The Crew travel to snowy Commerce City, Colorado, on Thursday night to take on the Rapids in their first playoff game of the 2011 season (10:00 pm). The two teams are meeting in a wild-card play-in game for the chance to play in either the Eastern or Western Conference semifinals.
Colorado ended their regular season at 12-9-13 (49 points), giving them the second wild card spot as well as home field advantage for their wild-card game. The Crew finished 13-13-8 (47 points). They dropped to third in the wild-card standings on the last day of the regular season, forcing them to beat the Rapids in freezing weather and in altitude to move on.
During the course of the season, the Crew and the Rapids went to battle two times. On June 26th, Columbus demolished Colorado at Crew Stadium, 4-1, after going down a goal early in the 5th minute. However, the Rapids were able to avenge their loss on August 5th, winning 2-0 at The Richard, more commonly referred to as Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
In last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals, Colorado knocked Columbus out of the playoffs after former Crew player Brian Carroll skied his penalty kick onto the stage at Crew Stadium, ending the season for the Crew. The Rapids went on to win the MLS Cup, defeating FC Dallas in the final, 2-1.
Columbus midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo will not be available to play on Thursday night after picking up a second yellow card in the 90th minute of the Crew’s match against Chicago last Saturday. His absence could be critical.
Possible replacements Danny O’Rourke, Tony Tchani, and Rich Balchan all have things going against them. O’Rourke is still recovering from major knee surgery, Tchani hasn’t played one minute for Columbus all season, and Balchan is only a rookie and coming back from a groin injury. My bet is that O’Rourke will get the nod. He’s a veteran, a hard-nosed defensive midfielder, and is experienced in high-pressure playoff games (2008 MLS Cup starter).
Prediction: Crew 1-0 Rapids
Anyone remember August 1st, 2009? On that date, Columbus defeated Colorado 1-0 from a Chad Marshall free-kick goal. The game was a rough, tough, and ugly one to watch. However, the Crew were able to fight and scrap their way to a victory. This year’s Columbus Crew squad has that drive and determination that they have been lacking that past few years. The Crew will win on Thursday night.
Columbus Crew – QUESTIONABLE: MF Danny O’Rourke; MF Tony Tchani
Colorado Rapids – OUT: FW Conor Casey; DF Anthony Wallace; QUESTIONABLE: MF Pablo Mastroeni; PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens; MF Jamie Smith