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Flank Cuts: To Win, Rapids Must Grill Opponents Out Wide

The Rapids have sputtered offensively this season and while much of it may have to do with the personnel on the field, more of it has to do with how they're being deployed.

Otto Greule Jr

Who would have thought before the season began that the Rapids' biggest problem would be on the offensive side of the ball? In preseason, one look at the Rapids' attacking core had fans swelling with pride. Now, seven games later and  with only two (three if you want to count Deshorn Brown's PK clean-up) goals from that attacking core in the run of play, the Rapids' offense is the last thing opposing teams are worried about.

Chris' article yesterday wonderfully talked about how the diamond midfield deployed by Colorado needs to include more attacking players. I agree. Remember when Jurgen Klinsmann played three defensive midfielders--including Danny Williams as a winger--in his early stages with the USMNT? (I do... It still haunts my nightmares.) While I agree the Rapids lineup needs to change, and that a 4-4-2 diamond could still work, I just don't believe that formation is the right fit for the attacking players the Rapids have at their disposal. I'm going to play a little devil's advocate and talk about why the Rapids need to get WIDER and return to attacking primarily down the flanks.

After his switch to the diamond midfield, Pablo Mastroeni talked about how he had all these great central midfielders, so why not use them? Seems logical enough, but if you have five really terrific defenders do you automatically play a 5-4-1 (or any other 5-defender variation for that matter)? Colorado's bread and butter has been, and still is, attacking with speed down the flanks.

Go back and watch video from:

  • The first penalty in the Portland game drawn by Deshorn Brown
  • The second penalty in the Portland game drawn by Vicente Sanchez
  • Jose Mari's second golazo versus Vancouver
  • Edson Buddle's goal against Toronto

All of those goals or chances were created thanks to stellar play from out wide, and mostly by using speed. There's a myriad of others from last year, such as Gaby Torres' goals against Vancouver and Seattle and virtually any of Deshorn Brown's 10 goals.  Dillon Powers rightfully gets most of the credit for many of those thanks to his beautiful passes into space. But what happens when that speedy winger isn't there to be played into said space?

The 4-4-2 diamond is designed so that the only width is supplied by the fullbacks. This forces the majority of play to go up through the middle of the field. That means if you want to use speed to beat the defense it comes from exposing gaps between center backs. If you'll remember, that's exactly how the Rapids got their one goal against the Sounders on Saturday. [Two quick side notes: 1) Did everyone hear Marcelo Balboa use the word, "fantabulous" on that goal? 2) I've been pretty hard on LaBrocca this year, but that pass was kind of incredible.]

So, again, I'm not saying the 4-4-2 diamond can't work for the Rapids. In Piermayr and Klute, Colorado has the marauding fullbacks midfield diamonds need. And yes, I, too, am salivating at what Powers, Serna, and Sanchez can do when they're on the field at the same time. But why take field players who are best out wide and tuck them in? Or, as has been the case twice this year, take a player like Dillon Powers away from the central point of midfield?

What I am saying is that when you look at the attacking options on the Rapids' roster, speedy wingers is the first thing that comes to mind. Speed alone is never enough to make a great scoring team, but, if not goals, it does allow a team to create the chances for goals. At this point, I don't care if it's a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3, or a 3-2-5 -- the Rapids' attack needs to flow in-out-in. That is to say, they need width in the attacking third with players who are meant to be played wide.