The Colorado Rapids return home to Dick's Sporting Goods Park in search of their first victory in over a month as they welcome Austin FC to town on Monday for a special Fourth of July encounter in Major League Soccer.
Colorado are winless in three straight domestic encounters, their longest slump since 2019, while the Verde and Black are second in the Western Conference, with points in three consecutive games.
As the season reaches the halfway point in the Centennial State, the Rapids have not had much to celebrate in recent fixtures.
After 16 games, the Burgundy Boys are 12th in the Western Conference in a campaign where expectations were soaring when this club ended the 2021 regular season in first.
Following a 3-0 defeat last Saturday against the Portland Timbers, manager Robin Fraser talked about the importance of remaining consistent, which has been in short supply for them this year.
The central recurring theme for this team throughout 2022 has been a lack of potency in the attacking third, currently tied for the third-fewest goals scored in MLS (17).
Last year, they managed to remain competitive thanks to some solid collective contributions from the entire roster, and so far, they have not shown that kind of depth consistently in their first 16 fixtures of the season.
Even though their previous home game was one they would rather forget, losing 3-1 to Nashville SC, Colorado have proven to be a well-organised and structurally sound defensive unit at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Before that loss to the Boys in Gold, they posted six clean sheets in their eight regular-season affairs, rarely allowing much time or space in their penalty area.
When things are at their bleakest, Austin FC seem to conjure up something special, and we saw that on Thursday, as they won a second successive road contest by a 1-0 score.
Josh Wolff's men have saved their best for last throughout the campaign, as their previous eight goals scored in this competition have come in the second-half.
When they trounced FC Cincinnati 5-0 in their opening encounter, this team made sent a message to the rest of the league that they would be an aggressive unit, who would come at you in waves, while attacking relentlessly.
To their credit, Austin have grown by leaps and bounds in that department, currently tied for the second-most goals scored in league play (32).
For a side that have been contending for first in the Western Conference since the start of the season, the Verde and Black must feel like they have not got the respect they deserve, as the conversation with this team often centres around a belief from pundits that they will eventually falter.
That has not happened thus far, as Austin continue to silence their critics, particularly on the road, where they have not conceded in back-to-back contests and in some pretty intimidating environments, blanking CF Montreal and Charlotte FC 1-0.
A pair of assists from Jack Price, combined with goals from Jonathan Lewis, Auston Trusty and former midfielder Nicolas Mezquida, enabled the Rapids to blank Austin in this exact fixture last year, 3-0.
William Yarbrough picked up a shutout on that day, but he is unlikely to feature on Monday after the 33-year-old collided with the Timbers' Santiago Moreno last week and was replaced by Abraham Rodriguez.
Colorado pushed hard to find a breakthrough against Portland, as Michael Barrios, Diego Rubio and Gyasi Zardes combined for 11 shots over 90 minutes but could not find a way past goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic.
The Rapids extended their loan deal with Lucas Esteves, as the Palmeiras defender will remain in Colorado until the end of the season, while Braian Galvan (right knee), Aboubacar Keita (torn ACL right knee), Oliver Larraz (right leg) and Jack Price (left calf) could all miss this match because of injuries.
A brilliant long-range effort by Daniel Pereira enabled Austin to collect three points on the road this week, as Brad Stuver has only had to make two saves in each of his last two away games, both resulting in shutouts.
Lately, striker Sebastian Driussi has been held in check away from home, without a goal on the road since the end of April.
The first visit to Colorado was a memorable one for the Verde and Black, winning 3-1 thanks to a goal from Fagundez, plus a brace by Cecilio Dominguez, who has been sidelined for most of this campaign because of domestic issues.
Freddy Kleemann is unlikely to be ready in time for this encounter, as he is still dealing with a problem in his right knee, while Jhojan Valencia has a left knee injury and Maximiliano Urruti missed their fixture in Charlotte for undisclosed reasons.
Colorado Rapids possible starting lineup:
Rodriguez; Esteves, Trusty, Wilson, Rosenberry; Rubio, Warner; Lewis, Kaye, Barrios; Zardes
Austin FC possible starting lineup:
Stuver; Kolmanic, Jimenez, Gabrielsen, Lima; Ring, Pereira; Fagundez, Djitte, Gallagher; Driussi
We say: Colorado Rapids 0-1 Austin FC
One of the few consistencies that we have seen from the Rapids this season is their ability to deter the most potent attacking sides on their home field.
They should be able to keep Austin at bay for a while, but the Verde and Black can probably afford to take a few more chances in this one, given the lack of quality from Colorado in the attacking third, and we expect they will be able to produce a moment of high quality once again.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.
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