The Colorado Rapids may have lost the first leg of the Western Conference Final, but their form at home this season, coupled with a crucial away goal, gives the club a very good shot at reaching the 2016 MLS Cup final.
“It’s not so much about how we’re going to stop them [in the second leg], but more importantly how are we going to ignite our attack to put them on their heels,” said Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni.
The Rapids have earned a 1-0 result in 14 league matches this season, and the same scoreline on Sunday would see the home team advance.
“We put ourselves in a very good position here at home to close out the series,” said Mastroeni. “The home team has a great advantage in the playoffs, and if you were at the game [on Tuesday] you felt the energy of the crowd.”
The Rapids’ have a boosted home field advantage because of the club’s location, and Mastroeni believes the altitude can be of assistance in wearing down the visitors this weekend.
“This year what we’ve been able to do is really put teams under pressure early on in the game, and make them run everywhere and by the 60th minute you start to see signs of fatigue,” said Mastroeni. “In the LA game, look back at the overtime periods. You saw the LA group that were getting massages, laying down, catching their breath, and our group was standing, no one took a seat.
“And when you look at it from that perspective I think there are definitely implications,” Mastroeni said. “The physical impact, it only becomes validated when the psychology is there, by imposing yourself on the opponents for long periods of time and really bringing that into play.”
If the Rapids do advance on Sunday, it will be their second MLS Cup appearance in six years. The last one was in 2010, when the club unexpectedly lifted the trophy after a favorable playoff draw. To most, the success the Rapids have had in 2016 is just as unexpected.
The 2015 MLS season saw the Rapids finish as the worst team in the Western Conference, and questions arose over Mastroeni’s job security. But the club brought in key players this year to fill voids in the squad, and the work the head coach has put into player and tactical development is now paying off.
“Other than belief in our group of guys, there was no reason to believe that we’d be in this situation,” said Mastroeni. “Everything starts with hope and belief, and just coming together, knowing we don’t have the same amenities as everyone else and no one looks at us like we’re going to be world-beaters. But as long as we have belief in ourselves individually and collectively as a group, we can achieve some great things.”
[On Sunday] we control our own destiny, and it speaks volumes about the work these guys did over the course of the year.”