COMMERCE CITY CO - AUGUST 28, 2010: Danny Earls in a familiar position, ball watching. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
You knew it was coming, didn't you?
As soon as you saw the lineup including a left flank of Wells Thompson and Danny Earls, you knew it would be bad. As soon as you saw a lineup that didn't include Jamie Smith, you knew it would be bad. When you saw that Omar Cummings wasn't starting up top, you knew it would be bad.
In short, if you didn't see this coming a mile away just by looking at the starting lineup, you're even more of a homer than I am.
Granted, I (and everyone who was not paid by Herbalife to be at the game) was pulling for the Rapids even into the dying minutes. But it was apparent that this was an uphill climb from minute one.
Some people have wondered why Smith played Danny Earls.The youngster has proven too timid time and time again. He doesn't have the ferocity that it takes to defend in this league against even the worst of teams. But I wasn't one of those people. That wasn't my question.
My question is why Gary Smith keeps insisting that Danny Earls is a defender.
Oh, and that Wells Thompson is a midfielder, but first thing's first:
The Rapids left flank: the eternal achilles heel.
The Rapids have still yet to find a truly great left back. Anthony Wallace is a great young talent, but has huge anticipation problems (which are due to inexperience) which end up leaving an opposing player with enough space to make a play down the flank. This usually results in one of our Midfielders having to pull back and help defend and cover the space left over by this poor anticipation. But Earls is so bad at this, so timid, that the whole zone to the left of goal became the launching pad for every single Galaxy goal.
Wells Thompson didn't fare any better. Instead of getting back and helping Earls close down the winger, he would drop back towards goal to defend the incoming ball. The defense on the left was an absolute mess that night. Even Caleb Folan had to drop way back and defend at times. There should never be a need for that. Folan would never have gotten that red card if he weren't having to defend. In fact, our offense was terrible on the night, considering the weaponry.
All because our left side is incredibly weak defensively.
But I'm loathe to put it all on Danny Earls. The fact is, the boy is played out of position. He's much better at getting forward than Thompson, much better at beating defenders (whereas Wells Thompson seems to have perfected a "lose the ball and then scramble to get it back and then get a Yellow card" strategy), and much more likely to put in a cross or actually take a chance with a shot on goal.
In short, Thompson should have been the defender, and Earls should have been the midfielder, not the other way around.
Nick Thomas of mlssoccer.com had said similar things about Earls last year during an episode of Bleeding Burgundy(the podcast produced by members of Rapids supporters' group Class VI). He said that he also feels Earls looks like a guy who is played out of position. Watching Earls' performances at left back, I am inclined to agree with him.
On the other hand, what Danny Earls does do well was also on display that evening: beating defenders. In fact, the only time I've ever seen Danny Earls put pressure on anyone, it's a defender up the left flank. Whereas Wells Thompson can't seem to do anything but lose the ball. Again: Wells Thompson is a defender, Danny Earls is a midfielder.
Of course, nothing is just that simple. And the problem of the left flank would continue even if Gary Smith decided to pull this suggested switch. You would still see people attacking the left side relentlessly. That's a huge problem for the Rapids, because since the center of the park is clogged with Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz, it behooves opponents to try to spread the game down the sides. If we have one side that's particularly weak, we're going to see more of this as teams with any sort of tactical acumen at the helm will try to pulverize that left side.
Why not play Wallace? Honestly, Wallace would have been just as tested, and perhaps would have given up fewer chances, that's true. But the problem still remains. The left back spot needs to be filled somehow.
Now, early in the year, there was a rumor that Rapids had a target playing in Greece. I thought the obvious answer was Skoda Xanthi Left Back Jordan Stewart. The connections to the club sealed it for me: Stewart used to play at Leicester City (Steve Guppy's old club) and at Watford (Gary Smith spent some time there) and also at Derby County (connection through FO personell). He also fits a particular need for the club: an athletic, attack minded, experienced starting Left Back.
If the Rapids get that, then the game changes, and I think you'll see far less of these results going against the Rapids at home. It can't come soon enough.