The Colorado Rapids: Dark Horses of Major League Soccer?

2 Comments

This isn’t a knee jerk reaction to the Colorado Rapids 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls last night. This notion has been brewing for quite some time.

Following Thursday night’s victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the Rapids are sitting comfortably in the Western conference with a big home stand on the way.

But after a mini wobble in June — Colorado lost three-straight but capped the month off by beating Eastern conference leaders Montreal away from home — Oscar Pareja’s side are back on track. Big time.

Their solid core of youngsters is doing a spectacular job. Question marks surrounding MLS Rookies Deshorn Brown, Chris Klute and Dillon Powers have all but evaporated as the Rapids have placed trust in youth. With Rookie ‘keeper Clint Irwin and US U-20 star Shane O’Neill anchoring the defense, Colorado’s core is made up of top young talent that has now proven itself in MLS.

But just how far can this team go?

(More: The team we aren’t talking enough about, the Colorado Rapids)

Well two months after Steve Davis highlighted their progress in this blog, see above link, the Rapids are continuing to grow and develop as a unit. But for the most part, injuries and lack of form from their more experienced group of players has been the main reason they haven’t kicked on even more in recent weeks.

Edson Buddle has lumbered through games, showing his clinical scoring tough here and there, while Argentine playmaker Martin Rivero has missed plenty of matches. Colorado traded club legend Pablo Mastroeni to LA as their team continues to become younger. People questioned Pareja being brought in as manager when Colorado suffered several growing pains during the latter stages of the 2012 season. But they forget what a wonderful start the Rapids source:  had when the former FC Dallas assistant coach first arrived.

As with every young team, Colorado are slightly inconsistent. But the signs of them stringing together good results are on the horizon. Not many teams will go to Quebec and return with three points this season, but the young Rapids squad did after an offensive explosion.

With the likes of Jaime Castrillon and Tony Cascio returning to full fitness and adding valuable contributions from the bench, this Rapids team is in serious danger of sneaking up on everyone and causing quite a scene during the 2013 MLS playoffs.

A unique mix of young and old exists with Brown learning from the experienced Buddle (both pictured left), Drew Moor helping O’Neill develop into one of the USA’s top young defensive talents and Brian Mullan around to help the likes of Klute and Powers. The mix seems just about right.

Pareja’s side have also shown that their defensive remodeling is working wonderfully, after recording their sixth clean sheet in 19 games this season following the Independence Day win over New York.

Every season there is one team that is the surprise package of Major League Soccer. In my opinion the longer this season continues, the stronger Colorado will become.

Can they make it three home wins from three? D.C. United and the New England Revolution roll into town for their next two tests. If Colorado takes maximum points from that, expect to hear plenty more people labeling them the “Dark Horses” of MLS.

Lacazette gives Arsenal first leg in Greece

Arsenal
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alexandre Lacazette scored the lone goal as Arsenal beat hosts Olympiacos 1-0 in the first leg of a Europa League Round of 32 tie on Thursday.

The second leg is Feb. 27 at the Emirates Stadium, four days after the Gunners host Carlo Ancelotti and Everton in Premier League play.

Lacazette now has eight goals in 24 appearances for Arsenal this season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Lacazette missed a big early chance from close range, Gabriel Martinelli deprived of a near-certain assist.

Fortunately for Lacazette, he got a second bite at the apple and smashed it home with a vengeance. Bukayo Saka continued his impressive debut season by assisting the goal.

It was an even match, as Olympiacos continued its habit of steady defense but was unable to produce any attack. The Greeks weren’t credited with the creation of any big chances.

Bernd Leno made three saves and was very good in distribution on the day, with Saka, David Luiz, Shkrodan Mustafi, and Sokratis Papastathopoulus continuing steady defense under Mikel Arteta.

Wolves clobber Espanyol, Neves scores another magnificent volley

Wolverhampton Wanderers
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Diogo Jota had a hat trick and Ruben Neves scored a very Ruben Neves goal as Wolves took a 4-0 lead over Espanyol on Thursday after one leg of Europa League Round of 32 action.

Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho, and Matt Doherty recorded assists for Wolves, who will visit the Portuguese side on Feb. 27.

Espanyol had 57 percent of the ball and put four shots on target to Wolves’ five.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Wolves came out of the gates with a show of strength, taking six shots to Espanyol’s zero over the first 25 minutes.

The goal came off an Adama Traore-won corner, Raul Jimenez flicking on to Jota.

Neves’ goal came straight from his area of expertise, a beautiful bit of control with his chest before smashing home from distance.

The 23-year-old Jota scored the first, third, and fourth goals of the contest to give him two Europa League hat tricks this season. He has 12 goals and five assists in 33 appearances across all competitions this season.

Solskjaer, Mata react to Man Utd draw: ‘We can play better’

Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United got an away goal in a 1-1 first leg draw with Europa League foes Club Brugge in Belgium on Thursday.

The goals were pretty individual, a big chip of Sergio Romero followed by Anthony Martial’s powerful dribble to equalize for the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

United outshot the hosts 16-10, but fell short in big chances created by a 3-1 margin.

Here’s Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, via the BBC:

“It was a game with difficult conditions out there. It was almost like an astroturf. The ball was very quick and lively,” Solskjaer said. “We got the away goal. It was a very good individual goal, worked hard to win the ball and finish so we are happy with that but we know we can play better.”

The second leg is Feb. 27 at Old Trafford, four days after a Premier League encounter with Watford in the same building.

United midfielder Juan Mata had a busy day, winning the majority of his tackles and creating one key pass. He expected better from his team but sees the game for what it is.

Here is Mata, from The Manchester Evening News:

“They scored a goal we shouldn’t concede. We scored a goal from their mistake. we wanted to win, obviously, 1-1 is not a very bad result, but we always want to win,” Mata said. “We just couldn’t find spaces, they defended very well with five plus four. We tried to play a few times through the middle, which we didn’t succeed to do that. Then we scored that goal and from then we played a bit better.”

Solskjaer kept Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Daniel James, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the bench to start the match. Fernandes and Fred came on late.

FC Cincinnati adds Ajax midfielder Siem de Jong

Siem de Jong
Photo by Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images
Leave a comment

FC Cincinnati got a much-needed bit of good news toward the end of a rough week in Southern Ohio.

Longtime Ajax attacker Siem De Jong has joined a talented FCC attack ahead of the club’s second MLS season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

De Jong, 31, came up through Ajax’s vaunted academy before transferring to Newcastle United, where he suffered through a series of miserable injuries including two collapsed lungs in 18 months.

He’s been capped six times with two goals for the Netherlands in his career and will join a revitalized Cincinnati attack with Jurgen Locadia and Yuya Kubo.

“The system they want to play is quite similar to the Dutch system, and yeah, Ajax is probably one of the team’s that perfected it,” de Jong said. “Over the years I played there, I’ve learned a lot about this similar philosophy and trying to build up from the back in the Dutch style of play. That was one of the reasons why FC Cincinnati was a good fit for me. Hopefully I can help with the experience I’ve had over the years playing this style of football.”

De Jong scored three times in nine matches this season for Ajax, all of the goals coming in a cup match against third-tier Spakenburg. His other eight matches combined for just 118 minutes.

He may not be with FCC when the season starts as he waits on visa approval.