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.
After giving up a late goal against the LA Galaxy last weekend in a 1-1 draw, FC Dallas (3-3-3, 12 points) returns to Frisco for a two-game home stand as they host the Colorado Rapids (4-5-0, 12 points) on Sunday (6 p.m. CT on Fox Sports Southwest/Galavision).
Colorado is led by new manager Oscar Pareja, a former FC Dallas assistant under Schellas Hyndman. Pareja has his team off to a decent start this season, but his club has fallen in four out of their last five games – including a 2-1 loss on Wednesday against New England.
Pareja spent 13 years in Dallas as a player and a coach.
Rapids in the attack
The Rapids are led by Jamaican striker Omar Cummings, who leads the club with three goals this season.
Cummings has been one of the more consistent players in Major League Soccer over the last few years. He has quality pace and a good enough shot on him to beat any 'keeper. He’s also a handful in the air and is big enough to win the physical battles in the penalty box. If Cummings gets the ball in space and has time to go one-on-one against a defender, he has the ball skills to beat about anyone.
Cummings has been paired up this season with rookie Tony Cascio. The University of Connecticut product has scored two goals this season and has shown well in his first season.
Cummings has also been paired in the past with Conor Casey. The 30-year old recently returned from an ACL injury that he suffered last season.
In the midfield, the Rapids are veteran-led by winger Brian Mullan and Colombian Jamie Castrillon.
Mullan will likely line up on the right wing while Castrillon will see his time on the left wing. Each provide solid distribution from the wide areas and are a threat to score as well.
Newcomer Martin Rivero has filled in lately in the middle of the midfield for the injured Pablo Mastroeni. The 22-year-old Rivero has quickly made a name for himself as the Rapids’ playmaker in the midfield with three assists on the season.
And recently signed Kamani Hill has also shown well since joining the squad on March 28. The former VfL Wolfsburg striker has three goals to his name already and helped boost Pareja’s depth in the attack.
Defense still tough
While the offense has had some struggles finding itself this season under Pareja, the defense continues to be a consistent factor for the Rapids, even through injuries to players like Marvell Wynne and Anthony Wallace.
Wynne should line up in the center of the defense with former FC Dallas center back Drew Moor. The pair have done very well together over the last few seasons in Colorado.
Kosuke Kimura and Hunter Freeman have split time this season at right back. Kimura does well at covering a lot of ground on the right side, and his service from the flank is typically good too.
Newcomer Luis Zapata has filled in on the left fullback spot for the injured Wallace this season. He and fellow Colombian Castrillon have worked well on the left side together.
Defensive midfielder Jeff Larenowicz is typically seated just above the back four for the Rapids. Usually he is paired in the midfield with fellow veteran Mastroeni, but due to an injury to Mastroeni the duo hasn’t seen a lot of time together on the field this season.
Goalkeeper Matt Pickens has started every game this season for Pareja. He has 32 saves on the season and three shutouts.
Keys to three points
Colorado has typically lined up in a 4-4-2 formation but at times it has shifted into a 4-3-3 under Pareja. Colorado shows a decent amount of fluidity with the 4-3-3 but does get exposed on the wings at times with it.
This one will come down to a midfield battle. Colorado plays a physical style in the middle of the field, much like Dallas does.
The flank play will also be a key area for both sides. Dallas will want to spread out the Rapids as much as possible and make them chase the game. After playing a midweek game on the road, the Rapids could have a little jetlag in them that Dallas could exploit.
Dallas has to remain smart in the back as well to keep Cummings off the ball in space. Nothing will come easy against this dangerous Colorado side.