COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Gary Smith faces some tough choices regarding his defensive line this weekend against Toronto. As if that weren’t enough, the Colorado Rapids head coach also has to look at forced changes in the midfield.
Although making a decision about whether or not he should incorporate Kosuke Kimura into his back four now that the right back is fit again after a two-month layoff should be somewhat easy, the real dilemma is that of who will replace Mehdi Ballouchy for the trip to Canada.
The Moroccan’s immigration problems are well documented and make a return to the US once he has traveled abroad difficult, which is why the player will be staying this side of the border.
Ballouchy, who has played in 12 of the Rapids’ 13 games this season and is enjoying arguably his best and most creative year since joining the team in 2007, is tied with Conor Casey as team assist leader with three and has also scored twice in 2010.
So with the key midfielder clearly out of this weekend’s contest, Smith must choose Ballouchy’s stand-in. But other than saying that there will be changes, the head coach was reluctant to reveal what such alterations would be.
An option the coach may go with is putting Omar Cummings out wide and playing Casey as the lone striker, a tactic he has enjoyed using in the past. A second alternative could see Smith revert to a more traditional 4-4-2, playing Cummings more centrally and adding a wide player like Colin Clark or Wells Thompson. Finally, the manager could decide to play wildcard Claudio Lopez.
The veteran of two World Cups with his native Argentina, López has looked impressive in training and is tugging at the leash to get an opportunity. He would certainly match Ballouchy in terms of creativity and would be an obvious replacement. Smith, however, has preferred to use pace out wide and keep Lopez purely as a bench option, limiting the veteran to only 32 minutes of MLS play this season.
Aside from whoever starts on Saturday, the Rapids are encouraged by their recent form, as they remain unbeaten in six games. In Toronto FC, Colorado will face a side that have yet to lose at home and have also enjoyed a long stretch of success after a difficult start to the 2010 campaign.
“It’s a tough place to go, they have a good atmosphere,” Colorado defender Drew Moor told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “It won’t take much of an adjustment; we don’t plan on playing differently on the road than we do at home.”
Despite a poor record in Toronto – the Rapids have lost all three games they have disputed there – Colorado remain unfazed
“We want to take the game to other teams,” Moor said. “We are not going in looking for one point, we are looking for three.”