When it comes to unpredictable lineups, the Colorado Rapids take the cake. D.C. United will face a very predictable team in terms of how they approach the game, but Pablo Mastroeni's "everyone gets to play" philosophy - well, unless you're shunned-for-no-apparent-reason Shane O'Neill - makes predicting the individuals enacting that gameplan a tricky task.
The job is complicated enough that Colorado's midweek loss in Vancouver will actually serve to narrow down the former US international's options. Midweek games usually throw teams into chaos; for the Rapids, they provide clarity. We know some regulars like Kevin Doyle, Dillon Powers, and Vicente Sanchez were only brought in off the bench, so we can expect them on the field from the opening whistle today. There will still be some confusing spots, but by normal Rapids standards this one's actually kind of easy.
Mastroeni spent a few weeks using a 433, but has reverted back to the 4231 that he's mostly preferred in 2015:
Clint Irwin has been very good this season in goal. I'm still not entirely convinced by his positioning and his decisions to come off of his line, but when it comes to the basics of making the saves he delivers nearly every time. Drew Moor was given a game off against the Whitecaps, and should return at right back. Moor isn't the most mobile fullback, which isn't a surprise since he's really a center back who can fill in out wide. This is par for the course with Colorado though, and United should be looking to exploit Moor's slowing acceleration when attacking his side. Maynor Figueroa should start at left back now that he's back from international duty for Honduras. He's still a good player, but at 32 he might have lost the speed that makes him a capable left back.
In the middle, Bobby Burling has usually started when not suspended and should be expected to carry on tonight. I'd have said Axel Sjoberg would take the other center back role after serving a suspension mid-week, but he's on the injury report under Out (with "undisclosed injury" as the reason why, which is not encouraging when it comes to transparency).
Instead, I'm leaning towards another outing for former United trialist Sean St. Ledger. However, Mastroeni loves a chance to rotate guys, so Jared Watts - himself back from the terrors of Undisclosed Injury - or Navy product Joseph Greenspan could make an appearance as well. For all we know, this may be determined with a game of musical chairs. St. Ledger, if he starts, has looked like a replacement-level MLS bench center back all season with Orlando and the Rapids. Throw in Burling's lack of mobility and a pronounced tendency to foul, and I think United might be able to create something with diagonal runs that force the center backs to track someone slashing in from a wide position.
In central midfield, it's likely that we'll see Sam Cronin and Marcelo Sarvas in the holding roles. However, Mastroeni does like Lucas Pittinari, and could use him in either Cronin's #6 role or as the replacement for Sarvas as the #8. Sarvas is key here: United will need to deny him the space to switch the point of attack. He's still able to swing a 60 yard crossfield pass into dangerous positions, and is in many ways the driving force of the Colorado offense. Cronin and Pittinari are far more comfortable as timekeepers alongside him, connecting simple and unambitious passes while making themselves available.
Sanchez has been big for the Rapids in recent weeks, and it was no major surprise that his 35 year old legs were not tested on the BC Place turf. He's not going to beat anyone with speed; rather, the former Uruguay international is full of tricks and clever passes. Taylor Kemp will not be bullied physically here, but Sanchez is very tough to contain on the dribble. Perhaps more importantly, he delivers an excellent set piece.
should be traded to United immediately because Colorado doesn't use him often enough didn't start in Vancouver, so I expect him to get the nod as the #10 today. Powers is another player that can switch the field, but he's also got the vision to conjure up passes around the edge of the box that others don't. If United is going to limit the Rapids to long shots, they'll need to make sure Powers isn't getting time to face goal and see his options inside the attacking third. Dillon Serna could also start here, but he's much more of a wide midfielder than a central player. If Mastroeni plays him in this role, he's doing United a favor (and US Soccer a disservice, if we're being honest).
The left flank could go to any number of players. Mastroeni has favored Juan Ramirez, but the Argentine import hasn't done much to justify it. He does get into good positions, but tends to waste the opportunity by rushing things. Gabriel Torres has fallen off in recent weeks, but had previously gotten some starts as a left winger. Torres is more of a striker, though, and when playing wide he mostly looks to make late runs inside to become a second forward in the box. Serna really should be getting these starts, but Mastroeni does what Mastroeni does. Ramirez went 90 minutes Wednesday, so Torres (who only played 58 minutes) may be pretty close to getting the starting nod tonight.
Up front, Doyle has been pretty good since Mastroeni stopped trying to use him as a playmaker. It's another very odd decision, because Doyle is a bit of a prototypical lower level Premier League club striker: He's big, he works hard, he welcomes physical play, and he has a nose for goal. He is not a creative force, yet it's only been over the past two months that he's been given the #9 role that he specializes in. United will need to be very strong in the air against him, and they'll also have to watch for his tendency to get free at the back post on crosses that come in along the ground.