COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Down a goal heading into Sunday’s second leg of their Western Conference Semifinal series with the LA Galaxy, the Colorado Rapids know strategy will be key, and one important piece could be the difference in extending their season.
“It’s going to be a chess match until the 90th minute,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told reporters this week. “You can’t go guns blazing. It actually plays right into our hands as we’ve played all year long, which is scoring late in the game, bringing the altitude into the game, being really organized and catching them sleeping. But the one thing we can’t afford to do is concede a goal.”
In Jermaine Jones, the Rapids believe they’ll have that important chess piece; one which will serve a dual purpose on both ends of the board.
“Psychologically, for our opponents, he brings a fear of being able to do a lot of different things,” Mastroeni explained. “Defensively, he makes some tough challenges to win the ball back. From an attacking perspective, he’s quite elusive in that he finds little pockets to receive the ball. He can also drop a little bit deeper to start the attack. That poses problems for defenses.”
In last week’s 1-0 away loss to the Galaxy, Jones came off the bench to provide two of Colorado’s eight shots on goal, including the team’s lone on-target opportunity, in 45 minutes of action. The Rapids are hopeful that the midfielder’s minutes and production increase as he continues his return from a knee injury.
“We’ll see how it goes this week, but I think he’s trending in the right direction to get more minutes,” Mastroeni said. “More than 45 would obviously mean him starting the game. There’s a good chance.”
Jones himself believes that his biggest impact would come from a starting role.
“I need games and if I’m there, I prefer to start and go out when I’m tired,” said Jones. “In order for me to bring my impact to the team, I think I have to start. I always say fitness is important, but when you come back, you’re hyped. It’s more of a head thing.”
That impact hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates, who believe that Jones will play a crucial role in helping pull back the goal that Colorado desperately needs Sunday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (2 pm ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes | TSN5 in Canada).
“He’s a massive player for us,” Rapids striker Kevin Doyle said. “He’s had plenty of training now and he’s had his sample of a few games. He can play a number of positions and he’s our drive to get the ball forward, which will be important for us when we’re going for that, especially in the second half.”
If last week’s matchup between LA and Colorado was any indicator, Sunday’s game should prove to be another cagey affair. For Mastroeni, it’s a situation in which to rely on Jones and his playoff experience.
“In these situations you want players on the field that are able to calm the game down on the field as opposed to making adjustments at halftime,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to communicate something while it’s happening and affect it right then and there. So you need people with experience that have seen it before, guys that aren’t scared, and guys that demand more from themselves and their teammates.”