COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – In the first leg of the Western Conference Championship, “keep fighting” took on a whole new meaning for the Colorado Rapids.
Despite seeing their fair share of yellow cards, suspensions and controversy on Tuesday night against the Seattle Sounders in a 2-1 loss, the Rapids won’t be changing their style when the series shifts back to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Sunday (4 pm ET, ESPN | TSN2 in Canada).
“You’ve got to play the game the right way, you can’t worry about referees,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told reporters this week. “We play the game the way we want to play it. You’re going to get some breaks and you’re not going to get some breaks. We’d like to get a few more breaks that we didn’t get in the last game, but as far as the way we’d like to coach it and the mentality, it stays the same.”
While the Rapids will continue to play a gritty style, Rapids fullback Marc Burch did stress the importance of being mindful of Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro’s perceived penchant for drawing fouls.
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On Tuesday, Burch received a yellow card during the first half during an altercation with Lodeiro and later found himself conceding a penalty after contact with Lodeiro in the second half.
“I think there’s players around the world that look for fouls, and he’s one of those players,” Burch said. “He’s also a great player. I think I’m going to get as tight as possible, but now knowing that he’s looking for a penalty, I think I’ll stay away a little bit.”
Another key component in containing Lodeiro will be the look of Colorado’s midfield. With team captain Sam Cronin unavailable for selection on Sunday due to yellow card suspension, the team will have to select a replacement amid a variety of options.
Mastroeni put his full faith behind Micheal Azira to be Cronin’s replacement as a holding midfielder, but kept it close to the vest when asked about whether Jermaine Jones or Dillon Powers would slot in as Colorado’s other central midfielder.
“You have to be prepared and you have to have the right mindset to be able to step into a game when you didn’t think there was a chance of stepping into a game," Mastroeni said. "You have to be the most productive player you could possibly be. That for me is the most important thing, and that’s the only thing that I can comment on.”
Powers likewise said it was a decision yet to be made when asked about it prior to Saturday’s training session, but welcomed the idea of playing in a deeper position, where he has seen increased playing time this season.
“The last few years, I haven’t played too much there and I’ve played a lot more there this year, which I enjoy because you get a lot more of the ball and that’s something I like; to keep the team in possession,” said Powers. “I think I’ve had some good games in there, I think I’ve learned a lot. There’s still work for me to grow as a player in that position.”
With one goal and four assists in 29 regular season appearances this season, Powers’ offensive production has dropped from previous years. But the 25-year-old has gained confidence and experience while playing increased minutes in a deeper midfield role this season.
“I think Powers is another player who’s had his best season of his career. Maybe not from a stats perspective, but as far as the little things and just growing,” said Mastroeni. “He was really influential in a few games towards the end of the season.”
Higher up the midfield, Mastroeni has shown a variety of looks at the No. 10 position as well, including a productive spell from Jones earlier in the season. It’s an element of complexity added to his lineup decisions.
“I think [Jones] has got the skillset to play any or all of those three positions in the middle of the field,” Mastroeni explained. “Depending on what the makeup of the group is, he can adjust his game and really shine in any of those positions. That’s an attribute that he has and obviously it comes from the experience of playing at the highest level for many years.”
It will be all hands on deck for a game which Mastroeni indicated is one of the most important in the franchise’s history.
“I think it’s one of the most important in our club’s history as far as the implications this game has on the next, which is hosting an MLS Cup,” he said. “It’s obviously not been done here before, and from that perspective we have a great opportunity to lift a trophy in front of our fans.”