.
There could be more fans there, but to expect the Rapids to draw is expecting too much. They don't draw and expecting otherwise is naive. That shouldn't change what could buck the trend of really boring Rapids matches though because this match could be a lot of fun. Sporting has come out in a very attacking team and will push the Rapids deeper and deeper. If Colorado doesn't try to counter with their own attack, they'll be under siege so they don't have much of a choice. This one has to open up, right? We sure hope so.
The final MLS Cup Playoffs quarterfinal matchup of the day, closing out a Sunday tripleheader is the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids, who defeated the Columbus Crew earlier this week to earn their way to this stage by getting through the Wild Card round. Once again, things are going to be nice and cold at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, but the Sporks should, in theory, be the more fit and rested team. They should have a numbers advantage in the midfield to go along with that, though Jeff Larentowicz often nullifies that 3 v 2 numerical advantage in the center. Here are the lineups.
Sporting Kansas City Lineup (4-3-3): Nielsen; Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic; Espinoza, Julio Cesar, Zusi; Kamara, Bunbury, Sapong
Substitutes from: Kronberg, Arnaud, Bravo, Harrington, Jeferson, Olum, Saad
Colorado Rapids Lineup (4-4-2): Pickens; Kimura, Wynne, Moor, Comminges; Mullan, Larentowicz, Thompson, Nyassi; Folan, Cummings
Substitutes from: Ceus, Palguta, Marshall, LaBauex, Nane, Akpan, Kandji
Kickoff is at 7:30 pm ET, 5:30 pm local time from Commerce, Colorado. The game can be seen on FOX Soccer Channel in the USA.
For more on the two teams, check out Colorado Rapids blog Burgundy Wave and Sporting KC blog The Daily Wiz. We'll have live coverage of the match in our Rapids vs. Sporting KC StoryStream. For more on the entire world of soccer and the rest of the MLS Cup Playoffs, visit SB Nation Soccer.
When the Colorado Rapids won MLS Cup last season, they did it thanks to two pairings. One was up top with Conor Casey and Omar Cummings as forwards and the other was in the center of the midfield, where Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz stopped pretty much any attack coming their way. The result was a very boring and ugly team, but a very successful one in the playoffs that netted them a trophy.
As they head into this year's playoffs, they're a very different team. Conor Casey has been out for months with a torn Achilles and won't be back for the postseason so there goes that dangerous tag team at striker. Pablo Mastroeni is also out now too with a concussion, meaning that menacing pairing in the center of the pitch has been broken up. The Rapids' ultra defensive, break everything up and boot it up field so Casey and Cummings can make something out of nothing strategy? It's not really an option anymore.
So what are the Rapids trying to do without Casey and now without Mastroeni? They're trying to get offensive, which is basically unheard of from the Bore in the Rockies. They tried playing Sanna Nyassi up top with Cummings at the end of the regular season, but that proved ineffective so in their wild card round win, they played Nyassi in the midfield and Caleb Folan at forward with Cummings. It was the most attacking lineup the Rapids could feature, which is a shocking mindset from Colorado.
The results weren't very good. Part of that could be chalked up to playing the Crew, who excel at turning matches ugly, but the reality is that they are a team that lacks skill. Their lone goal came from Kosuke Kimura and Cummings, two of the only players worth watching. Even so, the fact that they even tried to go offensive is a step forward and with Mastroeni unavailable to play with Larentowicz in the destroyer role, defensive isn't really an option.
On Sunday, the Rapids get Sporting Kansas City and it is at home so if they are going to attack in any leg, this is it. Now that they aren't playing the Crew, maybe their attacking mindset can pay off. If better because defensive against Sporting without Mastroeni and Cummings will definitely not pay off.
The Colorado Rapids' already somewhat shallow bench is about to get tested even more. On Friday, it was learned that midfielder Jamie Smith suffered a torn ACL during Thursday's MLS Cup wild card game against the Columbus Crew. Smith, himself, had been playing in place of an injured Pablo Mastroeni, who has missed the Rapids last two games.
The impact of Smith's loss will likely be determined by Mastroeni's ability to come back. If Mastroeni can't start, the responsibility likely falls to Ross LaBauex, who replaced Smith on Thursday. LaBauex made just four starts during MLS play this season, logging 313 minutes and scoring two goals. Smith, by contrast, has made 18 starts and logged 1,519, while contributing three goals and four assists.
Aside from LaBaeux, and to a degree including him, there aren't really a lot of obvious options for Rapids coach Gary Smith. Sanna Nyassi has six starts as a central midfielder, but that doesn't seem to fit into Smith's preferred tactics.
For more on the Rapids, be sure to check out Burgundy Wave.
The Daily Wiz's Justin Mayhugh walks us through Sporting KC's turnaround from 1-6-1 start to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Sporting Kansas City will look to keep their incredible surge going in the first round of the playoffs when they take on the defending champion Colorado Rapids
Sporting KC made a deal with the devil when they agreed to open with a 10-game road trip in order to have all their home games at Livestrong Sporting Park, but they are the ones having the last laugh.
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