Know thy enemy: 'Caps-Rapids matchup a long time coming

On Sunday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will face Western Conference advisories Colorado Rapids for the first time since 2019.

To help you get set for the match, we’re bringing back a classic series called “Know thy enemy”, where we break down three things you need to know about the ‘Caps’ next opponent.

ONE TO WATCH

The main acquisition for the Rapids this offseason came in the form of diminutive, Colombian winger Michael Barrios, who previously spent six seasons with FC Dallas.

At 5'4”, Barrios is able to combine his low centre of gravity with his burst of speed to run to the byline to cut back and pick out runners in the box for Colorado. Along with his eye for a pass, Barrios can also bring out a couple skills in the most unexpected situations to get shots on goal. The 30-year-old finished 2020 with one goal and six assists for FC Dallas but has previously hit double digits in assists twice with 15 in 2019, and 14 in 2017 for the Toros.  Usually deployed on the right, the Colombian would come up against in-form ‘Caps left back Cristián Gutiérrez, who leads the team in passing success amongst starters (89.3%), tackles per game (4.5), interceptions per game (1.5), key passes per game (1.5) and total assists (2).

YOUNG GUNSCredit: USA Today

Along with the ‘Caps, the Rapids boast one of the league’s youngest teams and have invested greatly in their youth academy. Homegrowns Cole Bassett and Sam Vines have both gone on to earn call-ups for the USMNT, while youngsters Andre Shinyashiki (picture on right, photo credit: USA Today) and Jonathan Lewis have proven to be key parts of the Rapids offensive game.

In the first two games of the season, Rapids’ head coach Robin Fraser has deployed his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Bassett playing as a number 10 to support striker Diego Rubio up top, while Shinyashiki and Barrios stretch the field out wide. Colorado has only scored one goal this season off a set piece but their most dangerous moments come in transition on the break.

“Colorado is an experienced but young team, they’re a team that did well in the games that they played last season and made the playoffs, they’re also very dangerous in transition with the types of players they have”, said ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos during media availability this week.

"Robin (Fraser) has a lot of experience in MLS, so he knows how to prepare his players. Tactically, he knows what to expect, and he does a good job getting his players ready for games", said 'Caps veteran striker Tosaint Ricketts, who played under Fraser from 2016 to 2018 when he was an assistant at Toronto FC.

A big part of the Rapids’ transition game is Designated Player Younes Namli, who played for a year and a half with ‘Caps midfielder Janio Bikel at Dutch side SC Heerenveen.

“He has good technique, he’s good in 1v1’s, has a nice left foot and likes to dribble a lot”, said Bikel, “Off the pitch, he’s a great guy.”

Expect Bikel’s former teammate to conduct most of the possession going forward for Colorado, spray balls out wide to the wingers, and get shots off with his left foot at the top of the box, while Shinyashiki and Rubio poach in the penalty area.

FAMILIAR FACES

Long time ‘Caps fans will recognize a couple familiar faces on Sunday night in Rapids players Steven Beitashour and Nicolas Mezquida, who both spent time with the ‘Caps prior to moving to the Mile High City.

Beitashour, now in his 12th MLS season, started every game he appeared in for the ‘Caps between 2014 and 2015, helping the Blue and White qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs in both seasons. The Iranian international also became the first active Whitecaps FC player to play at a World Cup back in 2014.

As for Mezquida, the highly energetic midfielder joined the club in 2014 scoring 14 goals, registering four assists and making 103 appearances across all competitions for the ‘Caps before joining the Rapids. ‘Caps fans will remember his quick-fire brace against the San Jose Earthquakes in the MLS Cup Playoffs back in 2017, which helped the ‘Caps to their largest ever victory (5-0) and their first home playoff win.

Catch the match live this Sunday, May 2 at 7:00 pm PT on TSN 1/3 and AM730.