How far can our Rapids fall? Farther than I think we could have all imagined! After a drumming by our Rocky Mountain Cup rivals three weeks ago, 5-1, and this past weekend's 4-1 romp by Seattle, Rapid fans are starting to wonder where the future went.
When I slipped into my seat last Sunday, on a beautiful fall day in the Mile High City, I had no illusions that the Rapids were going to make life difficult for Seattle, like they had a year ago. The winless streak had taken its toll on the lineup. Without the silent fire of our missing Captain, Rapids played as if suspecting something bad would happen. The soccer gods didn't disappoint, with an early hand ball in the box, leading to a quick PK score and the Seattle rout was on (what is it with Seattle teams?). I credit the Rapids, they never quit, and they played their hearts out. I even had hope that the Rapids could come out early in the second half, down 3-1, and maybe get a quick score and pull back a tie. But again, with very few answers in the final third, any hope of a comeback fell silent. Seattle, who is well on their way to 20 wins, is a behemoth. In fact I mentioned to my friend that at times during the match our Rapids looked like an all star recreation team playing against Dempsey and Martins. Their amazing play reminded me, we once had a dynamic duo up top with the likes of Casey and Cummings. It is also a stark reminder that Rapids really have no clue what to do with the ball in the final third. This year, between either dumping it over the top for Brown or flying down either of the opponents corners and lofting a ball into the box, hoping for magic is pretty much the sum total of our offensive prowess.
Watching Seattle and their clinical destruction of our Swiss cheese defense one can only hope that someday the Rapids find someone who can score through the middle. Therefore, as a bystander watching this sinking ship, I find the following to be questionable:
1) Scoring. I have noted numerous times in previous postings that lineup shuffling throughout the early point of the season caused what I consider a lack of player familiarity. I think watching what Seattle does best, scoring, shows how Dempsey and Martins both have a feel for one another. Saturday's game marked both Brown and Torres second consecutive game together up top. While its good to see Torres finally getting his due, watching the two of them drift around the final third is painful. Having them give a thumbs up to the midfield and back line for well intentioned passes sailing into nothingness screams at me that this is October! There should be an understanding at this point. I go back to the Salt Lake game, at home, when playing with a man advantage for the entire second half and they couldn't find the net. In nine games since that 1-0 loss they have scored 11 goals. Nothing helps a defense more than having the knowledge that the boys up top can score. Right now its crickets up top.
2) Defense. Since the last win (July 25 for those who care), the Rapids have been outscored 34 to 11! Losing Moor explains a good bit of the tailspin and when Moor lost O'Neill it was apparent that our defense was held together with a lot of smoke and mirrors. The fact that there was no one to shore up the back line shows a crack in our team building brain trust (see point 3 below). I love Wynne but he has become more of a liability. Klute, after a breakout season a year ago, has returned to just average. Burch, while serviceable, is not sufficiently talented to shore up a failing middle. Teams have been brutal in their dissection of the Rapids in August and September. It has become so bad, the Rapids signed an over the hill former EPL defender in Zac Knight. While seemingly a great communicator and potentially great on set pieces, as he towers over the pitch, he seemed a bit slow against the likes of Dempsey. If Dempsey carved him up, I don't see him as a long term answer for our defensive woes.
3) Leadership. In a town where there is very little media coverage given to our Burgundy Boys, somehow the Rapid's organization, in my opinion, has become even more distant. It seems that the organization thinks that just because they finally found a shirt sponsor that they should be untouchable. I have been a big supporter of what Mr. Hinchey has done for the team thus far and that is why I am so startled that the team has gotten this far off track so quickly. Two and a half years of solid workmanship (Pareja signing, growth in attendance, local awareness of team, supporter's group acceptance, first DP signing, TV production value, and shirt sponsor). Now in the midst of an 11 game losing streak the goodwill produced up to this point is starting to crumble.
Continued problems with the supporter's group over the terrace, continued flopping of the Torres situation, US Open Cup issues, unusual personnel playing time (Klute and Irwin being not only the future of the Rapids but potential USMNT candidates and yet now can't even find the pitch for an injury depleted team?), and of course the losing streak. In my opinion, a State of the Union is long past due. After this dismal string of games, the fans, the press, the players, and the owner deserve some attention by the President as to why no help was brought in, why certain players are on the roster and not getting any playing time (especially defenders), and why in the midst of this the Rapids lose a very good football mind in John Metgod. A stand up leader should get ahead of his train wreck, calm the masses, and explain the direction, the Rapids Way, to his patrons. Soccer, unlike most American sports, has a built in audience, the team supporter's group, that in some cases will support a team blindly but also is first to wave a hand and say this isn't good. Realistically speaking this organization has lost its direction. Ever since Oscar Pareja stood the management up and left them at the altar, the organization just hasn't been the same.
These three pieces sum up the 2014 campaign. Hindsight is twenty, twenty but honestly how could we have not foreseen problems when the management team couldn't find a manager until a week before the season started? Bottom line is this team suddenly finds itself going in the wrong direction. No team wants failure but in the face of it, true leadership needs to stand up and direct. At least through the first three months of the year, the Rapids were a competitive product. You can't look past the 9 shutouts and some good wins early in the year and not say that something was there. But for whatever reason our young players have not grown in the second half. Whether that is leadership, tactics, conditioning, or something else, is anyone's guess but whatever the "Rapids Way" is, it isn't working and the team needs to start building a foundation or otherwise we will lose whatever gains that were gotten.