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So, now what?
Lets recap.

The Rapids have clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. A victory over Chivas Jr. and another loss by Ye Olde Royale Salte Lake guaranteed the Rapids post season life. Could it get any better?

It could. There is a realistic possibility that the Rapids could even catch the LA Galaxy and clinch the #3 playoff spot. Colorado has a game in hand and trails by only 2 points. LA has a tough schedule and will play San Jose, the Wiz, and Dallas twice. The Rapids on the other hand couldn't have picked an easier calender themselves. They get to dance with Chivas one more time, face RSL twice, and only one tough game in Dallas.

Finally, the Rapids are also poised to win their first piece of silverware. Last Wednesdays thrashing of ReAL evened up the Rocky Mountain Cup series and leapfrogged them in goal differential. The Salt Lake Royals current form is pathetic right now and shouldn't be much trouble if the Rapids can keep the winning momentum. The Front Office might as well pull out the dust rag for the trophy case.

While these visions of sugar plums dance in fans' heads, there is still a lot the needs to be considered. The Rapids are in a very comfy spot, but despite winning their last two games, they are anything but ready for the playoffs.

The defense has become worrisome these last few games. Whether it's injury, cation points, whatever, the garrison on the backline has been shorthanded. They didn't have Borchers in DC and it was as clear as day that he was missed. It was noticeable when Petke was absent for Saturdays game at Chivas. He was out on because of cation points, but what is more concerning is that he has been nursing an ankle sprain. Clavijo has been experimenting with the defense the last several games. Most notably, changing it to three man line. It can be understandable when you are short a center back, but lets hope that FC doesn't get comfortable with it. Petke looks lonely and lost in the middle without a buddy and Borchers size and power is wasted on the wing. A successful Colorado team needs both of these guys anchoring the middle. Thankfully FC didn't try the three man mess on Saturday. Ritchie has been steady on the left and should be furthest from any troubles. The right side, however, is a bit of a puzzle. Freeman and Lewis seem to be the best choices, but both are constant liabilities. Lewis is a bit wreckless and Hunter has a nasty habit of wandering out of position like an ADD child in a store of shiny objects. Gargan was filled the spot against the Goats, but proved rather underwhelming. It will be FC's responsibility to figure out what can work on that right flank.

The midfield is similar to the defense. Some of the structure is set, but other areas need work. Cooke is a given on the right. He creates the best chances and has a great distributing touch. The left wing is pretty much between two people...Dedi and Denton. As far as the first team is concerned, D&D (sounds like a law firm) should be competing for that spot. They both have positive qualities that they bring to the field. What's also interesting is that they both can play in a defensive role. In a pinch, either could be put on the back line if for example Kotschau gets hurt. The left side looks to be in decent hands. The defensive-mid position is a real enigma. Pablo or Beckerman? Like D&D, they should be directly competing for that spot, unless Clavijo wants to have five in the midfield. After the game against ReAL, they did show that they can work together. Time and a little experimenting will tell. As it stands now, the attacking midfield spot really should go to Nkong. He has proven that he has the work rate and skill to connect with the forwards, not to mention he will take chances at goal himself. Kirovski still has a lot to prove, and has yet to show why he should be in the first 11. He did preform notably better when has was put in as a striker rather than an attaching-mid. Perhaps the midfield is not a good place to put him.

There is little question as to who should be the Rapids two choices for the strikers...that's Cunningham and Pedro for those of you that have been living underground. They are not without their faults and still have some bugs that need to be ironed out before the playoffs. Pedro needs to do less belly flopping and more ball controlling. He's got the sise and the skill, he shouldn't need to do his occasional tumble when he is on the ball. Cunningham needs to do more off-ball running. He can be a statue sometimes. Most importantly, the two of them need to be on the same page 24-7! They still make ill-timed passes and silly runs. A crucial key to playoff success will be the forwards getting the chemistry right.

One new issue that many are scratching their heads about is Cunningham's tantrum incident with Fernando on Wednesday. Was it just a vent of on-field frustration? His form has been rather flat in recent weeks. Is he having problem with FC? It's no secret that he has had a reputation of being less-than-discreet when it comes to disagreements with a coach. Will this endanger his position in the starting 11? If it does, will it hurt the Rapids offensive performance. He was fined by the club and benched for the Chivas game. The offence seemed to preform well without him...but then again, it is Chaivs.

Thankfully, the team has a little bit of a safety net in case something goes wrong with one of the strikers. For the first time in several years, the Rapids don't have to worry about depth in the attack. Behind Jeff and Pedro are Serna, Jovan, Noel, and even Wolde if there is desperation, not to mention all of the midfielders that can double as forwards. If Peguero or Cunningham goes down, it will be a big responsibility for one of the understudies (most likely Serna) to pick up the slack. Fans got there first on-field glimpse of Diego on Saturday and he proved to look dangerous.

The most concerning thing of all however, is Joe Cannon's injury. He is one of the most, if not the most, important player for the playoffs. If the Rapids want to make a successful post season bid, Joe will need to be healthy. Foss is a good keeper in his own right, but its doubtful that he can make the kind big saves that Bazooka Joe is known for. Get well soon!

Overall team chemistry is still not 100%. The team is still making lousy mistakes with passing and dribbling. They paid for it against LA and DC. The only reason the Rapids didn't pay for any of their mistakes on Wednesday of Saturday was because RSL and the Goats are so bad that they can't score a free meal at a homeless shelter. Stupid plays won't do at all against better teams. They need to work on being less sloppy...or its out in the first round again.

These season closing games will most importantly be a test for the man at the helm, Fernando Clavijo. This is the man that has to make this team work. Clavijo has grabbed all of the chess pieces he can get, now its time to truly use them. He has to make this team work as a single unit. While the Rapids may be lacking in overall star-power, they have a collection of players that can, have, and will play multiple roles. They have midfielders that can play as strikers. They have defensemen that can play as midfielders. They have strikers that can play in the midfield. This kind of flexibility can be crucial in tight situations, league leading San Jose is proof of that.

At times they have had great form, but they aren't quite at their true potential. The last four games are the true proving ground to the team and the players. While the opposition may not be the most difficult, its still a crucial opportunity to truly make something of this 2005 team. Lady Luck has given Rapids have breathing room to tweak, adjust, and prepare for the playoffs. The next four games will ultimately show the character of this team. Lets all hope for the best. Go Rapids!
September 25, 2005 Patrick Quinn



Email: sean@mlsfan.net

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Scores
Sat., Apr. 14th
6:00PM ET
Salt Lake 0
Columbus 0

Sat., Apr. 14th
7:30PM ET
New England 0
Toronto 0

Sat., Apr. 14th
7:30PM ET
DC United 0
Kansas City Wizards 0

Sat., Apr. 14th
8:30PM ET
Houston 0
Chivas USA 0

Sat., Apr. 15th
3:00PM ET
New York 0
Dallas 0

Sun., Apr. 15th
8:00PM ET
Colorado 0
Chicago 0

Standings
East
Team Name Pts
Chicago 3
Columbus 1
New York 1
DC United 0
Kansas City 0
New England 0
Toronto 0

West
Team Name Pts
Dallas 4
Chivas USA 3
Colorado 3
Houston 1
Los Angeles 1
Salt Lake 1

Top Ten Scorers
Top 10 Scorers
Player Name Gls
Ruiz 2
Cooper 2
Cunningham 2
Kljestan 1
Brown 1
Emilio 1
H. Gomez 1
Findley 1
Razov 1
Pause 1