5 Reasons Colorado Rapids are MLS Supporters’ Shield contenders

colorado-rapids

In six of the last nine Major League Soccer seasons, Colorado Rapids have failed to reach the playoffs. Since winning the MLS Cup in 2010 against FC Dallas, the Rapids have made the playoffs twice, and in each of those five seasons, finished fifth or lower in the MLS’s Western Conference.

The 2016 season has been surprisingly different, especially after so many fans, journalists and pundits called for coach Pablo Mastroeni’s firing after two less than impressive seasons. The former Rapids’ player has got the ship straightened out for the moment, with Colorado pushing the top of MLS’s overall points table for the Supporters’ Shield.

This week, World Soccer Talk looks at 5 reasons Colorado Rapids are Major League Soccer Supporters’ Shield contenders in 2016.

Offseason signings paying off

Eyes rolled when Colorado signed Jermaine Jones and Marco Pappa in the MLS offseason. Not only would Jones be suspended for the opening of the MLS season, but his bloated contract and age were turn offs to nearly every team in MLS. At 34-years old and pulling in $650,000, the Rapids didn’t blink, bringing in the US international as an anchor in the team’s spine. In eight matches, Jones has three goals and an assist to go along with a 75% pass success rate and nearly two tackles per game average, according to WhoScored.com. His veteran leadership, however, is something that cannot be calculated, as the former Schalke man has lead by example this season. Pappa had plenty of off the pitch problems last winter. Those seem to be behind him now as the Guatemalan has been the creative spark in a mostly defensive side. Two goals and three assists in 12 matches has Pappa contending for MLS Comeback Player of the Year.

Set Pieces

The Colorado attack doesn’t score many goals. Only 16 goals have been scored from open play. However, the Rapids have been deadly at set pieces with six goals from free-kicks or corners. The Rapids may only be middle of the road in terms of set piece goals – New York Red Bulls have tallied 14 – but the Rapids’ ability to keep clean sheets and score from set pieces make them frustrating to beat. Some may call it anti-football to defend and win games on set pieces, but Colorado calls it success in 2016.

Defense

It isn’t Colorado’s attack that will beat teams, rather it is the club’s defense. Compact and aggressive, the team wins the ball and builds its attacks through its more creative players – Pappa and Shkelzen Gashi. The Rapids have given up the fewest goals in MLS with 13. Only twice in 2016 has Colorado’s defense given up more than two goals in a match. One was against Montreal Impact in which the clubs drew 2-2. The other was against Vancouver Whitecaps when the clubs finished tied at two in July. The Rapids have kept eight clean sheets and have recently added the experience of Tim Howard to its roster. Howard has already kept two shutouts since arriving in the summer transfer window.

Axel Sjoberg

The Swedish defender has been immense for Colorado in his second season with the club. The Central defender has tallied two goals and an assist in 17 matches this term, including the stoppage-time leveller against Vancouver after breaking his wrist. At 6-foot-7, Sjoberg is dominant in the air as he is averaging 5.6 clearances and 2.8 interceptions a game, according to WhoScored.com. At a salary of a mere $81,000 this season, Sjoberg will either get a major and well-deserved bump in the offseason, or he will be off to Europe.

Unbeaten Streak

Colorado has lost just two games in 2016 MLS play. Mastroeni’s men haven’t seen defeat since Real Salt Lake beat them 1-0 away from home. After that loss, Colorado has won eight of 14 fixtures. That unbeaten run has set the club up for a shot at the Supporters’ Shield. FC Dallas currently stands in the Rapids’ way. The two teams will meet on July 24th in Colorado and again on September 11th in Dallas.

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