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Colorado Rapids prepping for unique challenges ahead of NYCFC clash

Colorado Rapids midfielder Michael Azira (22) and New York City FC midfielder Thomas McNamara (15) battle for the ball ahead of midfielder Maximiliano Moralez (10) in the second half at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Rattled by injuries and in the midst of a four-game winless skid, the Colorado Rapids face a formidable test as they travel east to face New York City FC on Saturday.

Complicating things for Rapids head coach Anthony Hudson is the fact that his side will be without the services of Jack Price for the first time this season. The 25-year-old will spend the weekend serving a suspension due to yellow card accumulation.

The likely candidate to replace Price this weekend is 30-year-old Micheal Azira.

“Mike’s worked hard,” said Hudson. “It’s been tough for him playing a lot last year and not playing this year. We’ve got quite a few knocks at the moment in terms of players out. We just need to look at how we’re going to do it, which players are going to play where. So we’ll see.”

The Ugandan hasn’t started a game for Colorado since last September, and has only played a total of 20 minutes under Hudson, but he’s ready for the opportunity.

“I just want to play for the team and give everything I have,” said Azira. “I try to defend, but I’ll try to go forward as much as I can because coach Hudson wants us to go forward a lot. For me, I try to encourage everyone and motivate everyone to play for each other, so we can win a game.”

Improving his own attacking play has been a personal goal for Azira and has been a primary adjustment under the 3-5-2 system Hudson has implemented since his arrival to Colorado.

“Every year you should try to develop as a human being and that’s been one of my goals; to be able to go forward more,” Azira explained. “Hopefully I’m able to grow into that and I’m looking forward to when the chance comes around.”

Colorado won’t expect to lose much defensively, or in bite. Like Price, Azira isn’t one to shy away from taking a yellow card, when the game requires it.

“In this kind of game, you have to take one if it’s what the team needs,” said Azira. “We have to match their intensity and close down as quickly as we can.

Boateng still frontrunner at right back

In the absence of Marlon Hairston, who went down with a knee injury against Philadelphia on April 28, the Rapids have struggled to find a replacement at right back. Hudson has experimented with the likes of Kip Colvey, Dillon Serna and Bismarck “Nana” Boateng in Hairston’s absence.

Colvey has started three matches, logging 208 minutes, while Serna has played in 159 minutes over six games. But neither has done enough to carve out a role in Hudson’s eyes.

“I’ve wanted both of those two to take their chance and they’ve been given opportunities,” he said. “I just haven’t felt they have for different reasons. Now, they’re both good players in their own way, but they need to convince me in that role.”

Despite mixed results, Hudson still favors Boateng as the man for the job while Hairston works his way back from injury.

Explained Hudson, “We’ve looked at Nana playing there. For me, in the progression of what we’re trying to do, we need to be more attacking. Now we’ve brought Sam Nicholson in and Johan Blomberg. Once they get fit I want to get more attacking with our wingbacks and attacking midfielders and I believe with the profile of our No. 8s, they can play in that role as well.”

“That’s where my thinking is, but I’m still waiting for someone to take that role and nail it.”

Once Hairston is healthy however, he looks to be far and away the starter at the position.

“I think he’s really suited to that role,” said Hudson. “Before he got injured, he was really at times leading the things we were trying to get like the press. He was instigating the press, starting to understand what we wanted from an attacking sense, he was combining well with Johan [Blomberg]. Marlon is perfect for that role and we’ve missed him.”

No room to breathe

At a calculated 7,700 square yards, NYCFC’s Yankee Stadium pitch is 15 percent smaller than Colorado’s. Hudson’s side has prepped for the challenge over the past week by training on an adjusted field and anticipating the tactical challenge it brings.

“We’ve been bouncing a few ideas around,” Hudson said. “We just need to figure out how we can get our best players on the pitch. It’s a smaller pitch, we’ve shortened our field and it’s crazy to see in comparison compared to what we’ve been training on.”

Colorado Rapids Injury Notes:

  • Forward Dominique Badji (hamstring) is being evaluated day-to-day. He participated in light activities on the ball with other recovering teammates on Tuesday.
  • Midfielder Johan Blomberg (leg) was near a return to full team activities, but sidelined by illness this week, according to Hudson
  • Midfielder Marlon Hairston (knee) participated in drills with a ball and is expected to return to team activities next week. Given the fitness demands of the wingback in Hudson’s system, it could be a couple more weeks before he returns to game action.
  • Defender Kortne Ford (MCL sprain) has returned to drills with a ball and is on the “same timeline” as Hairston, meaning the pair could return to team activities next week.
  • Midfielder Stefan Aigner, who has been a healthy scratch for large portions of the season under Hudson due to “performance”, participated in training with the second team on Tuesday.

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