I get a bit cynical on Twitter when I hear the word "injuries" come from the Front Office of any sports team. Whether it be the USMNT having injuries to their two right backs, then having an injury take out their last resort in Jose Torres, or it be Arsenal talking about why they will spend yet another season without adding to their trophy case. "Injury" is the panacea to fans so that we can talk amongst ourselves and say "well, we woulda won if it weren't for missing Jack Wilshire, I'm sure when he comes back everything will be better."
We've been through this dance before, but right now I want to talk about something good. I want to talk about a magical place in Colorado where depth is not a problem. In fact, we've only talked about it as a problem area once in this entire season.
I want to talk about the midfield. I want to talk about what "having depth" means when you've actually got it. In the end, both statistically and in fan perception: it means that you will see the same product on display week in and week out regardless of who happens to make the starting 11.
So, how bout dat midfield?
I want to look at the loss of two key players in midfield, and see if that makes a big difference with regards to the kind of game that's played. Results, of course, may vary, and they do, but we're focusing on performance for now and then we'll focus on results later.
So how am I rating the midfield? Considering most of the Rapids passing is happening in the middle third of the field, what I thought would be a good metric for how the midfield is doing is how many passes get completed versus how many go wanting. The results are fairly to mildly shocking, and I'm not sure in what would be best to interpret them. So let's look.
Let's take a good win with Captain Pablo and Brian Mullan playing on the same field. Columbus was a pretty good one, even though Pablo went out with an injury, but when hasn't that been the case this year? Anyway, so the passes complete to to incomplete was 151/53, or about 74%.
Now let's take a bad loss without Pablo or Jeff Larentowicz, the New York Red Bulls game. How did that go for our passing? Pretty bad, right? Nope. Turns out our midfield passing accuracy was even better with 139/31, or about 81%.
And what happens when you put Martin Rivero into the mix? How does that go for our passing in the midfield? How about that Chivas game for a good game when we had Rivero in the mix and were playing against 11 guys? We get 161/51 or about 75%.
What's the big difference between these games? For one thing, the Rapids lost the possession battle overall against Chivas and New York Red Bull, but that's not the thing that I think really makes passing accuracy translate to winning games.
Rapids attempts on Goal v Columbus? 17. Chivas? 15. New York? 8.
Yes, you can win the occasional lucky game (Montreal Impact, anyone? Philadelphia Union?) with less than 10 shots on goal. But a good Rapids win means at least 15 attempts on goal. That's just attempts. That's just trying to get a goal going. The more our midfield is able to assert control and be confident in possession of the ball, which translates into better passing accuracy... the more chances we should have to go forward and make an attempt on goal.
So what's the deal? Our midfield has been consistent, even with injuries, why are results varying?
My answer: Because defensive depth is still lacking.
I brought this up on Twitter and got a couple different responses. Most telling was Club President Tim Hinchey's statement:
This is crucial because it's someone from the Front Office acknowledging what we've been saying this whole time: it's not a problem of injuries as much as it's a problem with depth. If Scott Palguta and Tyrone Marshall are not a centerback pairing that is capable of winning trophies, then it's less likely that the Rapids will win a trophy.