COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Kosuke Kimura was walking around the Colorado Rapids locker room yesterday morning on crutches. He had just been working out on his upper body in preparation for a possible MLS Cup final matchup on Nov. 20.
The Rapids may be banged up and 2-0 down ahead of tonight’s Eastern Conference Semifinal second leg game in Kansas City, but there is a palpable sense that the defending champions believe they can take the game to SKC and come away with a shock victory. Veteran Brian Mullan, a five-time MLS Cup winner, was in the San Jose side which overcame a 4-0 deficit to beat the LA Galaxy in a 2003 playoff series.
“There was never really any doubt in my mind,” Mullan told ColoradoRapids.com of that comeback. “It was a team that was going to work hard and that’s all you can do is work hard and see what comes out of it. We’ve got to go down there with a lot of heart and work our [butts] off."
The Rapids are clearly in a very difficult situation, missing eight first team regulars, six of whom started the MLS Cup final last November. They are also two goals down and playing at what will be a packed Livestrong Sporting Park.
The emphasis will be on scoring that first goal.
“We want to be positive, we want to be very attacking, but not so attacking that we leave our backs open,” said striker Omar Cummings. “It is going to be difficult, with some new faces, but we are confident. I don’t think there is anybody here who thinks we can’t do it.”
The backline is the most affected part of the team. The Rapids lost Drew Moor and Kimura in Sunday’s first leg, and neither will be available on Wednesday night. In addition, veteran center back Tyrone Marshall is suspended due to the red card he picked up on Sunday. Marvell Wynne will therefore lead a backline that will probably start the way Sunday’s game finished with Scott Palguta accompanying him in the center and Miguel Comminges and Wells Thompson at fullback.
Another change is forced up top as Macoumba Kandji will come into the lineup. The man who made the difference in last season's MLS Cup final missed a golden chance late on Sunday to bring the aggregate back to 2-1. Kandji will take the place of the injured Caleb Folan, who is another casualty of Sunday’s game with a sprained knee and ankle. Ross LaBauex may start in central midfield with Jeff Larentowicz to accommodate Thompson’s shift to full back.
Matt Pickens will help manage the back line from his goalkeeping vantage point. He drove the point home about the need to be aggressive in attack.
“It’s not brain science,” he told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “It boils down to getting that first goal. Once you get that first goal, it’s game on. There is one game to play tomorrow night and people will have to step up.”
And head coach Gary Smith supported his players in their belief that it’s only 2-0 at halftime and the squad is strong enough to come away with something.
“These guys are ready for any eventuality,” Smith said. “Yes, we are missing some bodies and, in an ideal world, we would like to have a few of those back playing. But I think we will give it a good go. We’d like to ask a question of Kansas City before the night’s out.”