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Monday Hangover: Earthquakes vs. Rapids

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 25: Conor Casey #9 of Colorado Rapids throws it on the GROUND (Photo by Tony Medina/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 25: Conor Casey #9 of Colorado Rapids throws it on the GROUND (Photo by Tony Medina/Getty Images)
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Some fans look at one simple set of numbers: W-L-D. Win-Lose-Draw, as an evaluation of where the team is at and how they are doing. Some maybe might go for the PPG (Points Per Game) for some flavor, but it's nearly the same thing. Some fan groups don't care about individual stats, team stats, that's pretty much whatever: did you win, did you lose, did you draw? Did you get any points from the match?

That's one way of looking at a game, or a season, and that's perfectly valid. It's not how I would look at it, especially in a bad season, but that's one way to look at it. The reason is pretty simple: I don't think it's going to do anything besides make you want to tear your hair out.

Other groups of fans focus on goals, maybe other ones focus on GAA and other sorts of "total season" stats, and that's normally what I look at and try to mine for data because it gives me a pretty good idea of "trends". Like "is the passing accuracy getting better? Who was it better against, who was it worse against? Is there a general positive trend or general negative trend?" That kind of thing. Not that it makes me put a smiley face on every game, but it gives some perspective as to where the team is going.

If you saw my analysis from a week or so ago, I saw that the Rapids, as a trend, were doing better than their opponents in lots of different stats, save for goals scored in a match. Heck, they even outshoot their opponents most of the time. I found out that this turns out to not be a popular thing to say. It flies in the face of a lot of feelings conventional wisdom about sports (and life, really): that if you "work harder" then you will always prevail. And if you don't prevail, then it must be because you didn't work hard enough, or didn't have enough heart, or enough belief, or something like that.

Nope. As it turns out, the Rapids were working a lot harder than their opponents and not winning games. That's what I saw according to season averages.

But every once in a while you see a game that is an outlier; a game that flies in the face of your trends and carefully crafted spreadsheets. Who sits there and mocks your attempts to corral football results into steely drawn lines and charts.

The first game that did that was the Rapids' second game against RSL.

The last game that did this was the Rapids' second game against San Jose.

The Rapids got absolutely worked in this game. Say whatever intangible you want about this game: the Rapids had none of it. This was possibly one of the worst losses in Rapids' history to go along with one of the worst (at least in terms of Points per Game) season in Rapids history--possibly the worst season ever. I made fun of that notion at mid-season, and it looks like I was wrong for being optimistic that the trend would turn towards more wins. The "green shoots" that we saw earlier in the season were tempting, and this fan got into it. The season could have gone either way. We could have seen more dominant performances like those against Chicago and Columbus early in the season, or we could see stinkers like those against, say, RSL. Needless to say, it went left where I thought it would go right.

This will, in all likelihood, now go down as one of the worst seasons in Rapids history.

Before we go prematurely assigning blame to one or two people (I'll do that at the end of the season because I'm pretty sure I know where to apply it, and believe me there's plenty to go around, just as if the season had gone well) I think the attitude I've now adopted is to take each game one at a time and see what happened and see if that leans more towards good things for the Rapids--good stuff for next season--or bad things for the Rapids--injuries and signs that our lingering issues have not been fixed.


The defensive issue looked to be addressed for the past few games, but San Jose showed that they clearly were not. Hunter Freeman in particular had a terrible day at the office. He got absolutely worked. Zapata didn't impress either. Wynne was lost. Moor and Pickens were absolutely overwhelmed. Why is that?


The lingering issue of not being able to defend on the wings has not been solved even after Kimura was sent packing to Portland where he can't defend on the wing either. It turns out that even though Hunter Freeman was a little bit better than Kimura in certain areas, he's not at all better at not letting play come down his side. Either way, the wings are incomplete. And if you're trying to play offense through the middle of the park, the wings are absolutely critical against teams that like playing down the wing (like San Jose).


The issues of not being able to score goals still remains an issue. Everyone has seemed to like this whole "let's ALL score goals" sort of mentality that Pareja favors, but what seems to be missing here is the "Let's put away ALL of our chances." I like that everyone wants to get on the score sheet, but no one can seem to finish the numerous chances being produced by a midfield geared towards producing chance after chance. While the goals are getting spread around, good deal, but there aren't many goals to go around--and not enough to overwhelm the goals that our opponents keep pumping in the net.


Pareja may go down as possibly the most tacitcally naive coach in MLS this season. This game was an example of tactical naivete. His decision to play a high line against San Jose was, in retrospect, a good enough idea but terrible in practice. I wonder if the decision making process for that particular tactic was "Well, no one has done it yet, so let's try it!"

And now you see why no one plays a high line against San Jose. These kind of gameday decisions show a kind of tactical naivete that yes, is part of a coach growing in the league, among teams who have absolutely no mercy (nor should they) for a guy trying to find a way to win consistently. Other teams are looking at the Rapids and salivating for three points, not sitting there hoping that this will be the game where Pareja finally gets it right. In fact, they are more than happy to show him where he's been wrong.


Pareja has been applying principles that in the abstract are very good. Possession. Attack always. And sometimes, yeah, that's what we get to see. But if you can't hold the damn ball under pressure, you're going to end up as the worst team in MLS. That's what's going to happen. Pareja can want to play possession all he wants but until the men on the field learn to hold the ball when someone is pressuring them, to make the right decision under pressure, this team is only going to get worse, not better.

The Rapids are getting possession in some games, sure, but teams know exactly where and who to pressure in midfield in order to get the ball to pop up in a bad place: Jeff Larentowicz--even better a defender if you can get it. Anyone playing defense. Larentowicz or Nane is particularly good for opponents because of the space that they alternately occupy (the "hole", as it were) is great for getting a play going. San Jose got this part absolutely right in their tactics.

San Jose pressuring up high isn't a coincidence, it's a strategy that's particularly effective against the Rapids. The Rapids know that they want to hold the ball, but don't have enough confidence to do so. Pressuring any player for long enough should get the ball to pop up--so pressure the right player, then dump the ball out to the wing. This strategy was so effective that the Rapids ended up losing the Possession battle because they simply could not hold on to the ball.


This is an outlier, sure. But it shows us really important things about what issues still remain with the first team. I don't mean to make it too negative and say things like "FIRE EVERYONE" or make up dramatic narratives about how Pareja and Bravo are destroying the team because, the results are bad enough without resorting to making the team into some kind of ticking-time-bomb which we MUST do something about SOON or else ALL WILL BE LOST.

What needs to happen is that these issues need to be addressed, openly and honestly, in order for the team to move on and grow.