Following up on the recent FanPost dealing with the San Jose loss (where I suggested that the 4-2-3-1 was not the best formation against a San Jose squad if you are going to play Atiba Harris), I decided to do a little further digging to confirm further why Colorado was so inept last Wednesday.
I have questioned why Harris should even have been on the field, but if you were going to use him, to place him in a position to actually use his talents. Using him in a 4-2-3-1 meant he was essentially playing the role of either a wing-striker (usually attributed with speed, which Harris does not have) or a right-attacking mid-fielder, usually attributed with footwork and touch, necessary to work with other teammates to create opportunities up the right side. People complained Rivero failed to perform his role as the CAM (Central Attacking Midfielder). However, I suspect a large reason for Rivero’s tendency to trend left was due to the inclusion of Harris on the right side. Whether by design (Pareja’s game plan required Rivero go left) or by game-play decision making (Rivero and others do not trust Rivero).
Since Harris has neither speed nor touch, and is not exactly known for being a Wondolowski style poacher (probably due to lack of speed, and his size….he is a poor man’s Eddie Johnson….a really poor man’s EJ), he was left out on the mid-field wing trying to be a facilitator to Buddle....
As you can see, the OPTA data bears this out, and really explains the overall reason San Jose eventually prevailed:
Item 1: Colorado Successful vs. Unsuccessful Passing
If you look, these two charts, you will notice the following: A) Successful passing was horizontal, short passing indicating that the Rapids were struggling to create aggressive, forward opportunities that succeeded. While their failed passes were comprised of their attempts at getting Buddle service. But what is even more telling is the number of attempts into the 18' by Atiba Harris. Again, Harris's talents are his ability to get a header into the net. Not providing service into the 18' box.
Colorado Successful Passing - Middle of the field
In addition to a sign the Rapids were struggling moving the ball forward, and finding areas to attack San Jose, they barely successfully passed the ball into the final 1/3rd of the field (or in this case, near the 18 and corners where they could better provide service to Buddle.
Now - the Rapids were trying to move the ball through Rivero/Sanchez. Unlike San Jose, they were moving the ball through the middle-of-the-field, which is something you would expect when you have two talents such as Rivero and Sanchez. The only problem, was, they were unable to move the ball once they got near the 18. My opinion, is this was made worse by the Colorado tendency to concentrate play in the left side of the field, allowing for San Jose to focus defensive emphasis on the left side.
Colorado Unsuccessful Passing: Middle of the Field
Notice the number of passes into the 18' by #16....Mr. Atiba Harris
San Jose was able to either force the Rapids into passes back-and-forth, and away from the goal, or forced them into dropping long passes into the 18, trying to get Buddle involved. In addition, the pass attempts from the right side of the field into the 18 were from farther back than on the left side...indicating again, a failure of the right side of the field to get the ball up the field far enough to create more opportunities and/or generate better service to Buddle into the box.
And look at what this yielded:
Compare this to San Jose:
San Jose Successful Passing:
Which yielded the following shot opportunities:
But what about Pareja's defensive considerations?
Now, some have suggested that Harris was in place for defensive reasons...and Pareja was willing to give up offensive soccer, possession oriented soccer, and the ability to counter San Jose. In fact, as much as Pareja was upset at the style of play, his decision to play Harris seemed to play right into a bunker-ball, crash the box, ugly style of soccer. Had he played a different winger, able to better manager an offensive approach up the right-side, who knows what this might have done.
My issue with this:
A) San Jose was bypassing the midfield (see above, see how much of the half-line is empty, indicating passes were initiated before hitting the mid-field, and bypassing the mid-field defensive, such as Harris
B) Harris's defense given the above, meant that his main skill set defensively (defending against crosses and corners) was only utilized during corners, since, San Jose bypassed him in the mid-field, and moved the ball quick enough as to ensure he likely rarely got into the position to defend against the open-play crosses into the box. Looking at Harris's defensive production below, he 50% were completely away from the 18, and 3 were in the 18, which were comprised of corners. Not exactly a major contributor defensively either, especially where it counts.
My main assertion is that Pareja played right into San Jose's hands, by setting a line-up that was built to play San Jose style bunker ball. Except...San Jose plays bunker ball, especially at home, better than anyone. Of course Colorado ended up playing their game....and losing. You beat San Jose with speed. When you have a back 4 and keeper the way Colorado does, I think you trust them to defend against San Jose, and try to force San Jose to keep up with your speed and ball control along the ground ability. I still contend, that had Pareja used a smaller, quicker line-up, or played Harris in a 4-4-2, where he would have been less involved in the mid-field, and more involved near the 18;, this team may have been able to dictate their style of play, especially offensively.