"There are one-hundred fifty-four games in a season and you can find one-hundred fifty-four reasons why your team should have won every one of them." – Bill Klem (old baseball quote but applicable to the 34 game MLS season)
A thrilling match this past weekend although the result was not to the hometown’s liking. Another two penalty kicks for the Rapids and a red card too, this match had a little bit of everything. In the end though I thought the Rapids gave away a point. While I am all for Pablo’s winner take all attitude, I think Pablo, much like Oscar in 2012, will have to step off of the gas pedal at times, pack it in, and play for the point.
Had this been a lower rung team, while playing at home, I would have been fine with the offensive mindset, but when playing last year’s MLS champs, finding yourself up 2-1, and then immediately giving up a goal to tie the match with about 12 minutes left, I would have played for the tie and the point. While that is not the sexy play, I think in October when the Rapids are fighting for that final playoff spot, they will wish for that point in March.
With the loss, the Rapids finished the first month with 4 points and a 1-1-1 record. With four of their goals coming from penalty kicks and a fifth from a penalty kick deflection, playing three of the top teams from last year, I think the Rapids should be satisfied with the start.
March matches started in earnestness in 2008. The Rapids have played 14 matches in the month of March since 2008, 8 on the road and 6 at home. They are 7-5-2 in those matches. There’s an old baseball saying, "you can’t win the pennant in April but you can lose it." I wonder if this carries over to soccer? Do early season wins help on the road to the MLS playoffs? Below is the percentage of points earned per month (2008-2013 seasons). For comparison I’ve put percentage of matches played. As you can see the summer months of May – August is when the majority of matches are played (55%) which has also accounted for 52% of the Rapids points.
I find this to be an interesting view of when the Rapids earn their points. For the first three months, the Rapids have tended to play better than average based on points earned per games played, but then June and July hit and the Rapids really struggle.
In the next figure you can see the average points obtained per month. Since 2008 Rapids have averaged 1.37 points per match played (261 points in 191 matches). Rapids have played well against their average on the bookends of their seasons but have really played below average in middle part. Pretty stark drop off come June. Have to wonder if the uptick in the number of matches finally catches up with the team or perhaps it is related to the number of home and away matches?
The advantages of the home pitch are huge in the MLS. Through the first three weeks of the 2014 season home teams are 15-7-12. And thus the Rapids home and away splits for 2008-2013 are just as tilted and almost mirror images of one another.
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Based on the average points per month figure above, do the Rapids find themselves traveling more in the summer months and could this be the reason for their struggles? The final figure below shows the points per month per location over seven years. Regardless of location, Rapids still trend below their average point totals in June and July. March in fact has been their advantage, getting some early points. It doesn’t, therefore, appear that home vs. away explains the Rapids struggles.
One has to wonder why such a downturn occurs during the crucial summer months. Does training at altitude day in and day out reduce recovery and after the first three months the team starts to become fatigued? Or, in general, with the summer uptick in the number of matches, does recovery become more of an issue? Last year during a twitter chat with Clint Irwin, he indicated that four days was the minimum between matches for recovery. The chart below shows that June actually has more days off between matches than in July, then the schedulers make up for it by increasing matches in July. So perhaps it is a combination rhythm thing and plus a fatigue factor.
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Ultimately for a team to succeed, earning points each and every match is important. When it occurs is irrelevant. In the past few seasons the Rapids have been successful at earning points early in the season. This makes up for their lack of points later in the summer when perhaps fatigue comes into play. MLS is a long season for all teams. For the Rapids to succeed and make it into the upper tier teams, finding that winning formula in June and July is crucial. So does the March to October matter? Yes and those winning ways need to be remembered when the summer competition heats up.