Colorado Rapids vs. Columbus Crew SC
2017 MLS Match Preview
Dick's Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, Colo.
Saturday, June 3 – 9 pm ET
WATCH: MLS LIVE
No matter how you slice it, the Colorado Rapids face a long and arduous climb if they're going to get out of the Western Conference doldrums and into playoff contention.
A third consecutive home win would be a good start, even if Tim Howard is away on international duty.
That's exactly what the Rapids would get with a victory against visiting Columbus Crew SC on Saturday. And with the Crew beating defending MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders 3-0 in Ohio on Wednesday night, the combination of Colorado's full week of rest and regular advantage of playing at elevation would seem to set up well for Pablo Mastroeni's men.
That said, nothing in 2017 seems easy for the club that defied all expectations to finish second in the Western Conference a season ago in part because of an undefeated 11-0-6 home mark.
For one thing, the Rapids will be without Howard as he serves with the US national team on World Cup Qualifying duty. For another, even last weekend's 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City flattered the Rapids a bit, with Colorado emerging victorious despite trailing 24-6 in shots attempted and completing just 61 percent of their passes.
Rookie defender Kortne Ford's first-career goal -- off an 11th-minute set piece -- provided the setting for a somewhat inexperienced Rapids defense to preserve its third clean sheet on Saturday. Of the six defenders who featured in the victory, only Bobby Burling had more than 60 career MLS starts. Four had fewer than 30.
The return of MLS 2016 defender of the year finalist Axel Sjoberg from hamstring surgery was supposed to help shore up a unit that was outstanding last season. But after going all 90 minutes in a 2-1 loss at the Philadelphia Union on May 20, he wasn't in the 18 the following weekend.
The Rapids' real issues have been on attack, where Dominque Badji's three goals lead a squad that only has 10 strikes total, tied for worst in the league and one fewer than MLS Golden Boot leader Chicago Fire striker Nemanja Nikolic.
- Suspended: D - Bobby Burling
- Int’l Duty: GK - Tim Howard (USMNT)
- Injury Report: OUT – M Nana Boateng (back injury); QUESTIONABLE – D Jared Watts (calf injury), D - Alex Sjoberg (hamstring)
Projected Starting XI (4-4-2): Zac MacMath – Marlon Hairston, Kortne Ford, Mekeil Williams, Eric Miller – Shkelzen Gashi, Micheal Azira, Dillon Powers, Mohammed Saeid – Dominique Badji, Kevin Doyle
Notes: Backup 'keeper Zac MacMath has a 1.25 GAA average in four starts this season, including one shutout. ... Colorado has not won a match this season without keeping a clean sheet.
Columbus Crew SC
Columbus has lost five of its seven away matches this season. But Crew SC has shown the ability to pick up away points off inferior sides on the road, with a 2-0 victory at D.C. United in March and a dramatic 3-2 win over the Montreal Impact that featured hat trick hero Justin Meram.
After facing both 2016 MLS Cup Finalists over a five-day stretch that saw Columbus lose 5-0 at Toronto last Friday before downing Seattle at home on Wednesday, there won't be anything straightforward about a trip to the Rockies three days later, no matter the opponent. We'll see if head coach Gregg Berhalter rotates any of his squad as they play their third match in eight days.
- Suspensions: None
- Int’l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT – D Gaston Sauro (left PCL surgery), M Ben Swanson (right ankle surgery); QUESTIONABLE – D Waylon Francis (left thigh strain), M Dilly Duka (left knee sprain), D Hector Jimenez (left gastroc contusion)
Projected Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Zack Steffen – Hector Jimenez, Nicolai Naess, Jonathan Mensah, Waylon Francis – Wil Trapp, Mohammed Abu – Kekuta Manneh, Federico Higuain, Justin Meram – Ola Kamara
Notes: Columbus have allowed only 1.20 goals per game in 20 all-time meetings with the Rapids in Colorado, yet suffered 11 defeats. They've had seven defeats to the Rapids in 20 matches in Columbus despite allowing 1.55 goals per game there.
- Overall (40 meetings): Rapids 18 wins (2 shootout), 55 goals … Crew SC 12 wins (1 shootout), 48 goals … 10 Ties
- At Colorado (20 meetings): Rapids 11 wins (1 shootout), 24 goals … Crew SC 4 wins, 16 goals … 5 Ties
Referee: Ismail Elfath
Assistant Referees: Eric Weisbrod, Kathryn Nesbitt
Fourth Official: Juan Guzman