After finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference in 2015, the Colorado Rapids nearly reversed that performance by finishing second in their conference in the 2016 season, earning a two-game semifinal playoff against the LA Galaxy. The first leg was played last Sunday in California and the Rapids fell 0–1. The teams return to Colorado’s thin air this weekend for the second game. Here, five things you should know before the noon kickoff on Sunday.
1. The Rapids need to win. OK, that might seem obvious, but let me explain. At this stage of the competition, MLS uses a two-game playoff where each team gets to play in front of a home crowd. The total number of goals scored by each team across the two matches determines who wins the playoff. If at the end of the second match the total number of goals scored by each team across the two matches is equal, the first tiebreaker is the number of goals scored away from home. The Rapids did not score in the match in LA. That means that in order to advance in regulation time, the Rapids need to win Sunday’s match by at least two goals. Limiting the number of goals scored by the Galaxy will be crucial, as any goals the Galaxy score at Dicks Sporting Goods Park during regulation time carry extra weight. That means that the Rapids winning Sunday’s match 3–2 won’t be enough—that would put the total score for the playoff at 3–3, but the Galaxy would advance based on their two away goals.
Here’s where things get even trickier: If the Rapids lead Sunday’s match by 1–0 after 90 minutes, the game will go into extra time because the two teams would then be tied 1–1 on aggregate, with neither team having scored an away goal. In that case, there would be extra periods and, potentially, penalty kicks. Is your head spinning? Don’t worry about it; the person wearing the maroon wig and several Rapids scarves sitting next to you at the game will keep you updated on all the possible scenarios.
2. Watching Tim Howard play is worth the price of admission. It was great fun to watch Howard play for Everton across the pond and for the U.S. national team, but seeing him in goal in MLS is even better, especially when he racks up 54 saves (and he only joined the team in July). He’s part of the reason why the Rapids were undefeated at home this season. And while he may not be as fast as he once was, without his three saves in Los Angeles, the Rapids wouldn’t have a chance this weekend.
3. Jermaine Jones is back (we hope): Jermaine Jones, a 35-year-old player, has spent as much time off the field as on it this year. He sat out the first six games of the season thanks to a suspension from the previous season’s playoffs when he played for the New England Revolution because of his “conduct toward a match official” (video here). Despite knowing that’s he’d be out for a significant portion of the season, the Rapids signed him, which proved fruitful for the nine games he played this season. Although usually a more defensive-minded player before joining the Rapids, he scored three goals and the Rapids dominated in games in which he started. But…then he injured his knee during the July 4 game and sat out most of the season’s remaining games. He did make an appearance in the first playoff, which produced a solid look-on-goal and brought a general sense of urgency to the Rapids’ play. The good news? He could start on Sunday.
4. The game is at noon, but you should check your clock: We set back our clocks on Sunday thanks to Daylight Savings, so the game’s noon start will feel like 1 p.m. (because, well, the same time was 1 p.m. the day before). Plan accordingly.
5. Wait, weren’t the Rapids awful last year? Yes. The team finished the season at the bottom of the Western Conference. Credit for that turnaround can vary, but some of it is thanks to third-year coach Pablo Mastroeni finding a comfort zone on the sideline. I profiled Mastroeni in 2015, as he worked to move from a legendary career on the field to one next to it, a transition that seems more complete this season. He still wears the occasional dapper suit, but he’s just as likely to sport athletic garb. He is still a constant presence on the side of the field, but his conversations with players and the fourth official seem to be more measured or focused than in previous years. In short, he seems to have found a balance—a hybrid—between Pablo the Player and Pablo the Coach. It’s working: He was just shortlisted as a MLS Coach of the Year finalist.
So, what are the Rapids’ chances of advancing out of this round? The team will need to show an offensive explosion reminiscent of their 3–1 win on April 23 against Seattle. It’s not their typical style, but what they’ll need to keep the season going.