Red Bulls on a Tuesday? The end times are truly near.
For the second MLS week in a row, the New York Red Bulls find themselves facing a Western Conference opponent in the Colorado Rapids. After a disappointing result against Orlando City in the Open Cup, the scheduling gods have been merciful and granted the team a simpler opponent to lick their wounds against. The plucky Midwest side that shocked the league and topped the Western Conference in 2021 has been brought back to Earth this year, currently sitting 12th in the West and seemingly having given up on the playoff race. It’s surely the first time that a feel-good sports story about a team beating the odds and thriving without financial backing or true star players has ever been quickly ended by teams with financial backing and true star players.
As is the issue with most struggling teams, the Rapids (managed by former Red Bulls assistant coach Robin Fraser) have had massive trouble scoring. They’re the 3rd lowest scorers in the West, and despite a relatively high xG of 32.2, finishing woes have left them with only 25 goals to show for it, the second worst difference in the league. Their shooting metrics are not promising, taking only 3.95 shots on target per game, a total that will not frighten many teams leaguewide. Furthermore, they are dead last in touches in the attacking third. It’s not that the Rapids aren’t bothering goalkeepers, they’re simply not bothering defenses at all.
The main struggle is in buildup, as the Rapids are very low in completed passes, attempted passes, medium passes, and short passes. The only outlier is a higher than usual amount of long passes, which considering the fact that they lack Mats Hummels in the back points to a simple lack of ideas more often than not. The passing trouble is not a stylistic choice either, only average in progressive passing and not prone to mazy dribbling, the team simply fails to get going on the days when it doesn’t work. Much can be attributed to the loss of their longtime starting defensive midfielder and USMNT regular Kellyn Acosta to a trade with LAFC, and the failure of replacement Mark-Anthony Kaye to truly replace him. The team looks lost, and with management having already traded Kaye away after only half a season, it seems the organization has already given up on the year.
The team is more than capable on its day, having beaten the likes of the LA Galaxy, LAFC, and the Timbers this year, but too often disappointing performances in relatively winnable games have left them floundering. Whether or not the Red Bulls will be deemed a good enough team to beat remains to be seen, but nonetheless the home fixture is a great opportunity for New York to recover psychologically as they focus all their efforts on closing out the MLS campaign comfortably.
Major League Soccer thinks it can thwart my kit contemplations by not including this fixture in their weekly kit matchup release, but little do the corporate scum know that I am perfectly content with guessing what the Rapids will wear. Power to the people.
There’s a 50% chance that the Rapids will don their creatively named “Club Kit” on Tuesday, and what a blessing it would be. The admittedly empty shirt comes in a pleasing burgundy, a rare color for jerseys but one that just feels right here. The mountain pattern is a nice touch, even if you’ll never see it from more than 5 feet away it adds depth to the shirt whose only other decoration is the traditional Adidas shoulder stripes, which come in a complementary light blue. The designer realized that they had a gold mine with the organization’s color scheme and decided to do absolutely nothing with it, but it’s pretty so I’ll just call it minimalist. 9/10.
“Oh, but what if they wear the away kit?” a cynic might ask. It’s a white shirt. Green accents. I will not call it minimalist. 2/10.
Players to Watch
A name familiar to hardcore USMNT fans, Jonathan Lewis has quietly been one of the Rapids’ best players over the last couple of years. Their second top scorer this year and in 2021, and their joint top scorer in 2020, the dynamic winger has been a loyal servant to Colorado through their seasons of mediocrity and random Western Conference win. One of the more classical wingers you’ll ever see, Lewis embraces the touchline hugging, ball glued to the foot stereotype of a true wide man. He’s an exceptional scorer for the position, frequently finding himself in dangerous positions to finish off attacks, and while his playmaking is rather poor he makes up for it by putting the ball into the back of the net. He won’t be making any flashy assists, and probably won’t stun anyone with highlight reel skills either, but his directness and pace on and off the ball make the one-trick pony quite the danger to the Red Bulls backline.
The Scotsman has been one of the stars of New York’s campaign, leading the team in goals and being a versatile piece in Gerhard Struber’s ever-changing setup. So it came as a surprise to many when after a disjointed Open Cup loss against Orlando City, Struber singled Morgan out for what he saw as a poor defensive performance. The Austrian’s discontent was shown on the field as well, with Morgan removed from the game relatively early. Struber has been noted to freeze key players out if their defensive effort is deemed to be lacking (even if their attacking work makes up for it), with Dru Yearwood, Caden Clark, and arguably Patryk Klimala having fallen victim to the same punishment. It’s still too early to tell if Morgan will fall victim to the same fate, but Cameron Harper’s rise in the same right wingback spot that Morgan is accommodated into may spell trouble for the Scotsman.
The Mark-Anthony Kaye trade to Toronto FC made waves league wide, as the talented Canadian international that the Rapids only acquired last winter departed as a disappointment in the quest to replace Kellyn Acosta. But perhaps lost in the deal was young Ralph Priso, a 19 year old Toronto Homegrown that plays in the same defensive midfield role as both Kaye and Acosta. The Canadian youth international has long been touted for a promising future in MLS, and it seems Colorado saw it beneficial to cut their losses on Kaye and bank on Priso’s development. He’s slotted straight into the starting lineup upon arrival, and it’ll be interesting to see how he continues his progression against the Red Bulls. His holding midfield spot is crucial for teams looking to play out of the Red Bulls press, so it’ll be a trial by fire as he tries to maintain the tempo for the Rapids side in possession.
Colorado are a side that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the Red Bulls and their individual quality should come out on top at home in a nervy 2-1 win.