Soccer enthusiasts across the country finally released their wound up anxiety this past weekend, as the start of another season came and passed. It was a painful weekend for most Rapids fans, however, as they had to sit and watch the highs and lows of teams not their own. The game most fans will have jealously tuned into was that of the Rapid's first opponent, Red Bull New York, against the Vancouver Whitecaps. But before you read too much into what transpired, let's take a look at some reasons to be hopeful, and some reasons why this week the Red Bulls will be different.
Reasons to be hopeful:
New York's center backs on Saturday were slow. Painfully slow. They weren't just slow physically either, they were slow to react and slow to adjust to Vancouver's fleet-footed front four. The Whitecaps (who also run a 4-2-3-1) demolished the Red Bulls for most of Saturday with a 4-1 scoreline, but it very easily could have been 8-0. Watch in the 17th minute how Mattocks screams past Armando and receives a beautiful through ball from Laba, only to put a weak shot right at Robles. Then, a minute later, it's Sebastian Fernandez and Mattocks who combine, leaving Armando looking like an elephant in quicksand. If not for the last minute heroics of Richard Eckersley, Mattocks very well could have opened the scoring. Armando, at 29, is New York's youngest center back (excluding homegrown player, Matt Miazga). Olave and Sekagya are 32 and 33 respectively. Not exactly spring chickens on the backline.
It is for this reason I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Deshorn Brown start at striker for the Rapids come Saturday. Brown and his Jamaican countryman, Mattocks, have very similar playing styles (one could even argue similar finishing deficiencies), but Brown's confidence must be at an all-time high. If given similar scoring opportunities against the Red Bulls, one would wager he'll convert at least one. The Rapids, in fact, find themselves in no shortage of speedy wingers who could also take advantage of the plodding New York backline.
Unfortunately, this is where our story takes a less enthusiastic turn. While surely the NY defense will shoulder much of the blame for their club's abysmal season opener, it really all starts with the midfield.
Reasons things will change:
In the very first minute of play, Eric Alexander plays a pass so easy to read, it would be the gigantic "E" at the top of a eye chart. Jordan Harvey intercepts and slides it to Kenny Miller who just hits his shot over the bar. While it may seem an encouraging passage of play for Rapids fans looking on--salivating at what Jose Mari or Dillon Powers might do with such a moment--it is the perfect example of what will NOT happen in the midfield when Colorado plays NY at Red Bull Arena. Why? More likely than not, Theirry Henry will return to the starting lineup, leaving Tim Cahill to occupy Alexander's spot in the midfield. For those that missed out on Cahill's 8 years at Everton, Tim Cahill will not make the same mistake. He also won't allow the miles of space Teibert had in the 5th minute, or the hours of time Morales had to coolly loft the ball over NY's stagnant defense for Miller's 77th minute goal.
The more likely truth is that Saturday's game at Red Bull Arena will come down to a battle in the midfield. If the Rapids can successfully pressure the Red Bulls in the center of the park, the speed of Brown, or Torres, or Chavez, or Sanchez, or Eloundou, or Serna... (are you getting the picture?) could prove readily lethal. Just don't expect the job to be quite as easy as Vancouver made it appear last weekend. As every team does from week to week, adjustments will be made. Mike Petke and his staff will show their defense what they did wrong and how to fix it. The midfield will adjust, too, to better prepare themselves when they are outnumbered in the middle of the park. But don't think Pablo & Co. aren't looking at that same tape, plus hours more from last year, planning how to exploit New York's weaknesses in their own way.
One thing you can count on? It's going to be fun seeing how it all plays out.