SBI MLS Playoff Preview: Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids

CLB_Primary_COL RapidsLogo

By AVI CREDITOR

Both the Columbus Crew and Colorado Rapids suffered different forms of heartbreak in their respective regular season finales.

For Columbus, starting goalkeeper Will Hesmer fractured his shoulder in a victory over Philadelphia, leaving a massive gap in the back for the 2008 MLS Cup champions. For Colorado, two stoppage time goals by Alvaro Saborio stole the Rocky Mountain Cup from the jaws of victory and handed it back to Real Salt Lake, bumping the Rapids down in the postseason table in the process.

Not like that's necessarily a bad thing.

Instead of having to face the Supporters' Shield-winning Los Angeles Galaxy, which would have been the case had they won their finale, the Rapids booked themselves a date with the beaten-up, out-of-form Crew.

The Rapids might boast one of the league's top strike tandems, and the Crew may be down to its backup keeper, but don't pencil Colorado into the conference finals just yet. The resolve of an experience-laden, disrespected former champion is something that should not be underestimated.

Here is a closer look at the series:

COLUMBUS CREW VS. COLORADO RAPIDS

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Teams split season series (June 5: Rapids 1, Crew 0; Aug. 21: Crew 3, Rapids 1)

WHEN

First leg – Thursday night, 9 p.m., ESPN2

Second leg – Sat., Nov. 6, 4 p.m., Telefutura

KEY MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Omar Cummings and Conor Casey vs. Chad Marshall and Andy Iro: This is likely where the series is to be decided. Colorado's attack relies heavily on the play of its two star strikers. Cummings (14 goals) and Casey (13) form a 1-2 combination of speed and size that is perhaps the most daunting in the league. If Marshall, the two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year, and Iro can neutralize them and shield backup keeper Andy Gruenebaum, the Crew should move on.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto vs. Pablo Mastroeni: It's no secret that Schelotto is the straw that stirs the Crew's drink. The Argentine playmaker didn't necessarily have one of his trademark years, but that doesn't mean it was a bad one (nine goals, 10 assists). For the Rapids to make sure he doesn't leave his mark on the series, their veteran defensive midfielder will have to be at his best.

Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers vs. Brian Mullan and Jamie Smith: From a talent standpoint, the Crew should have the advantage on the flanks, which would really assist Schelotto in facilitating the attack. Gaven finished the regular season in solid form, but Rogers is still rounding into shape after returning from a knee injury. If the Columbus midfield tandem can keep possession, add width to the attack and prevent Mullan and Smith from providing consistent service to their forwards, the advantage goes to the Crew.

X-FACTOR

For Colorado, Brian Mullan has a championship pedigree unlike any other player on the roster, which is why the team acquired him prior to the trade deadline. He's been a part of four MLS Cup champions (Los Angeles, San Jose and Houston twice), and the experience and leadership he brings to the table are intangibles that are paramount for a team with little historical success in the postseason. Mullan's presence could help offset the Crew's experience advantage and lift the Rapids to the next round.

For Columbus, Andy Gruenebaum likely never thought that he'd be in the position where he currently finds himself. The injury to Hesmer has thrust the keeper into the fire, and while he has CONCACAF Champions League experience and a more-than-capable defense in front of him, he's never played in conditions like these, especially while going against two in-form strikers. The opening minutes in a hostile environment on Thursday night should be very telling.

OUTLOOK

The Crew seem primed to be upset after limping to the finish line, but positive results in its most recent CONCACAF Champions League match and in the MLS regular season finale might lead some to believe that Robert Warzycha's side has momentum on its side. The loss of Hesmer definitely is a big setback, and the series will ultimately hinge on whether the Crew can thwart the Casey-and-Cummings-led attack of the Rapids.

Who do you think will advance from this series? Cast your vote here:

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How did you vote? Do you see Gruenebaum holding up in Hesmer's place? Thnk the Rapids have too much in attack for the Crew to handle?

Share your thoughts below.

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13 Responses to SBI MLS Playoff Preview: Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids

  1. JL says:

    The Rapids are injury free and have been on a roll since the acquisition of Brian Mullan. I like Schelotto and the Crew but I predict a Rapids win tonight… Go Rapids!

  2. theultra says:

    Be Massive, Columbus has played well against the crapids this year.

    Fear no one, go Crew

  3. Listen to ELAC on ATL says:

    I got mad respect for Columbus and their fans. However, Colorado is underrated in my book. I could see them taking this series or making it close.

  4. nynow says:

    Go Rapids!

  5. Dominick says:

    Any guess on attendance tonight?

  6. Scott A says:

    Yess it’s here.
    Colorado played well against RSL and I don’t see them letting those mental lapses happen again. Columbus isn’t in the best of form and Gruenebaum would make me very nervous if I were a Crew fan. Columbus certainly may win this over two legs but I see Colorado taking it 2-0 tonight.

  7. Charles says:

    Their games are 9, NINE, N I N E days apart.

    And the HAD to have Seattle’s game on Sunday night…. during Trick or Treating ?@!?!?!

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME ?!

    MLS PULL YOUR HEAD OUT !?!?!

    The Sounders would have drawn close to 50k if they had it on Monday instead….PULL YOUR HEAD OUT !?!?

  8. einar says:

    I hope the Rapids win there series but it will be a tight one

  9. RLW2020 says:

    SBI (avi today) always discounts the rapids’ abilities!

    the key player tonight will be Pablo Mastroeni and Drew Moor locking down defense and scoring on corner kicks. no more foolishness like at the end of RSL game!

  10. RLW2020 says:

    19,000 packed house!

    realisticly 13,000
    the promotion and buzz around the team has been great but with less than a week to sell mid-week tickets its never easy.

  11. Kyle Beckerman says:

    I think it is great that MLS has finally awarded an expansion franchise to Colorado.

  12. Neruda says:

    Gimme C-bus please.