Rapids launch late play­off push

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ben­jamin Arthur

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.

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