Jermaine Jones can be the game-changer for Colorado Rapids

Heading into the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday, the Colorado Rapids are trailing the LA Galaxy 1-0, but they’re hardly done for. They can overcome the one-goal deficit, but the away goals tiebreaker — they have none — makes it so they absolutely must prevent the Galaxy from scoring in Colorado.

That’s where Jermaine Jones comes in. When he’s at his best, he’s a disruptive enforcer, ball-winner and unstoppable defensive presence, which is everything the Rapids will need.

The Rapids have barely had Jones since an injury over the summer. He played one half last weekend against LA, but all indications are that he should start on Sunday, his first start since July 4. Getting Jones for a full 90 minutes and at full fitness may very well be the key to help the Rapids take the series in a second-leg shutout.

With Jones as a starter this regular season, the Rapids never lost, going 5-0-3. When Jones did not start, the Rapids went 10-6-10. It’s a small and imperfect sample to draw conclusions from, especially because the Rapids have done so well overall this year. But it doesn’t take a detailed stats breakdown to see that the Rapids are better with Jones on the field.

He plays in an advanced role for Colorado in a version of a 4-2-3-1 and in the attack he makes the Rapids more dangerous. He had a particularly excellent effort on goal not long after subbing in last week from some 25 yards out. His fired rocket forced goalkeeper Brian Rowe to make a pretty spectacular save, and more of that would surely go along way for the Rapids this weekend.

But more important than that is what Jones does defensively. He never stops moving and he seems to cover more ground than anyone on the pitch as he disrupts the opposition and cuts out passes. He’s a ball-winner who can shut down the central midfield and that is exactly what the Rapids will need.

For the Rapids to advance, in all likelihood they need to shut the Galaxy out on Sunday. If the Galaxy manage even just one away goal, that means the Rapids will need to score three times on Sunday to win the series. That’s asking a lot from the Rapids, which were the lowest-scoring regular season team in MLS to make the playoffs.

That’s why Jones may end up being the key. The Galaxy outplayed the Rapids far more than the score line suggested last weekend – LA are at their most dangerous when they can settle into a rhythm, play out the back and string passes together, which is exactly what they did. Sebastian Lletget and Baggio Husidic had their way in the central midfield, constantly helping knock the ball around going forward and winning the ball back in transition.

If Jones can prevent the Galaxy from getting into a rhythm, which he is more than capable of, the Galaxy shouldn’t be able to add an away goal to their tally. Add in some attacking sparks like we’ve seen from Jones for both club and country, and that just might be enough to get the Rapids through. A 1-0 result would ensure an extra time where the Rapids can win it, or a 2-0 win would allow the Rapids to advance outright.

The Rapids have been waiting a long time for their star Designated Player to return. Now that he’s back, he just might need to carry the team on his back.