Know Your Enemy: Colorado Rapids - 3/2

Revamped Rapids squad opens season vs FCD

Guest columnist Drew Epperley is the founder and editor of WVHooligan.com. His blog covers everything MLS and U.S. Soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @WVHooligan.

The 2013 Major League Soccer season is finally here. FC Dallas kicks off the new season against an old rival in the Colorado Rapids.

The Rapids struggled through large parts of the summer in 2012, including a 0-6-0 month of July that saw them lose at home to FC Dallas to end FC Dallas’ own long winless streak.

Few teams have gone through as much change as Oscar Pareja’s bunch has this off-season. Pareja traded away names like Omar Cummings and Jeff Larentowicz and went out and added Edson Buddle and signed South American players Diego Calderon and Kevin Harbottle.

Key Matchup

Kenny Cooper vs. Drew Moor – Old teammates square off in the opener. The Rapids’ defender was one of two MLS iron men last season, playing every single minute of the season (Sporting KC keeper Jimmy Nielsen was the other). Cooper will be returning to Dallas after four years away from the club. The two are good friends but even more competitive on the field.

Key Player for Colorado

Pablo Mastroeni – The 36-year old missed 32 of the 34 games in 2012 with concussion-like symptoms. He surprisingly announced in December that he would return for another season. He’s a big boost on the field and in the locker room but he is the key to the two-man holding midfield in Pareja’s 4-3-3. If he remains healthy, the Rapids will do well this season.

Injury Watch

Martin Rivero is out for several weeks with a broken foot. Jaime Castrillon is out for four to five months after undergoing knee surgery last week. Newly acquired striker Edson Buddle will likely sit out Saturday’s game due to knee issues as well. Keeper Matt Pickens has also been battling muscle injuries in his shins but he should be ready to go for Saturday.

Projected Lineup

Pareja uses a 4-3-3 system with two holding midfielders sitting behind a central attacking midfielder. The two fullbacks are also key in the attack by getting up and down the wings. The central forward will sit alone up front with two attacking wings off to his side.

Goalkeeper: Matt Pickens; RB: Marvell Wynne, CB: Moor, Diego Calderon, LB: Anthony Wallace; CM: Hendry Thomas, Pablo Mastroeni; AM: Nick LaBrocca; LW: Tony Cascio, CF: Deshorn Brown, RW: Atiba Harris

Keys to three points

For Dallas to win the season opener they have to keep things simple. Just like Colorado, they too are going through some changes at the moment with the move to a 4-4-2 formation.

Dallas needs to win the battles in the middle of the field. Bobby Warshaw and Andrew Jacobson will have to keep the speed of the Rapids’ attack at bay so the back four aren’t under constant pressure.

Up front, Cooper and Fabian Castillo will need to make the most of their chances when they have them. Last year the Rapids gave up a ton of goals against teams with physical strikers and speedy strikers – thankfully Dallas has both at their disposal.

And lastly, keeping the pressure off David Ferreira will be key. If he has the freedom to create chances from the left wing and in the middle, Dallas should have no trouble opening the start of the season with three points.