If you're hosting the first leg of a two-legged tie, you're putting yourself in a deep hole if you lose the first match. Lose by multiple goals and you're in a hole that is near impossible to dig out of. The problem for the Colorado Rapids is that not only did they lose their first leg at home by two goals, but they had a man sent off so he's out for the second leg and three players went down with injuries, possibly leaving them with a severely weakened team. As the Rapids head to the second leg of their conference semifinal tie against Sporting Kansas City, the defending MLS Cup champions look just one step away from dead.
Caleb Folan, Kosuke Kimura and Drew Moor all went down injured in Sunday's first leg and it is unclear whether any of the three will be able to play a part in Wednesday's second leg. Folan's injury hurts, but it's not quite the killer that Kimura and Moor's injuries can be. That is because Tyrone Marshall was shown a red card on Sunday and will be out of the second leg. If neither Kimua nor Moor can go on Wednesday, the Rapids will be missing two defensive starters and their first choice defensive sub. That defense will be in trouble, which is the last thing you want when you're pushing to try and find goals, exposing yourself at the back.
It is not as if these injuries are hitting an otherwise fir Rapids team either. Conor Casey has been out for months with a torn Achilles and Anthony Wallace has also been hurt, while Pablo Mastroeni continues to miss time with a concussion and Jamie Smith tore his ACL last week. It feels as if the entire Colorado team injured and that was before Folan, Kimura and Moor went down on Sunday.
With the Rapids in trouble, Sporting are ready to pounce. They get to play at Livestrong Sporting Park, where they lost just twice during the regular season and both losses were by one goal so if Sporting are to get knocked out, they'll have to lose by a margin they've never lost by at home. That home dominance came in front of an energetic and vocal home crowd, but with the club playing in their first playoff game since 2008, the decibal level will likely reach a new high on Wednesday.
There is also the fact that Kansas City are just a flat-out good team. Teal Bunbury, who has a brace in the first leg, C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara were a handful for Colorado in the first leg at one point or another and this despite none having particular strong games. Back at home, they're likely to flourish. Then there's Graham Zusi, who didn't hit any of the mind-numbing passes he's developed a reputation for, but late on he helped Sporting keep the ball and see out the match.
With the Sporting forwards free to run at the decimated Rapids defense, things could get ugly. The first leg also exposed the problem Colorado has with deep-lying playmakers like Zusi. As their two center midfielders drop deep, there's plenty of room for Zusi to create. This match would tilt Sporting's favor if they didn't have a two-goal lead and if Colorado at full strength. As is, it's tough to see this not being the last stand for the defending champions.