Rapids brace for difficult schedule ahead

Gary Smith

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The Colorado Rapids have enjoyed a full week of training at home after beating the Columbus Crew last Friday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Heck, they even got a day off Wednesday.

It’s just as well: This will be the most relaxing period the defending MLS Cup champions get until the end of the month. Staring down the Rapids is a hectic slate that features five games in two weeks, starting with a weekend road trip to Northern California to take on the San Jose Earthquakes.

“I think this might be one of the last times we get a full week between games,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com. “Now it’s non-stop, you’ve just got to close your eyes and get it done.”

After San Jose, the club’s next match comes on Aug. 17 against El Salvador’s Isidro Metapán, the club’s first ever CONCACAF Champions League game at home. That tilt is followed in quick succession by an Aug. 20 clash against Chivas USA, a trip down to Honduras to play Real España and, finally, an Aug. 27 game in Chicago against the Fire. The challenge will be to keep enough bodies fit to outlast the rigors of the schedule.

“What we need to do is hopefully get a nice rotation in the squad,” Larentowicz said. “And, when it comes down to it, getting results when we need them, which is on the road in the Champions League and in the league as well.”

It will be up to head coach Gary Smith to steer the Rapids through the choppy part of their fixture list. But far from being a burden, the coach welcomes the opportunity to play in two competitions at once.

“Our attentions will obviously be turned to a different competition but one which should be exciting for everyone,” Smith said of the CCL. “I see no reason now that our squad isn’t strong enough to absorb both domestic and cup competitions.

Smith’s first point of focus will be Saturday’s road trip to San Jose, where he is anxious to build on the recent good form which has helped the Rapids pick up four wins out of six matches and make what he calls a “decent” league position just that little bit more secure.

He has two immediate squad problems to deal with: In-form forwards Sanna Nyassi and Omar Cummings face lengthy trips back from international duty. Cummings played a full 90 minutes for Jamaica in their 1-0 defeat in China on Wednesday while Nyassi was busy with Gambia in their 3-0 home defeat of the Democratic Republic of Congo the same day.

Smith doesn’t know if the duo will be fit to go for Saturday and he doesn’t want to jeopardize their availability over the next two weeks and beyond by rushing them back too soon. Fortunately, there are other options available. Barring Conor Casey, all the other forwards in the squad are fit. Jamie Smith, who has played an advanced central midfield role already this season, is also ready to go for 90 minutes.

“I’ve not got Omar here and I’ve not got Sanna here and they are at the moment the two in-form players, there’s no doubt about it,” the coach said. “Caleb [Folan] is coming off the back of a slight groin problem in Philadelphia. Mac [Kandji] has looked bright. The two young lads [Andre Akpan and Quincy Amarikwa] have worked away very well in that process. There are some choices to make and I want to leave my options open.”

One game at a time and, before you know it, the Rapids will have a two-week break as a reward for the next two trying weeks.

“Then we’ll go to Vegas,” Smith said.