Kansas City, KS – The Colorado Rapids have a mountain to goal deficit at Livestrong Sporting Park on Wednesday in order to advance to the Sunday's Conference Final.
Colorado suffered a 2-0 loss at home in the opening leg on Sunday, a debilitating result given how the match unfolded.
Head coach Gary Smith was forced to make all three substitutions because of injury, preventing the Rapids boss from making any tactical changes that may have influenced the outcome of the game. A red card also forced the Rapids to play a man down for over 30 minutes.
"I'm not sure that the team could have endured many more circumstances than they did," Smith said after the match. "And I've got to say I'm proud of how they came out of the game."
Caleb Folan, Kosuke Kimura, and Drew Moor all sustained injuries that will keep them out of the return leg.
"It's a bit of a strange one that we have as many injuries as we have and then three guys get carried off in a game," said Smith. "I'm not going to say that they were over the top, but I did feel as though the referee could have contained some of the situations a little bit better."
Jamie Smith will also be unavailable after tearing his ACL in Colorado's wild card win over the Columbus Crew, sidelining the midfielder for an even longer period of time.
Midfield general Pablo Mastroeni is doubtful as well, adding to Colorado's injury woes. Mastroeni is still recovering from a concussion that kept him out of Sunday's match.
"I think he's going to be a doubt again for Wednesday," Smith said of Mastroeni. "He's certainly not making enough progress to be a body coming back into the group."
Tyrone Marshall picked up the red card in the 57th minute of Colorado's first- leg loss. Marshall brought down Teal Bunbury, who recorded both goals for Sporting, in the box and was sent off for denying a goal-scoring opportunity.
Such a long list of unavailable players only makes Colorado's already difficult mission of advancing even more challenging. The Rapids now have to produced a positive result with a depleted squad at one of the toughest venues in MLS to get a road win.
Sporting produced an impressive 9-2-6 record at its new soccer specific stadium during the regular season, and returning home with a two-goal aggregate lead has given head coach Peter Vermes confidence in his team's chances of progressing to the next round.
"It puts you in a good position," said Vermes. "The key was to get out of [Colorado] with a result. We got a shutout, but we go home thinking it's 0-0 and we've got to play again. They got rewarded for their discipline, tactically. The game plan was good and the guys executed it very well. We've got to do that again [Wednesday]."
Including the regular season, Sporting has relied on a stellar defense of late to preserve a shutout streak spanning the last 275 minutes.
"When the first players do their job, it makes it easy for the midfield," Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen said. "When the midfield does their job, it makes it easy for the defenders. At the end of the day, I had nothing to do today. It was fantastic."
While Sporting are certainly the favorites to advance, Sunday's hero made it clear that the team is not letting the first-leg result go to their heads.
"There's a second game still," Bunbury said. "It's not over at all. Yeah, we won this game, but Colorado's a very good team. They've been this position before. They've played in playoff games.
"We're going to be at home. Yes, we'll have an advantage, but we have to stay mentally prepared."