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Preview: Matchday 13, Rapids vs. Whitecaps

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It doesn't get any easier for the Whitecaps as they travel to the home of the struggling Colorado Rapids. Problem is, we've seen the 'Caps play down to their opposition before; will they do so in the notoriously difficult Dick's Sporting Goods Park?

What's that? I took this preview as a shameless opportunity to show a Kendall Waston celebration photo? Nooooooyes.
What's that? I took this preview as a shameless opportunity to show a Kendall Waston celebration photo? Nooooooyes.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

COLORADO RAPIDS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC
May 23rd, 6:00pm at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (TSN2, MLS Live)

Vancouver: 20pts (6W-4L-2D, 2nd in Western Conference, 3rd Overall)
Colorado: 10pts (1W-2L-7D, 10th in Western Conference, 17th Overall)

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Why, hello there, Colorado. You're looking well. Wait, no, not well - what's the word? Oh yes: crappy. You look like a hot, stinking pile of week-old garbage with the added injustice of being coached by Snidely Whiplash. You're on a point-per-game pace, good enough for dead last in the west yet and, amazingly, not-dead-last in the Supporters' Shield race. (Something something "west is best" something.) By all metrics, your participation in this match should be a footnote on what will be 80-90 minutes of getting your keisters handed to you on a platter by the most lethal counter-attack on the west coast. This contest is, on paper, a non-contest.

And therein lies the problem.

There are two historical points to be raised here: one, the Whitecaps have only won once at Commerce City, CO, way back in 2012, to say nothing of the 1W-0D-2L record between the teams in 2014 (once again: thank you, Kendall Waston); and two, the Whitecaps have a nasty habit of playing down to the level of their opposition. At the moment, there is no team in the Western Conference like the Rapids when it comes to emulating the performance of Chivas RIP USA. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how frustratingly poor the 'Caps played against "Cubo & Friends" before the Rojiblancos' demise. Matches like this - top vs. bottom, 20pts vs. 10pts - should not inspire hand-wringing and nerves in the bigger team's supporters; yet, here we are wondering if Vancouver will show up when they arrive to face the Rapids. If the Whitecaps really want three points (and they'd better damn well want three points, since "gimme" matches in the west are hard to come by), they need to show it by making Colorado respect the speed and lethality of the Whitecaps' counter. I'm not asking for Barcelona-esque tiki-taka with 75% possession, far from it; let Colorado knock the ball around looking for an opening, force a turnover and go off to the races. There's no better time to improve that all-time record against the Rapids than while they struggle for an identity and stability in their post-Deshorn Brown era, and the players who take to the field on Saturday had better be aware of that fact and act on it.

This brings us to our second point: who does Carl Robinson dress? Thanks to fortuitous geology, Colorado-based sports teams benefit from one of the most effective home-field advantages in North America. It's tough to win an away match in any stadium in Major League Soccer, yes, but at altitude the challenge isn't just mental - it's physical. Burning lungs and legs await those who aren't prepared for 90 grueling minutes, which makes squad selection tricky. As a reminder, here's who played last weekend against the Seattle Sounders...

Player Minutes
Jordan Harvey 90
Kendall Waston 90
Pa Modou Kah 90
Steven Beitashour 90
Cristian Techera 61
Kekuta Manneh 76
Matias Laba 90
Pedro Morales 90
Russell Teibert 64
Octavio Rivero 90
Gershon Koffie 26
Kianz Froese 14
Darren Mattocks 29
David Ousted 90

...and here's who played mid-week against FC Edmonton:

Player Minutes
Christian Dean 90
Kendall Waston 90
Tim Parker 90
Ethen Sampson 72
Cristian Techera 79
Gershon Koffie 90
Nicolas Mezquida 67
Pedro Morales 90
Russell Teibert 90
Darren Mattocks 90
Steven Beitashour 18
Matias Laba 11
Kekuta Manneh 23
Paolo Tornaghi 90

What should jump out at you immediately is that Kendall Waston is already on 180 minutes of action in the past two matches. Sure, the big Costa Rican will probably claim he's ready to go and will run through a few brick walls to prove it, but mile-high air isn't a brick wall. If Kendall starts, he's going to need to manage his pace and fitness very closely if he wants to snuff out the likes of Gabriel Torres and new signing Kevin Doyle (assuming the former Wolverhampton Wolves striker is cleared to play). Don't forget - Colorado had their match against Sporting Kansas City postponed due to inclement weather, so the Rapids will be fresh as daisies and eager to put their pace to use. Another player on 180 minutes - and a much more worrying player at that - is captain Pedro Morales. While we all love seeing the Chilean maestro pull the strings in midfield and lob 40-yard passes onto the head of a pin, Morales has always had a question mark around his fitness during his tenure in Vancouver. Morales might only see spot duty against the Rapids - if he even sees the pitch at all. The same goes for Russell Teibert, who's on a not-insignificant 154 minutes over two matches. Expect to see Matias Laba, Gershon Koffie or both in the defensive midfield position on Saturday. The other name to keep an eye on is our favourite 5'2" pest, Cristian Techera. 140 minutes is still a significant length of time for a player coming into their third match in a week, even moreso at altitude. If El Bicho sits (and I expect him to), is this the opportunity for a veteran like Mauro Rosales to re-establish themselves, or could a young gun like Nicolas Mezquida or Erik Hurtado (yes, he's still here) be primed to show off for the coaching staff?

Ultimately, it all boils down to this: good teams do not drop points to bottom-feeders. Vancouver did what was expected of them in their win over the Philadelphia Union earlier this month. If the Whitecaps are truly a serious contender for the Western Conference crown, they need to put their collective boot on the throat of the Rapids early and not let it up until the final whistle is blown - altitude be damned.

Failing that, I'll settle for more Kendall Waston heroics.

PREDICTION: 2-1 Vancouver, with the ghost of Jose Mari sending a seeing-eye bullet to the top corner to make things interesting in the 80th minute.