Pictured: A wild Brian Mullan in his natural habitat, rumored to be spotted at Crew Stadium yesterday. Rumors are largely unsubstantiated evidence.
MLS recently introduced a wonderful new feature called the Chalkboard, brought to you by OptaSports. After every game we will be dissecting a player or two from the Rapids using the Chalkboard from the previous game.
Brian Mullan is one of the biggest reasons that the Colorado Rapids won the MLS Cup in 2010. The trade for him gave the Rapids something that they lacked for the entire season before that - a veteran, offensively minded winger who could also play defense with anyone in the league. He played fairly well as the 2011 season began as well, up until that terrible Steve Zakuani incident.
Unfortunately, the rust from a 10 game suspension seemed to hit Mullan very hard against the Columbus Crew during that 4-1 crapfest that the Rapids put on yesterday in what was supposed to be his triumphant return. Join me after the jump for a little analysis.First, you have to understand what kind of a player Brian is supposed to be. Mullan's best attributes have always been his defensive ability, his fantastic distribution and his ability to be all over the pitch, extending from box to box and contributing to both the attack and defense all over the pitch. And even on his off days, he is almost always at the very least a neutral force on the field when he's not playing well. We saw absolutely none of that from Brian yesterday and he if anything was actually hurting the team a hell of a lot more than he was helping it.
Brian's passing was terrible yesterday overall, with a 2:1 ratio of successful to unsuccessful passes, an 18-9 count in favor of successful. Certainly not a bad number for say a striker but for a guy known for making great passes it's largely unimpressive. He rarely attempted to cross and only tried a single through ball - a long and unsuccessful one that was going toward the corner rather than the goal - seeming to prefer to leave the crossing and good distribution to Jamie Smith.
Speaking of Jamie, take a gander at his heat map compared to Brian's. If it seemed like Scott Palguta was being left in the dark a lot more often than usual on the left side of the field, it's because it was completely true. Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni stayed in the middle of the field while Jamie Smith wandered pretty much the entire pitch, but Mullan seemed uncharacteristically stuck on the right side. While Jamie was setting himself in the middle and sometimes even right near where Brian was set up, the Crew completely dominated the left side of the pitch. Anor Bernardo and Josh Gardner especially were able to take the spot where usually Mullan would be sneaking into the play to defend and completely took control; Gardner in particular had over 67 successful passes and only 19 unsuccessful with almost all of his play coming on the left.
With Brian staying on the right side for almost the entirety of his 70 or so minutes of play, you would assume that he would at least do something useful over there. You would unfortunately be wrong again. After a week of speculation about how the Zakuani incident would affect Mullan's usually strong and hard-nosed defense, Mullan unfortunately showed that the speculation may be true; throughout the entire game he only made a single tackle to win the ball along with one block - a block that was right along the byline, but a block nonetheless - all in the first half after the two goals had already been conceded.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Mullan was a huge reason why the Rapids lost this game - those boneheaded errors from Scott Palguta and Kosuke Kimura were 100% responsible for 3/4 of the goals conceded thanks to giving away free breakaways to great players like Andres Mendoza. However, Mullan is supposed to be a game-changer; it was the role that he played for so much of the Rapids late season and playoff run. He was nothing of the sort in the game against the Crew, and the Rapids were certainly worse off for it.