Hide the sharp objects, people.
The first leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup 2012 is in the history books, Rapids faithful, and it's a 2-0 win by Real Salt Lake. In other news, the Colorado Rapids have yet to win a match that fell on my birthday. Shucks.
No loss is without lessons, and no Rocky Mountain Cup match goes without strange referee decisions. But what you shouldn't expect from a blog of educated fan commentary is endless complaint about referee decisions. You deserve better than that, Colorado. Instead of complaining about poor decisions, we're going to get down to brass tax.
It's not going to be pretty, but I promise we'll all learn something. Follow me past the jump, dear Rapids fans.
I'd argue that the referee decision not to call the handball on Fabian Espindola wasn't the call that decided the match against Colorado. For me, the decision to start Tyrone Marshall in the back and Drew Moor in the middle and play what looked like a defensive 4-5-1 (4-2-3-1) was the decision that cost the Rapids the early momentum, lost the possession battle in the first half (badly) and finally when the decision was made to switch to a more aggressive 4-3-3, the Rapids eventually won the possession battle (a good sign) but it was too little too late.
Real Salt Lake, after the second goal, switched from their early high-pressure game to allow the Rapids more pressure. The toothless offense that came from isolating Omar Cummings in the lone forward role made Real Salt Lake feel comfortable dropping off in midfield, allowing Colorado to win the possession battle, ultimately. Oscar Pareja decided the best strategy would be to counter Salt Lake's possession game with a defensive midfield. His cleverness did not pay off as it had for previous Rapids managers (Gary Smith) because unlike Gary Smith, Pareja does not have a forward who can play the lone forward role convincingly (Conor Casey).
Pareja explained later that his decision not to start rookie sensation (and Uz's favorite flavor) Tony Cascio was out of concern for the player's fatigue. However, as things grew desperate after Espindola's goal, Pareja put in Cascio to immediate effect. The Rapids shifted to a more offensive style and managed to put pressure on goal. Though Omar Cummings playing as a lone forward still produced no goals.
The decision to play Drew Moor at midfield was not a good decision, as it turned out. Moor's leadership on the back line was sorely missed on Alvaro Saborio's first goal after Tony Beltran snuck in a cross behind the defense. He was also missed because Kosuke Kimura was being utterly demolished by Real's offense. I've never seen a player more picked out (save for Brian Mullan) than Kosuke. Real Salt Lake realized that Kimura is key to getting in behind the defense. Attacking down the wings (as so many have in the past) and attacking Kimura specifically, yielded a bevy of chances. Mullan also received his fair share of tackles.
All told, the match yielded 14 fouls for RSL and 7 fouls for Colorado. 3 Yellow Cards for RSL and 2 for Colorado (though one of them was for dissent when Matt Pickens argued with the referee about the handball incident).
Lesson One: Drew Moor is a Center Back, there aren't many better Center Backs in the league. Drew Moor should always play Center Back.
Lesson Two: Omar Cummings is not a lone forward. Omar Cummings needs strike partners and outlets up top who can unleash his potential.
Lesson Three: Do not let the opponent dictate the kind of game you play. Play the entertaining game that Rapids fans have become used to seeing this year and you'll look better, you'll win possession, and who knows, you might even win the game.
And let's not play this little game of "Apparently" or "Possibly" or "According to Rapids fans" Fabian Espindola handled the ball. No. He did. The referee and the linesman did not catch it from their angle, but we all saw it. This is not a matter of tongue in cheek "well, maybe he did maybe he didn't, who knows what happened!" No. This was a missed call.
That being said, it wasn't a missed call that cost Colorado the game. Eventually the Rapids will have to rely on scoring more goals than their opposition by playing their new attractive attacking brand of soccer rather than on the mercy of MLS referees to win the day.
There's still two games left, Rapids fans. Let's hope that we take the lessons from this one to heart.