2019 MLS Week 26 Preview — New York Red Bulls (12-5-11) vs. Colorado Rapids (7-6-14)

It is an introduction for Robin Fraser and a fond farewell for an icon who began his career with the club he now faces as an opponent for the final time.

The Colorado Rapids play their first match under Fraser while keeper Tim Howard will be between the sticks against the franchise he made his MLS debut with over 20 years ago in Saturday’s contest versus the New York Red Bulls.

Fraser is the third coach for the Rapids (7-6-14) this year, having fired Anthony Hudson on May 1 after an 0-7-2 start and then hiring Fraser on Sunday to replace interim Conor Casey. Fraser is the ninth coach in franchise history and played with the Rapids from 2001-03.

He also made 27 international appearances for the U.S. and had been an assistant at Toronto FC since 2015. Fraser was part of the staff that claimed a domestic treble in 2017 and also an assistant at Real Salt Lake, now-defunct Chivas USA, and the Red Bulls before joining the Reds.

“I’m thrilled to be back with the Colorado Rapids and eager to lead this club forward into what I believe can be a successful period in the club’s history,” Fraser said at his introductory press conference. “I consider Colorado to be home, I’ve played here, coached here and I know the soccer community in this state. I’m committed to the club’s vision and I’m excited to work with this strong group of players and especially the nucleus of young, talented players we have at the club.”

With seven matches remaining and a 13-point gap between the Rapids and seventh-place FC Dallas, the stretch run will be a time for player evaluation for Fraser and his staff. Colorado does have some offensive talent as Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio, who have 20 of the team’s 43 league goals, but the bigger concern is a porous defense that has shipped 54 goals – better than only first-year MLS club FC Cincinnati.

That has spoiled the farewell tour for the 39-year-old Howard, whose storied career began as a teenager in 1998 with the MetroStars – who were eventually bought by Red Bull in 2006 and rebranded the team with its current identity. Howard became a starter in 2001, and two years later found himself between the sticks at Manchester United in the English Premier League.

After two seasons at Old Trafford he moved to Everton, where he won 148 Premier League matches before returning to the MLS with Colorado in 2016. He is the most capped U.S. goalkeeper with 121 appearances and backstopped the Yanks in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. Howard set a single-match World Cup record with 15 saves in the 2016 round of 16 loss to Belgium.

Howard has been kept nearly as busy as that heralded match in Brazil with far worse results. Colorado is wrapping up a four-match road swing with this match and coming off a 2-0 defeat to Rocky Mountain Cup rival Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Kamara was given a straight red card late for a studs-up challenge, ruling him out of this match, and both central midfielder Kellyn Acosta and center back Lalas Abubakar will also be missing due to yellow card accumulation. Colorado has taken just seven points from its 13 road matches (1-4-8) and is winless in the last seven (0-4-3).

The Red Bulls (12-5-11) are trying to hang onto the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, which carries home-pitch advantage for the first round of the new single-game elimination MLS playoff format. New York was unable to complete a sweep of the Hudson River Derby last Saturday, losing 2-1 at New York City FC and dropping six points behind its archrival for third.

New York squandered an early lead courtesy of Alex Muyl in the 10th minute as Maxi Moralez and Heber scored in a 10-minute span on either side of halftime. One bright note for the Red Bulls was the long-awaited debut of winger Josh Sims, who was signed on loan from Premier League side Southampton.

The 22-year-old entered as a substitute in the 65th minute and proved threatening despite the Red Bulls’ failure to find an equalizer.

“It’s been a long time coming, obviously getting the Visa and things like that,” Sims told ProSoccer USA. “But I’m happy I’m here now and it was a good first game to get out there. It’s a shame about the result, but the boys done well and it was nice to get out there.”

(Tim Howard photo courtesy Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

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