CCL Preview: Rapids face tough test in Honduras

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — After the team’s 2-2 draw with Chivas USA on Saturday, Colorado Rapids assistant coach Steve Guppy’s main priority became handing out well-organized files with DVDs to all his players ahead of their CONCACAF Champions League matchup against Real España in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Tuesday (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

But such organization can only get you so far in such an unfamiliar environment, according to Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni. The veteran is staying behind as the 19-man group suits up for their second group-stage match, but he hopes his teammates will learn quickly about the unique challenges they’re going to face.

“It’s almost useless talking about it, it’s just something you have to experience,” Mastroeni said. “You can say all you want, but you can’t really do anything until you get there and you witness it  … the batteries flying at you and the coins.

“When you have thousands of people screaming at you and you knock the ball out [of play] 10 times, it does something to your psyche,” Mastroeni added. “And if they score, you almost go numb for a second. It’s so loud and it’s so penetrating. It’s definitely something to experience.”

Real España lost their CCL opener 3-2 at Santos Laguna last week, while the Rapids won their first game of the tournament by the same score over Isidro Metapán of El Salvador at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The Rapids had to battle back twice from deficits, including an incredible opening minute when the visitors were awarded a penalty kick.

“It’s going to prepare us better, that’s for sure,” midfielder Jeff Larenwtowicz said. “We know we are not going to be in for an easy game or a walk in the park. The hardest part was not knowing what to expect. When we got out there, it was a bit of a slap in the face.”

Larentowicz is one of six Rapids players traveling with the group to Honduras who already have CCL experience with previous clubs. The others are Brian Mullan, Sanna Nyassi, Tyrone Marshall, Wells Thompson and Joseph Nane.

Defender Marvell Wynne, who played in the CCL with Toronto FC, did not travel, and Matt Pickens was also left behind to rest, giving Steward Ceus his first opportunity to play in goal in the first team this season.

Head coach Gary Smith is keeping his options open up front, taking all five fit forwards plus Nyassi. Macoumba Kandji, who came on as a very late substitute in the Chivas game, will likely be expected to play a major role Tuesday night after his two-goal heroics in last week’s game against Metapán.

Whoever does eventually take the field will be doing their best to deal with the challenges of an unfamiliar and difficult environment.

“The guys that go on the field see themselves as professionals and they are going out on the field to do what they need to do,” Larentowicz said.