For all the talk San Jose being the “Bad News Bears” of MLS and how their attack will open up chances for Chris Wondolowski on the right, head coach Gary Smith and his Rapids believe they’ve got many things going for them in Saturday’s Eastern Conference Championship. (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET, FSC)
Not the least of those is their home advantage. The Rapids have only lost twice at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park all season, both 1-0 defeats. The first came May 5 against the then-rampant LA Galaxy; the second happened Oct. 2 in a hugely disappointing loss to D.C. United, when some key Rapids starters were injured.
Furthermore, the Rapids have only given up more than one goal at home twice all season, and one of those was in the inexplicable end-of-season 2-2 draw against Real Salt Lake, when the Rapids frittered away a 2-0 lead in stoppage time.
“Honestly, [San Jose] should be more worried about us,” head coach Gary Smith told MLSsoccer.com earlier in the week. “We have been dominant at home.”
Barring late training injuries this week, Smith will have a full complement of players to choose from for Saturday’s game.
[inline_node:322972]The most obvious injury worry has been Brian Mullan, who is raring to go despite getting 12 stitches in his lower left leg following a clash with Columbus’ Emmanuel Ekpo early on in last weekend’s playoff game against the Crew.
Jamie Smith, who had sat out the first Columbus game in Colorado with a tight hamstring, survived all 120 minutes of last weekend’s game in Ohio and said he hasn’t felt any aftereffects from the injury.
Similar to San Jose, coach Smith has some interesting decisions to make pertaining to the back line.
Anthony Wallace has blossomed as an attacking left back, but he lacks big game experience and struggled at times in Columbus last weekend. Smith may be tempted to install the ever-reliable Drew Moor on the left side and bring in experienced Julien Baudet to partner Marvell Wynne in the center of defense, but the coach admits he may lose his attacking options down the left side by doing so.
Smith said he is unconcerned about the much-discussed lopsided San Jose attack, which tends to drift in numbers to the left and can leave Golden Boot winner Wondolowski open on the right, where he has been a constant threat all season.
The manager believes, however, that aggressive central midfielders Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz and wide midfielders Mullan and Jamie Smith can all contribute defensively along with the back four and help lock down the Earthquakes’ scoring machine.
“You’ve got to look at recoveries,” Gary Smith said. “Both Jamie and Brian can tuck in as an extra body.”
Smith also has the option of using tenacious Wells Thompson, who is no defensive shirker either. While the Rapids will need to put forth a solid defensive effort, they will be keen to come out guns-blazing to impose themselves on a San Jose team that has vowed to come out firing as well.
As the match that promises to be a nice display of on-field fireworks approaches, Smith couldn’t resist another little provocation as the energy heats up for Saturday night.
“Here are two teams that are full of energy and passion,” Smith said. “I just think they have a lot more to concern themselves with mentally than we have.”