Scouting the Colorado Rapids

The Colorado Rapids have not had a good season so far. In fact, they are the only MLS club that has failed to log a home win so far. However, it’s not as if they are getting played out of the park either. In fact, even with their poor overall record (2-6-6), they have only lost two matches by more than a single goal. Add that to the fact that FC Cincinnati is coming off a 120-minute rock fight with New York Red Bulls, is on short rest and will have to travel and play in altitude; I would suggest this match is not as straightforward as many would hope. To read more about this matchup, make sure you check out our Match Preview.

Let’s look at what the Rapids’ style of play looks like, how they look to create chances and where they might be vulnerable. Make sure you read to the bottom, as I’m debuting a new category where I take a stab at potential tactical adjustments that would benefit any Rapids opponent.

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Team: Colorado Rapids

Matches Scouted: 5/13/23 vs. Philadelphia Union; 5/20/23 vs. Real Salt Lake

Formation: 3-1-4-2/3-4-1-2

Mode of Attack

Though the Rapids operate out of a three CB set, when they go forward, their shape appears much more like a 4-3-3. Typically their left wingback will become a bit more reserved as a left back, they will leave a single defensive midfielder sitting in front of their center backs, and their right wingback will push way forward as a right wing. From there, they play short and slow, looking to swing the ball from side to side around the back line. They spread the field really wide, leaving only their single pivot in the center of the park. If that player isn’t open to turn and progress the ball, they look to skip lines by playing over the midfield to their center forward (typically Kevin Cabral), or hitting line-splitting passes to one of their dual 8s.

This can vary a bit if they’re pressed. Also, when Danny Leyva starts as their #6, moving Connor Ronan forward as a #8, Ronan will occasionally drop deeper, forming a double pivot. If they are not pressed at all, they will slowly work the ball forward as they swing the ball side to side. However, their preference is to play Ronan or Leyva and have them progress the ball or play something long to bypass the opponent’s midfield.

Method of Chance Creation

Colorado has struggled to create chances so far this season. They sit 27th in MLS on only 12 goals. Because of this, it is difficult to pick out specific patterns of play with which they like to create chances. In fact, many of their chances come from set-piece opportunities. It also seems like they favor hitting long switches of play in the final third, then allowing their wide player to immediately attack the center of the pitch. When a shot isn’t available from there, they will look to combine off a central target in and around the box.

The only other thing of note in their chance creation is the fact that, when Michael Barrios is on the field, he loves to attack the end line and look to cross.

Mode of Defense

The Rapids play a medium to low-block defense. Their line of confrontation is typically around midfield or just beyond. However, they will occasionally push forward with a half-hearted press. Once in their defensive set, it appears that they like to try to keep the play in front of them and rely on their defensive shape to limit passing lanes. This means that they will typically allow a checking player to receive the ball and sometimes even turn but will look to get enough pressure on the player to cut off passing lanes.

Mode of Transition

Colorado will look to transition with a long ball to center-forward Kevin Cabral from time to time. Defenses need to be aware that the Rapids are always willing to give a little “hit-and-hope.”

Major Strengths
  • Braian Galván is a crafty dribbler and can create on his own.
  • Connor Ronan is a legitimate ball progressor and can spray balls to any part of the pitch
  • They often run a “stack” on set pieces, meaning all of their players get in a line and break from there. They are adept at this, and it is difficult to pick up players defensively.
  • Jonathan Lewis has deceptive speed and is a threat to get in behind.
  • Keegan Rosenberry has a long throw.
  • Because of the way they shift formations in attack, there is often a lot of space in behind the right-sided wide defender – particularly when that player is Galván.
  • They want to possess at the back and hit line-breaking passes all the time. Because of this, they will turn the ball over against organized defenses.
  • Center back Lalas Abubakar can get overly aggressive in some challenges, leaving him susceptible to being carded or taking himself out of the play with missed tackles.
  • Because of the way they spread the field, they are very susceptible to quick counterattacks.
Coach Gough’s Tactical Game Plan

If I were coaching a team playing against the Colorado Rapids, I would focus on being organized defensively in a high block and cutting off passing lanes to  Ronan, thus forcing someone else to progress the ball. I would press hard at times, but not for long stretches. Instead, I would sit back and dare Colorado to try to play through me. On set pieces, I would defend zonally to eliminate the risk of getting caught up in the scrum of players in the Rapids’ stack.

Offensively, I would counterattack them to death. I would focus my counterattacks on the left side of the pitch, targeting the Colorado right side. When the counterattack isn’t on, I would look to use three-player combinations to break down the low-block defense. For instance, I would play a checking target, have that player lay the ball underneath, then look to split the defense going forward to a third player.

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