There was recently a great article posted up at another fan site, written by former Rapids beat-writer Nick Thomas. It's called "Managing Change" and it's as intelligent as it is critical. But what I'd like to examine is that principle of change. I'd like to look at what that means and where Nick says that Oscar Pareja may be handling change badly, I'd say he's handling it about as well as Gary Smith did back in his first full year in charge in 2009.
For even more comparison, I'm going to take a look at two of our closer rivals (closer both in style and in geographic location) Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas and see how Jason Kreis and Schellas Hyndmann did in their first full year in charge.
Please note: these numbers are not going to be perfect, by any means. There are a lot of factors that are unquantifiable, but it's useful to at least have them to see how we stack up. For example, Smith, Kreis, and Hyndmann both took over their respective teams in the midseason of the previous season to their first full season. But we're comparing seasons to seasons.
Here we are at the stat breakdown land.
We stand right now at 19 points on the season and 21 goals. Seems pretty bad.
I don't have a copy of the standings of where we were in 2009, but I do have the points from that time because I used a hand feature on MLSsoccer.com where I can go back and look at our old schedule from every year of the league and see how all our fixtures turned out. Up to this date in the league, we would have had 22 points and 19 goals scored.
So we won one more tight game than we lost last season. 3 point difference. Given that Gary Smith had another half of a season on Oscar Pareja and had to deal with completely different challenges. I'm willing to call this one a draw. Smith and Pareja are doing equally well, or equally poorly. You decide on that one. Smith certainly had challenges aplenty, but so did Pareja. We don't need to air out old business, but suffice to say that both of them had to put together some shambles in their first year.
Funny thing, though. Oscar Pareja has actually won more games than Smith did in his first year as coach at this time. Smith had only 5 wins to his name in 2009 by this time. Pareja has 6. The reason he has more points on the day is because where Pareja would lose a game, Smith would draw it. Smith had 6 Draws up till this point in the season. Pareja has only has 1.
How does this stack up to teams that are our rivals? Teams that have also tried to play "good football" in their first year? Jason Kreis' Real Salt Lake were at 19 points at this time in his first full year in charge, 2008. Remember also, Kreis took over RSL from John Ellinger technically in May of 2007, so pretty early in that season. So he had much more time with the squad. The very next year, 2009, would be the year Kreis took RSL to the MLS Cup. We all know and loathe what happened after that. But looking back at 2008, no one would have guessed RSL would become as dominant as they are today. So... remember that.
For all of FC Dallas' troubles today...
Nothing like coming home 2 my precious angels, asleep on the couch, waiting on Daddy. Love carrying them 2 bed! At least they appreciate me!
(yes, this started a ridiculous and unnecessary drama bomb)
...they were a dominant force in 2010 and 2011. 2011 actually had me convinced they would have a boss 2012. They did not. And in Schellas Hyndmann's first year in charge? They ended up with 20 points at this point of the season. Again, Schellas took over pretty early in the season prior, but we're comparing full seasons here. Old Butter-Leather Hyndmann had 20 points, just one more than we do currently because they drew one more match than we did by this time. It took Schellas Hyndmann another two seasons before he would take FC Dallas to the 2010 MLS Cup final, and ultimately lose to... well, we know that story.
What am I trying to tell you Rapids fans?
So look at how we stack up to ourselves, look at how we stack up to our rivals. Of course, comments on Facebook are pretty grim. A lot of armchair coaches are popping up saying what they would do if the team was theirs. Who they would bench, who Pareja should and shouldn't play. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else (has anyone heard me mention Scott Palguta?) but the sad truth is that a lot of this comes down to sports fan psychology. Every year is either the worst or best year of the team. There's a kind of amnesia that goes along with being a sports fan. Last season matters so little that you're left in the current season without any kind of guidance as to "well, what does this actually mean?"
The fact is, Oscar Pareja is a new coach. In fact, this is his first ever head coaching gig. He's impressing his style on players and trying to figure out who the personell is going to be to give him the winning results and the winning style he wants. The players are still trying to figure out how to play their new positions. Some have taken to it really well (Jeff Larentowicz) and others have had more difficulty adjusting to their new roles (Kosuke Kimura).
Of course, coaches are accountable to their results, but a healthy dose of realism is a good thing.
And at the end of the day, Oscar Pareja isn't Peter Nowak, so there's always that.