Rapids looking to put playoff push in high gear vs. Crew

Gary Smith

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Even if the Columbus Crew have two games in hand on the Colorado Rapids, the similarities between the two are eerie.

Both have 34 points on the season and have gone 3-1-1 in their last five outings. They're set to put their almost identical records on the line against each other on Friday night in front of a national television audience (9:30 pm ET, FOX Soccer).

For the Rapids, this is the time of year when the defending MLS Cup champions could heat up and go on a confidence-building streak to take them deep into the playoffs, just as they did almost exactly a year ago. After a big win against the Philadelphia Union last week, Friday’s game becomes more than just another three points at stake.

“This is when we really need to kick it into gear,” goalkeeper Matt Pickens told MLSsoccer.com. “We are a pretty confident team right now. This is the time we did it last year and now is the time to do it again.”

Also motivating the Rapids is the 4-1 drubbing they received at the hands of the Crew on June 26 when Colorado gave up some soft goals on defensive errors and had Conor Casey sent off in the first half. Pickens said earlier this week the whole team remains embarrassed by that defeat.

Head coach Gary Smith knows how dangerous the midfield trio of Eddie Gaven, Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo can be, as well as striker Andrés Mendoza.

“There’s a nice combination there and, if you take them lightly and we don’t give them respect, we can have a problem,” Smith said. “I suspect it will be a tight game. They will be confident after their win at Salt Lake.”

Smith will be tempted to play a very similar starting XI to last week’s against Philadelphia. Caleb Folan (groin) and Jamie Smith (hamstring) look unlikely to play any major role in the match but everyone else, save for Casey, is available. That includes Macoumba Kandji, who could make his first appearance since MLS Cup last November.

“It really is a case of whether or not I think he can produce for probably a limited time,” Smith said of Kandji. “Is he ready for that against someone like [Chad] Marshall and Julius James?”

Three points are always welcome. At this time of year, they are becoming increasingly vital in terms of both moving up the table and instilling much needed confidence.

“We are pleased about our win at the weekend,” Smith said. “Three wins out of five. It would do us no end of good to make that four wins out of six and keep a reasonable run going.”