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CCL Preview: Underdog Rapids looking to upset stacked TFC

Toronto FC and the Colorado Rapids found themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum in 2017. TFC won basically all there was to win, hoisting a Canadian Championship, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in what may have been the best season in MLS history. The Rapids, meanwhile, fell back to the bottom of the pack, putting together a forgettable season that led to a 2018 rebuild.

On Tuesday, the two collide in the first meaningful match of 2018 to kickstart the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Rapids play host to TFC on Tuesday evening to open CCL play at what will be a snow-covered Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Tuesday’s match is a clash that pits an MLS powerhouse against one of the league’s bottom-dwellers, a Rapids team that  is still rebuilding following a coaching change and plenty of club turnover.

But, in Tuesday’s scenario, anything can happen. It’s the first match of the season as both teams enter with clean slates, fresh legs and a bit of rust. There’s also the added element of frigid temperatures and potential snowfall as the weather is almost certainly going to impact a match that, on the surface, looks like David vs. Goliath.

“The preseason at this stage you want to test your squad to see where they’re at. We would naturally want a really tough game around this stage,” Rapids boss Anthony Hudson told SBI. “It’s perfect timing for us. We are in a situation where we’ve got lots of new players and players still to come in. We have to make sure we are at our very best and ready to start the season strong.”

“Obviously, they’re a group that is still a work in progress with a new coach and a new system,” added his counterpart, Greg Vanney. “We have a sense of what they’re going to do, but at the same time we’re going to try to do what we do. Hopefully we can get control of the game and they’ll have to make adjustments.”

For TFC, Tuesday’s match is about continuation. Virtually the entire starting XI returns heading into 2018, with the lone change coming via the subtraction of Steven Beitashour and addition of Gregory van der Wiel. The Canadian club remains among the deepest teams in the league, making them the logical favorite when it comes to MLS teams advancing through the CCL.

MLS teams have always struggled in CCL play. For TFC, the goal is to buck the trend and solidify their spot in history.

“We want to make it about us,” said TFC defender Drew Moor, who spent seven seasons in Colorado. “We want to set the tone, get after them with our possession, our field position, open them up a bit. Much like the playoffs, away goals are extremely important. We want to get as many as we can. If it doesn’t play that way, then keep things tight at the back.”

The Rapids, meanwhile, are just looking to find an identity. New coach Hudson is in place, taking over for Pablo Mastroeni. New faces like Edgar Castillo, Danny Wilson and Tommy Smith headline the defense, while the midfield features newcomer Jack Price.

The next few weeks are about finding continuity and finding form for a team that is very much an underdog through the two-legged CCL series.

“We want to win on Tuesday night,” Hudson said. “We’re not thinking about anything else. We’re going to prepare to win that game. Over the course of the next week to 10 days, we won’t be compromising our preseason in terms of physical load and the players we use and the work we’re going to be doing because the goal is to be fit and ready for New England to start the season.”

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