MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Colorado ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Seattle

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Ahead of Wednesday’s first round playoff between Seattle and Colorado, here are the most knows about the Rapids ahead of the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):

  • The kids are alright …

Given the slowly diminishing significance of MLS’s Draft, it’s remarkable Colorado found two starters in the 2013 crop, even if one is iffy for tomorrow’s game in Seattle. Deshorn Brown, the 22-year-old  out of Central Florida, will likely be in Oscar Pareja’s attack, though Dillon Powers, a Notre Dame alum who’s been so crucial to the Rapid’s midfield, is still coming back from concussion symptoms. He missed Sunday’s game in Vancouver.

Add in goalkeeper Clint Irwin, defenders Chris Klute and Shane O’Neill, and Panamanian attacker Gaby Torres, and over half of Pareja’s starting XI could be 24-or-younger. Contrast that with the Sounders who’ll only start one player (DeAndre Yedlin, 20) younger than 26.

For Colorado, their youngest starter may be their most important. At least, facing a potential matchup with U.S. international Eddie Johnson, the 20-year-old O’Neill will have to be at his best. In his first year as a starter, the Ireland-born U.S. U-level regular has show all the tools necessary to be one of the league’s best central defenders, but like the rest of his teammates, the question is whether he can apply them in the playoffs.

  • Though they’ll get help from some key veterans, additions.

Gaby Torres’s mid-season acquisition was the big one, the Panamanian international becoming the club’s first Designated Player, but there have been a number of other key additions that have rounded out the Rapid’s youth movement. Acquired from Los Angeles this offseason, Edson Buddle has given Colorado a consistent presence up top, even if that presence is sometimes short on production. Midfielders Nick Labrocca and Nathan Sturgis provide valuable depth, particularly if Powers can’t go.

Vicente Sanchez may have been the team’s most influential addition, however, though the 33-year-old Uruguayan is also a fitness doubt for Wednesday’s game. When healthy, his presence on the left of midfield combines with Klute to form one of the most dangerous wide attacks in Major League Soccer.

  • But will inexperience be their undoing?

It’s not so much the kids can’t perform. Some youngsters don’t perform in the postseason, but veterans aren’t immune a post season dip, either. You either raise your game in response to a more competitive environment or you don’t. Mentality and talent are more important than age.

Where youth could come into play is in realizing the stakes. If Colorado’s lack of playoff experience sees players default to a “just another game” mentality, they’ll be sorely mistaken. A playoff game in Seattle is not just another game, and while you have to remain focused on your team’s plan and your responsibilities, you also need to match the energy of the occasion.

Young players are fully capable of doing that, but that youth often comes with an a lack of experience. While that can be overcome, it also could lead to a naiveté that will undermine Colorado’s hopes.

  • Chris Klute’s going to be a handful

Chris Klute just finished his first full year in MLS, but he’s already the league’s best left back, combining a threat going forward with strength and athleticism that allows him to maintain a presence at the back. For years we’ve been waiting for this type of fullback to become more prevalent in Major League Soccer, and that day may have finally arrived. Leading all defenders in assists (seven), he deserves to be in this year’s Best XI.

Seattle has their own talented attacking fullback, though on Wednesday, DeAndre Yedlin’s defensive acumen may prove more important than his ability going forward. If Sanchez plays, he’ll have to deal with a tandem that’s capable of deciding the game. If the former Schalke midfielder’s out, Yedlin will likely see Deshorn Brown combine with Klute.

Compounding Yedlin’s concerns is a formation tweak that could expose the 20-year-old defender. If the Sounders do go with a diamond midfield, there won’t be a player dedicated to the right flank, potentially freeing up space for Klute to come into the attack.

  • Hendry Thomas is capable of containing Clint Dempsey

The success of Seattle’s diamond (if Schmid even deploys one) will rest on Clint Dempsey’s ability to create for Eddie Johnson and Lamar Neagle, but with a formation that uses two defensive midfielders, Colorado should be well-equipped to contain the U.S. international.

But even if Nathan Sturgis wasn’t helping in front of the line, Hendry Thomas would be a handful for the U.S. international. The Honduran is one of the roughest destroyers in the league, his single-minded, unrelenting approach straddling that line between disruptive and dirty. Thomas’s willingness to get stuck in can be intimidating, and while a player of Dempsey’s experience is unlikely to wilt, he may have to adjust his game to deal with the Rapids’ midfielder.

Unfortunately for Seattle, notorious whistle-swallower Silviu Petrescu will be officiating tomorrow’s game, and while you could argue that also benefits Sounders’ destroyer Osvaldo Alonso, “Ossie” is not dealing with a Dempsey-like game changer. Petrescu’s presence could give Thomas an extra edge.

Watford 2-0 West Ham: No dream start for Moyes

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  • Unhappy debut for Moyes
  • Hart, Gomes make wild saves
  • Hughes scores early
  • Richarlison adds insurance

Will Hughes and Richarlison scored on either side of half time to lift Watford to a 2-0 win over visiting West Ham on Sunday at Vicarage Road.

It’s a debut loss for new Irons boss David Moyes, whose club remains in the Premier League’s 18th position.

Watford rises to eighth, with 18 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Ham looked bright and industrious in the first 10 minutes, yet Watford had a lead in the 11th.

Andre Gray whiffed on a shot, and the ball bobbled to Hughes for an advantageous finish.

Watford was on the back foot for much of the latter stages in the first half. A slick one-touch endeavor ended with Heurelho Gomes getting a piece of Cheikhou Kouyate‘s low shot.

Gomes then twice denied Marko Arnautovic, the first an incredible leg save.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Kouyate and Abdoulaye Doucoure traded chances early in the second half, with neither on frame.

Andre Gray and Doucoure worked a fine 58th minute chance, with Winston Reid‘s slight deflection stopping Gray from curling inside the far post. Joe Hart made a terrific save as Watford then pressed off the ensuing corner kick.

Richarlison put it away, essentially, with a 64th minute goal. Hughes handled the ball in the run-up, but the Brazilian’s finish was electrifying.

It’s Richarlison’s fifth PL goal of the season, matching his half-season total with Fluminese.

Christian Kabasele blocked a Lanzini rip off the line in the 74th minute as the Irons kept battling for an unlikely comeback.

Italian president’s burning remarks provide path for USMNT

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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There’s no question whether the Italian national team job is a different class than the United States men’s national team.

Aside from the fact that both sides failed to qualify for the World Cup, have a vacant manager’s chair, and decent recent results at youth level, the disparity is striking (and not all in negative ways for American fans).

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Italy has won four World Cups and a EURO, and played in four additional title games. Their domestic league is Top Five, and only six pool players who’ve been called up in the last 12 months come from outside Serie A. Three play in the Premier League, two in La Liga, and one in Ligue 1. It’s qualifying slate meant top Spain or face a home-and-home playoff with another top European team.

On the other hand, the U.S. faces the most forgiving qualifying run this side of Oceania. It’s room for improvement on the international stage is much higher, and its current group is so much further from its potential than the Italian side that it’s hard to find an apt comparison (Consider that, playoff loss aside, Italy has beat the following sides in the last 18 months: Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, and Uruguay).

Differences/similarities aside — and yes, it’s a tad ridiculous to get this deep into what separates Italy from the U.S. in terms of soccer — the USSF could do worse than monitoring how the Italians are handling their World Cup disaster.

1) Accepting responsibility without caveats about their previous successes — Here’s federation president Carlo Tavecchio (who it must be noted has said some reprehensible racist things. We would never gloss over something like that, but we’re talking about the soccer side here). After blasting player selection, he then said, ‘Yeah, but I hired the dude”:

“How can you not play [Lorenzo] Insigne? I told the staff, not him. I can’t intervene [with the coach], there are rules. I have to acknowledge it; I chose the coach. It’s been four days that I haven’t slept. I wake up continuously. We have always played crosses against tall defenders, some almost two meters tall. We had to play around them with the little players, who were on the bench.”

2) Waiting a while to make the correct move — By most accounts, this is very much the plan for the United States (especially with a presidential election looming in February). While most new presidents wouldn’t begrudge the hiring of an highly-qualified name, plenty of prospective bosses would want to wait until the new (or current) man in charge cements his place.

Tavecchio dropped plenty of names, and is especially interested in Chelsea’s Antonio Conte. And he said it’ll be worth the wait.

“We’re looking for the best. They already have commitments until June from a contractual point of view. Then when we get to June, who will be free? The ones are Ancelotti, Conte, Allegri, [Claudio] Ranieri and Mancini. This is the truth of those available.”

Granted the U.S. does not have the wealth of elite experience coaches that Italy does, but the Americans are also not limited to hiring an American.

USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan is a respected soccer name who is not going to light the shop on fire while the right hire is made during this upcoming string of friendlies.

It’s a top-bottom failure. It includes nearly every part of the system, but the man in charge is the most important part considering that the USMNT should qualify for every World Cup and somehow managed to bungle it.

America needs a bungle-free hire.

McKennie impresses again as Schalke goes second

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Schalke will enter the Revierderby in the Bundesliga’s second place after a 2-0 win over Hamburg on Sunday.

Franco Di Santo and Guido Burgstaller scored for Schalke, but those getting their eyes on USMNT teen Weston McKennie following his debut international goal got another promising feast for the eyes.

[ MORE: PST’s McKennie profile ]

Consider:

— McKennie, 19, covered 12.51 kilometers in the match, more than any other player by nearly a half km (Aaron Hunt of Hamburg ran 12.07).

— Only Burgstaller (94) recorded more individual runs than McKennie’s 91.

— His three attempts on goal were also a match-high. One was a flub, but another was barely redirected out for a corner.

— He’s now started five-straight matches when fit.

A win over Christian Pulisic’s Borussia Dortmund on Nov. 25 would put Schalke’s rivals six points in the rear view. And McKennie’s played a far bigger role than even we suspected during our preseason chat.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 12 9 2 1 30 8 22 5-1-0 4-1-1 29
 FC Schalke 04 12 7 2 3 16 10 6 4-2-1 3-0-2 23
 RB Leipzig 12 7 2 3 20 15 5 4-1-0 3-1-3 23
 Mönchengladbach 12 6 3 3 21 21 0 3-1-2 3-2-1 21
 Borussia Dortmund 12 6 2 4 29 16 13 3-0-2 3-2-2 20

Rashford’s childhood hero played for USMNT (Take one guess)

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But can he grow a beard?

Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford is known for his darting runs and clever finishes, but he grew up begging to get between the sticks with a lot of love for an American.

“Howard was my idol. I used to have a little Tim Howard shirt.”

[ MORE: Dempsey still wants USMNT role ]

Rashford said he’d ask his youth coach to allow him to play goal so he could mimic his hero, who at the time was the Manchester United backstop and now USMNT legend.

The 20-year-old was nine when Howard left Old Trafford, but it hasn’t changed his enjoyment for tending goal. Rashford joked that he’s got to be the choice to replace David De Gea in case of a post-sub emergency.