"I can’t speak for the future. I have no crystal ball." – Michael Jordan
With a 2-1 loss on Tuesday night, the Rapids US Open Cup run is done for another year. It was an unfortunate result for the Burgundy Boys as they once again put a quality team on the pitch but were unable to find the back of the net. With weather, and then a hockey match breaking out, the game was anything but a normal. As a fan, it was disappointing that the Rapids couldn’t get a result playing against only 8 Atlanta players as a result of THREE red cards especially with an A-Team on the field. In the end it wasn’t meant to be which is too bad because a win would have put the Rapids into the next round against the winner of a Crew/Fire match up and another home game. So goes the bounce of the soccer ball!
With the World Cup break ending this week, the Rapids return to normal league play. With 15 matches in the books, The Rapids sit with 22 points, currently on pace for 50 points, with a 6-5-4 record and tied for third place in the Western Conference. The Rapids scrambled a bit right before the break playing great against Houston, uninspired against Chicago, and humbled against FC Dallas. Hopefully the break allowed the team to re-energize and refocus for the second half of the season, for it has plenty of challenges ahead.
The Rapids have played 8 games at home and 7 on the road. This means down the stretch the Rapids have 10 remaining games on the road and 9 at home. Rapids have played well on the road so far this year with a compelling 2-3-2 record. The remaining road schedule is with Philadelphia, Portland, New England, Dallas, DC, Seattle, LA, Salt Lake, Chivas, and Vancouver. Not exactly welcoming! From those 10 games, I see really only two apparent wins against a struggling Philadelphia and Chivas (although since they beat us at home already maybe that’s not such a clear cut win?). With the final game in the Rocky Mountain Cup in Salt Lake and with a Rapids loss already in Game 1, I hope that going back to Salt Lake means something and they can scramble for a win against Real. Based on our previous loss to Dallas, they looked beatable and if our defense decides to show up, I think we can take a win or tie there. So out of those 10 games, I think 3 wins are achievable. Throw in two ties and 11 points would finish the road season. With my predictions the overall Rapids road record would be 5 wins, 4 ties, 8 losses. Nineteen road points is fairly stout, Rapids highest total since 2000 was 22 points in 2011 with an average of only 14. Rapids playoff hopes will live and die on the road!
For the home schedule we face Vancouver, Columbus, Chivas, Salt Lake, LA, Portland, San Jose, Seattle, and Dallas. Having compiled a 4-2-2 record so far this year with a couple of head scratching losses or ties (Chivas and Chicago), the Rapids need to win mightily at home. The Rapids have 22 points already. Let’s assume in their remaining road games they grab another 11 that would mean 33 points without the remaining home matches. Fifty points is generally a good number to be in the running for a playoff spot so that would mean Rapids need 17 points from the remaining 9 home games. I see wins against Columbus (full house on 4th of July? Just give us the three points), Chivas, Salt Lake (a must win if we want to keep the Cup), and Dallas. That leaves Rapids with 5 points to get which I think we can get with a win against Vancouver this weekend and then throw in a couple of ties (Portland and San Jose?) and I think these 17 points are reasonable. A final 9-4-4 home record would be a solid result with 31 points gained. Last year we gained 34 points.
So a season record of 14-12-8 with 50 points. The 14 wins would match an all-time high and would be one less point from last’s years high. This total should find a spot in the playoffs but most likely the last spot. More points would certainly help to get closer to a 4th place finish and home playoff match. With 19 matches left can the Rapids at least secure 8 wins and 4 ties? Maybe more?
My Keys to that kind of finish:
1) Secure the Rocky Mountain Cup. Rapids lost out on the chance to try and win some hardware with the US Open Cup. While the MLS Cup is always achievable, if you can make the playoffs, an early season trophy win in Salt Lake would be a good start!
2) Goal Scorer. Richard Fleming, Rapids announcer, made a key point in discussing recent issues with our offense. He said we have too many nice guys. We need a clinical finisher in the mode of Conor Casey. Someone not afraid to get in the mix and just drill shot after shot at the goal. Our current corps of goal scorers just seem to be too finesse, too fine, too intent on winning that goal of the week nomination. I want nasty, filthy goal scoring ability to show up on the field for the Rapids.
3) Defense. Concentration throughout the entire match would be a good start. We’ve seen it time after time being incredibly stingy only to allow some soft goal. We’ve seen it before that with the offensive woes of scoring goals, getting behind, and then trying to push forward, this leaves our defense even more susceptible to goal scoring (Chivas? Seattle?). Key to Rapids wins this year is a defensive wall.
4) Consistency. With any sports team they generally play better at home and struggle on the road. I get this but with a balanced MLS, stealing points on the road and ensuring wins at home is a sure way to be successful. Historically going to Seattle and LA have been a struggle but why not turn over a new leaf?
5) Summer Swoon. Rapids have played their worse during the Summer months of June, July, August. Average point totals per game of 1.04 for June, 1.19 for July, and 1.28 for August. Historically their worst three months. Rapids play 14 games this year in these three months. For June Rapids have secured 4 points in three games, a little higher than their June average and we have he opportunity to improve that average with Vancouver on Saturday. Hopefully the World Cup break will prevent the Summer Meltdown.