"Successful people studied to gain knowledge not to gain grades." - Udayveer Singh
Through 17 matches, with a record of 7-5-5, the Rapids are at the midpoint of the 2014 campaign. Under new management, with 26 points and in third place I would give an overall grade to the organization at a B+ (solid 88 points). Below I will explain my B+ grade but have broken down the report card's full 100% based on 60% possible for field performance, 30% for tactical and coaching, and 10% for the organization.
I think the midpoint buzzword for this team is consistency. Whether it was early season line up juggling, understanding a new system and coach, or just new faces, the Rapids have been consistently inconsistent (I promise to fellow Burgundy Wave writer Thor that I didn't steal this but glad we both thought of it!) through 17 games. An early season gauntlet of difficult teams showed some positives, then some rough patches with head scratching results (3-1 loss to Chivas at home), and then finally some blow out wins followed by plodding play. This last part has been frustrating because lineups have been somewhat static, despite injuries, and while the Rapids side is still youthful, a lot of the younger players are starting to see 30 plus games in the MLS. Consistency in play should be reaching status quo.
Forward play has been both spectacular and dismal depending on which match you watched. Without Sanchez in the starting 11, the Rapids have a goal differential of 4 (and record of 3-1-2) and when not in the lineup a goal differential of 1 (4-4-3). He is the spark plug that ignites the offense. Brown has shown to be threatening but very few teams allow him to range freely anymore and when a ball is sent deep invariably he is battered and beaten before being able to get a true touch. Hill has had a nice resurgence but too often he is nowhere to be found for long stretches of the game. He lacks a "beast" mode which all too often prevents him from getting into the midfield mix, instead he tends to stay outside the box. Buddle just doesn't really fit in the offensive model that Pablo wants to run. With the flair of Hill, Sanchez, and Brown up top and with the defensive backs springing forward, Buddle just doesn't have the time to grind away at the top of the circle. Beyond these four, Serna (who is more of a midfielder) and Eloundou should get a pass just for their age. Mwanga is a reserve player. And finally Mr. Torres...and the reason the organization grade to me is so low is for the simple fact that our first DP is bench warming.
Midfield play is Dillon Powers. As Powers goes so goes the team. I believe he works well with Mari, who brings a level of knowledge to the pitch that I think the team is missing now that he is injured. LaBrocca is steady. Most of the midfield has been solid except for Watts. At times he looks overwhelmed at the position. I prefer the electricity that Hairston displays.
While things have changed over the years, new coaches, new players, the Rapids defensive corps of Wynne and Moor have defined and anchored the team for the last few years. With the addition of Klute and O'Neill, the Rapids backline will continue to be a solid team for years to come. In addition to these four I like Burch for his muscle and his solid defense on certain forwards (watch him on Donovan sometime).
And finally Irwin in goal is automatic. Berner has shown to be a good backup although I'd run and hide if Irwin missed any considerable time.
So in the end I give the field performance a 90 percent. Biggest knock is when one of the three groups has a bad day the other two don't seem to step up but whoa when all three are humming, the swish of balls into the back of the net are sweet to my ears
Tactical and Coaching
I think Pablo has done a good job putting his stamp on the team. I like his go forward attitude and for the most part it hasn't derailed the Rapids from getting points. It is understood that there is more under the hood when it comes to how the Rapids play. Tactically I question some of the personnel decisions in certain situations. While I understand the length of the season, it is tough to give up points. Some lineups were obviously created not so much to win but to not lose. I don't get that especially at home. With the difficulty of winning on the road in the MLS, home points are critical and I think looking back the points lost to Chivas, Chicago, and Columbus matches will be missed.
Besides the personnel choices, I believe the Rapids have done wonders on the road this year. Whether this is Pablo's influence or something else, I think the new attitude is refreshing. All in all, I give this part of the organization an 85 percent.
The leadership of Hinchey and Bravo are top notch. The signing of our first shirt sponsor is huge and led instant credibility to team that I think was struggling in the MLS to assert itself. Signing veteran players like Sanchez and Mari have boosted the level of play, but I again go back to Torres. What is going on? I appreciate you not airing dirty laundry on a player and I give you kudos for that but with a player earning DP money he has to be on the pitch. The mixed signals coming from him, coaching, and the organization are difficult to decipher. Is he hurt, maybe, but then why send him to the national team? Now that he is back from "training" why isn't he playing? Did we really sign someone for that kind of money to come into the game in the 75th minute and run around? This sort of media subterranean undercurrent was pretty similar to the Pareja debacle. For all that the leadership does right it seems not to be able to control the perception of ineptitude when dealing with personnel.
My only other knock on management is the inability to sell the Rapids. I have noticed an increase in awareness as in radio appearances, ads, and the World Cup party was excellent but why not the translation to more seats filled? If Kansas City can do it, why not Denver? I understand it is a work in progress but with the World Cup excitement now is the time to pounce. How about a USMNT signing? Shirt sponsor money to spend. Right now I rate organization at 80 percent.
With 17 games to go the Rapids have positioned themselves for a nice finish. Goals for the second half of the season should be 1) Earn a home playoff series, 2) Find consistency, and 3) Sign a big name, preferably a USMNT player.