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The Daily Wave: Midfield Mastery, The Secret Sauce For Wins

It wasn't just a sudden ability to finish that got the Rapids a 4-3 win over Montreal, but a superb performance by the spinal midfield of Thomas, Sturgis and Powers.


We talked a lot about offense this season, and especially prior to the game against the Impact, but there was a hidden reason that they were able to do so well, I think: dominate play from the midfield, in fact possibly the best game by a midfield in the Oscar Pareja era.

The reason why a team usually wants to possess the ball is simple: If you have the ball, the other team doesn't have the ball and therefore can't score. There's a reason that Barcalona invented the Tiki Taka style of play. They have always had some deficiencies in their defense and, in a bout of good reasoning, decided that if they just had the ball 80% of the time and built the most lethal attack-force in the world, they'd probably win a lot of games.

For teams that aren't Barca, it's not quite as simple as that, but it still comes down to possessing the ball in good areas of the field if you want to have a good chance of winning as an attack-minded squad. Most of the time, that comes down to the midfield.

That's why the USMNT U-20's were absolutely shredded by Ghana. They seemed to turn the ball over in the midfield nearly every time they got the ball, which both removed the attackers from the game most of the time and served as an easy dish to the counter-attacks. It makes sense that counter-attacks starting from your final third are much easier to handle than ones starting deep in the midfield, which is why you usually don't mind much if you have a striker who can barely hold on to the ball. Miss your passes, don't recover the ball from the other team? That's the way you lose. That in mind, the midfield is where the Rapids truly shined in their win over Montreal.

The three goals Montreal scored:

Goal No. 1: Goalkeeper error and a No. 1 highlight on Sportscenter-worthy finish from a man lying on his back off a corner.
Goal No. 2: A good passing sequence that Montreal dictated from their back to their front, with little the Rapids could do about it. (Clint Irwin having perhaps a chance to do better aside.)
Goal No. 3: Another good passing sequence, taking advantage of a situation where a forward was supposed to be marking someone and missed him in the six-yard box.

Montreal is a damn good offensive team, and they will score goals against even the most organized of teams. Notice, though, that it wasn't the midfield that caused any of those three goals to happen. That's a good sign. Had the midfield been awful against Montreal, it could have been far worse, but the Thomas-Sturgis-Powers spine through the center of the park may have been in its best form of the season.

Take a look at the numbers the three of them put up during the game. (Slashes indicate successful passes to unsuccessful ones.)

Dillon Powers: 51/9, one goal, one assist, four recoveries
Nathan Sturgis: 73/4 (!), one assist, four recoveries
Hendry Thomas: 56/2 (!!), seven recoveries

For those of you keeping track at home, that's a total midfield ratio of 180/15 in the passing game. That's what you call 'possession'. Keep in mind that as a team, the Rapids only attempted 422 passes all game, which means that just under half of the game was controlled by the midfield, and 92% of that control of the game ended in success. So the concerns about starting guys who aren't particularly adept in the passing game like Atiba Harris and Nick Labrocca didn't matter in the end, and the Rapids were able to keep themselves in the game long enough and keep the ball enough in good areas to snag a 4-3 victory.

Now, imagine how that will look against a team that doesn't score goals at will like the Impact always seem to do. If this midfield trio -- or one that includes Martin Rivero, which I can't possibly see being a downgrade -- continues on that form through July, we may have one fantastic month on our hands.