Six games into the 2017 MLS season and neither the Colorado Rapids nor their fans are where they want to be in the standings. It seems as though everything that could go wrong has so far. Throw in the departure of 2016 stalwarts Marc Burch and Sam Cronin and it’s honestly no surprise that Colorado has seemed to struggle to retain its identity, chemistry both on and off the pitch, and its ruthless defensive streak from a historic season.
In addition to a backline that has seen four different combinations in the last six matches due to injuries or suspensions, the defensive midfield has also turned over multiple times in those same matches. The twin D-Mids are an important part of Pablo Mastreoni’s lineup both as disruptors on defense but also lynchpins going forward. After the departure of Cronin, Nana Boateng stepped in as he finally found his fitness at altitude. That didn’t last long as a painful back injury to three vertebrae have now shelved him for months taking him out of the rotation.
One constant in all of the early upheaval at defensive midfield is Michael Azira, who now partners with newly acquired Mohammed Saeid. Azira has been affected most by different personnel as he now plays next to his third teammate so far this season. So how does that challenge the soft-spoken but commanding leader for Colorado on the pitch? “You’re trying to make whoever is coming into the team comfortable,” says the ever-loyal team player. “Trying to help them out as much as you can because at the end of the day it’s a team job. It’s not about you or even who comes in, so I try to make him as comfortable as I can so he can do his job right and we help each other out.”
Azira told The Voice of C38 it’s not as if the Rapids aren’t trying to mimic the togetherness of the 2016 locker room. It will, given the number of new personalities and mindsets, take some time even as we enter month three of the MLS season. “I think it’s a little bit early (to tell), and just a little bit different personalities”, Michael says. Unfortunately, injuries, departures, and suspensions have all come early and often so Azira and Colorado are working towards that same solidarity that normally would have been cemented in preseason.
“We try to train together before the game usually,” said Azira when asked about how he and new midfield partners approach a new player next to them in such a high-pressure position in the Rapids lineup. “We try to sit down with Pablo, and then the guy who will be playing next to me, and we’ll sit down and talk about how we want to play.”
This week, Colorado visits Eastern Conference leaders Orlando City SC, which features a dangerous scoring duo in Cyle Larin and Giles Barnes, and could possibly be bolstered by the return of Kaka as well. Azira stressed the importance of finishing chances as the Rapids look to hand OCSC their first home loss in 2017.
Michael shared that in most Colorado matches this young season both teams have created a similar amount of chances but that opponents have just been able to finish more on the scoreboard. The bottom line is, and all the players are aware of the fact, that the Rapids need to put shots on keeper Joe Bendick’s goal. Finishing chances early in order to make Azira’s and his defensive midfield partner’s job more simplified and able to lock down as the match wears on, will most likely be a key going forward not only this week but in a key run of matches afterwards before summer.
Source: Blog Post