Rapids launch late playoff push
There’s a sense of urgency in Commerce City. But not pressure.
With the 2017 MLS regular season beyond its halfway point and the Rapids sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, coach Pablo Mastroeni is looking for aggression in his club’s attack to make a push up the standings.
“There’s got to be more bravery and a change of pace,” Mastroeni said. “I feel that too often our buildup pace is the same as it is in the final third (of the field). Going against teams that are set up pretty well defending the area, we’ve got to find ways, as a group, to really change the speed and mentality.”
Goals win games, and the Rapids are at the bottom of the West in that department.
They’ve scored only 20 goals this year. (Only D.C. United, with 18 goals, has scored fewer.) And the Rapids (6-12-2) rank last in shots per game (9.2) and shots on target (3.1). They’re also in a six-way tie at the bot- tom of the league in set piece goals (two). But lack of offensive production is not entirely a fault of game plan — the injury bug has struck hard at the Rapids’ midfield, diminishing the club’s playmaking ability.
German winger Stefan Aigner, who is expected to bolster the Rapids’ attack, won’t be able to contribute until his documentation is received by the club. Designated player Shkelzen Gashi, however, has made strides to an imminent return. Tuesday, he participated in his first full practice in more than a month. Mastroeni hopes the Albanian striker will be available as soon as the coming weekend, although there is no official timetable for his return.
Nonetheless, It’s down to the nitty-gritty as the focus shifts back home for this weekend’s match with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Rapids are 10 points out of the Western Conference playoff hunt (three points in the standings are awarded for a win, one point for a draw), and it’ll take a stroke of good fortune and strong play to significantly shrink the gap with just 14 regular-season matches remaining. Colorado earned its first road point of the season July 22 at Toronto.
But more points won’t come until the Rapids’ offense becomes fine-tuned. And while not as stifling as a season ago, Colorado’s defense appears to be equipped to handle opposing attacks; it has conceded the eighth-fewest goals in MLS (29).
Last Saturday’s 1-0 road loss to the San Jose Earthquakes spoke to that struggle. Colorado was outshot 15-8 on goal and had just two shots on target.
“This last game, (our offense) was kind of stagnant, but it’s just the way we play sometimes,” Rapids’ forward Dominique Badji said. “We just need to get more crosses in the box, because we have players in there that can get on the ends of those (balls). We just need a more aggressive mentality going forward, that’s all.”
The clock is ticking. The opportunity to make a strong push is getting smaller. But again, Mastroeni said, no pressure.