The busy pre-Copa America schedule continues Saturday for the Union as they take on table-leader Colorado (8-2-3, 27 points). The Union are in the fifth stage of a six-game, 22-day stretch in where they are still undefeated after picking up another road point against Orlando City on Wednesday. Kick is scheduled for 9 p.m. EST and will be televised on The Comcast Network.
What you Need to Know
After missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons, not much what expected out of Pablo Mastroeni’s club in 2016. But, similar to the Union, a heavy roster overhaul has turned the tides into a very strong start to the campaign.
Perhaps most impressively, Colorado has completely turned around a historically bad defense from just two seasons ago. In 2014, the club allowed 62 goals– the most in the league and the second most in franchise history (69 in 1998) – that was a focal point in the following offseason. While Colorado barely improved in the table in 2015, they allowed 19 fewer goals, which was actually sixth best in MLS last season.
Of course, though, they didn’t score much, either – registered a league-worst 33 last season.
This year, they’ve remarkably allowed just nine goals in 13 games – the best mark in MLS, of course – and have allowed two (!!!) goals in six home games. Not coincidentally, they haven’t dropped a point at home all year long, going 6-0-0.
As for Saturday, don’t expect to see Jermaine Jones or Tim Howard, who are away with the U.S. Men’s National Team as they prepare for Copa America. Marco Pappa, who has been out since April 16, could be back Saturday, although a start may be unlikely.
Players to Watch
Michael Azira, midfielder: Seldom used in Seattle, the 28-year-old Ugandan has really settled into the defensive midfield role for the Rapids in his first year with the club. Picked up in the waiver draft in December, he’s started every game so far and has really done a nice job cleaning up any danger thanks to his athleticism. He’s won 28 tackles – that leads the team and is tied for 11th in MLS.
Axel Sjoberg, defender: Along with Bobby Burling (6-foot-6), the Rapids’ centerback duo is the tallest in MLS history. Sjoberg (6-7), is in his second year in MLS and pretty much wins everything in the air, evident by being tied for sixth in MLS with 63 clearances. The Rapids lead the league in clearances with an even 300, and what they may lack in speed in this duo, they make it up from other areas.
Shkelzen Gashi, forward: Another new face, the Swiss-born, Albanian National teamer has provided a much-needed offensive burst for the club this year. He has two goals and three assists so far, and with Luis Solignac on the other wing, Colorado has begun to put together a formidable attack.
Possible Starting Lineup
The Union are 1-3-4 all-time against Colorado with the lone winning coming on March 10, 2013 – the last time the Union were in Colorado. Jack McInerney scored the game-winner in the 79th minute in a 2-1 victory. In their last overall meeting, on Opening Day 2015, the two teams battled to a scoreless draw at Talen Energy Stadium.