Chalk Talk: Despite the Howler, Rapids Improved Defensively

Hendry Thomas, the Boss himself. - Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Bulldog Ben with a timely Chalk Talk for your reading pleasure. Rapids at Dallas, how did we do?

It's no secret that we like Matt Doyle here at Burgundy Wave. The guy is one of the few of the MLS talking heads that actually stands up for Conor Casey, and we here have appreciated that, and as a result have come to trust the resident Armchair Analyst's recommendations and commentaries. We also like the Central Winger even though what he says sometimes doesn't make a lot of sense.

Matt Doyle wrote an article called "Why We Often Miss the Point of Formations" which had some very good insights, and I'm going to let those insights guide me through our little Chalk Talk here about what we can take from the Rapids performance against Dallas.

It's been pretty well agreed that the Rapids performed very well, much better than expected, and aside from the howler from Steward Ceus, everyone was having a pretty good game. Having watched it, I agree with that assessment. There are intangibles, of course, that you can't measure with statistics or events on the Opta chalkboard. There isn't a stat for 'excitement" or "youthful exuberance". But there are stats for things like possession, passing, recoveries... and that's what we're going to go into. But I did want to at least mention that this group of Rapids was the most exciting group of players I've seen put out on the field since... well... ever.

Matt Doyle has three bits of advice for those of us who look at tactics and formations. Specifically for those guys who are absolutely obsessed with starting formations as if they dictate the entirety of the game. You know who you are.

Pay Attention to where the ball is being won.

Ok, Mr. Doyle. Let's do just that. Where were the Rapids winning the ball back. I'm going to do this two ways, one, I am going to look at what they call "recoveries" which is where the Rapids gained back possession. I am going to look at successful tackles, which is self explanatory. I'm also going to look at interceptions, which is also self-explanatory. All three of those are instances where the Rapids won back the ball. Doyle indicates that if your team is winning most of the balls back in "Central Midfield" then we should be dandy.

Matrix No. 1

It looks kind of like a mess, but here's where I divide up the field, like most people, I divide it into Thirds. There's the Attacking Third, the Defensive Third, and then there's the Middle Third, which I think is what we should call "Central Midfield". Are the Rapids winning possession back there more than anywhere else?

The answer appears to be yes. Most of Opta's "events" that involve a recovery, interception, or successful tackle took place in either the central third OR our Attacking Third (which is even better than winning the ball back in Central Midfield). Dallas did not fare as well by comparison. Though they won slightly more tackles, most of their events are clustered closer to their Defensive Third, not in that Central Midfield area or their Attacking Third.

When Oscar Pareja said we were the best team on the field, he has grounds to say that there.

Pay attention to where the ball is being possessed.

Ah, Possession, or as some Rapids fans would call it: "utter nonsense".

Possession is the most misunderstood stat in soccer and it's easy to see why. I've done it too. But Mr.Doyle has a hint: focus on where the ball is being possessed rather than just how much it's being possessed. This is something UZ likes to mention every time I ever bring up possession: fine to knock the ball around, but if it's being knocked around in our defensive third, then it's not really good possession. It's just knocking the ball around. Which is OK, you know, at least the OTHER team isn't knocking the ball around in our half. But it's not GOOD.

You want to possess the ball further up the field than your opponent. Ideally you want to spend more time knocking it around the attacking third than they do. So let's see what Opta has to say about that. How were the Rapids at possessing the ball?

Matrix No. 2

As you can see from this cluster, most of the Rapids "possession" events were happening much more often in Dallas' half of the field. Especially in the middle of the park. Dallas, by contrast, spilled most of their possession out to the wings and there's this huge space right in the hole where there aren't any possessions at all. You can thank Hendry Thomas (and to a lesser but still important extent, Drew Moor) for that one. "The Hole" is imperiously controlled and locked down by Thomas and Moor. Thomas prevents people from making good runs or passes into that area, and Moor can deal with anyone who tries to chip a ball in over the top.

But the Rapids, though, are possessing the ball, or having more events, in their Attacking third, and in Central Midfield, and definitely have control over that central attacking spot in their Attacking third as well. Point to the Rapids.

Pay attention to where they are generating chances.

This is a tricky one since the Rapids didn't actually put any balls in the back of the net--there aren't any assists. But thankfully Opta keeps track of Key Passes (also known by it's other name among some circles as "Bullshit") which at least give us an idea of what the idea was behind the play. So where were the ideas coming from?

Matrix No. 3

Without midfield offensive maestro, Martin Rivero, the Rapids opted to put Dillon Powers in as another linking player to help control the ball in Dallas' defensive third of the field. Think of it like this: Powers controls the attacking third, Mastroeni controls the Central Midfield, and Thomas controls the defensive third. Roughly, that seemed to be the idea.

Most of the offensive ideas were to get the ball into the center of the park and play through there. If the finishing had been better, this would have seemed like genius. But as of now we're just kind of like "eh". But they look like good ideas. As far as wing play goes, the activity is mostly the left side through Brian Mullan and then Tony Cascio, who were putting the ball into dangerous areas in the middle, which became chances mostly scuffed at by Atiba Harris or Deshorn Brown while Kevin Harbottle seemed to be content to roam on the wing and make runs at players. Harbottle was very exciting to watch, but as far as it goes, he wasn't very effective on the night as far as generating any real goal scoring threats. That's probably going to make me some enemies, but I stand by that. Harbottle may have shredded guys with speed and technical skill, but he had problems linking up with anyone in the front.

Powers generated two key passes on the night which resulted in two shots, which is good. That's what we'd hope he'd be doing if he's controlling the Attacking Third. So he did alright for himself there. Those were in the center of the park, which is where we'd expect them to be.

So overall, chances were being generated from the left side, or just above the penalty area, and most of those chances had ambitions to be finished from inside the box. Since the Rapid didn't finish those chances, I can't really give them that much improvement in this category.

But we lost, though.

There's going to be some grumbling at this. Deserved grumbling. We lost anyway. And the big news is going to be Steward Ceus' howler and not how well the Rapids did otherwise. That's why they call it a cruel game. But as far as the numbers go, Dallas was very fortunate to escape with the points and certainly very lucky to get away with all three of them. Rapids fans can hold their head up high on this one.

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