COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Having dropped seven-straight games in league play, the Colorado Rapids are eager to get back on track with a win in tonight’s U.S. Open Cup fourth round matchup with Nashville SC.
“Our approach is: We want to win the game,” Rapids head coach Anthony Hudson told Pro Soccer USA. “So, we’re going to put out the strongest team we have with the players we have available.”
With both a game tonight and Saturday, this week offers a prime opportunity for Hudson to ramp up workload for players who have missed significant time due to injury the past month, including Johan Blomberg, who returned last Saturday against Vancouver, and Marlon Hairston, who is eager to return to the lineup for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in early April.
“I feel good,” said Hairston. “I’ve been back with the team for a couple weeks training in full. I haven’t had any problems with the knee so it’s good to be back. Right now, I’m just waiting for my opportunity. When my number gets called, I’ll be ready.”
“Certainly, for Marlon, there’s an opportunity,” Hudson added. “For Johan as well, but we don’t want to kill him with three games in a short span. But we have a plan.”
It’s promising news considering Hairston has shown to be Colorado’s best option at right wingback, despite multiple opportunities given to teammates in his absence. Injuries continue to plague the Rapids, however. Defender Kortne Ford (knee), who was previously on a similar timetable as Hairston, has experienced setbacks in his recovery and is still questionable. Midfielder Shkëlzen Gashi, who has struggled with various injuries throughout this season, experienced another setback with a groin pull during training and will likely be unavailable this week. Centerback Axel Sjöberg is out, pending completion of concussion protocol following a head injury suffered against Vancouver.
Midfielder Stefan Aigner, who has only featured in 11 minutes this season due to various issues, was not present at this week’s practices and has not been made available to reporters.
“We’ve had a few knocks and there will be one or two players in there that we’re going to give a chance to as well,” Hudson said. “We’re trying to get the balance right, but we’ll see how we want to play.”
Having coached PDL side Real Maryland Monarchs from 2008-10, Hudson is well aware of the Open Cup and the eagerness a lower-level side has in knocking off a bigger club. Led by former Rapids head coach Gary Smith and featuring former Rapids players Kosuke Kimura, Matt Pickens and 2018 draft pick Alan Winn, Nashville enters the match with plenty of incentive.
But with hopes to prevent a Nashville upset, the Rapids coaching staff has been prepping for tonight’s matchup the same manner as they would for an MLS regular season game.
“The majority of the time, the team with the most quality wins, but there are times when the smaller team wins,” Hudson explained. “The key difference is going to be attitude for us. We have to make sure that we go there, we don’t underestimate the opposition, we don’t underestimate the challenge and we’re professional.”
In a season where Colorado hasn’t racked up results, the Rapids’ sense of urgency remains high.
“It’s been a tough stretch for us, but it’s not something we’re going to shy away from as a team,” said Hairston. “We still have a long season ahead of us and we’re ready to get back and right our wrongs. We’re in a situation where we need results so we’re going for it.”