"You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything form defeat." - Christy Mathewson
Are we witnessing another lost season? Six games ago Rapids had tied the Crew on July 4th. This marked their half way point in the 2014 campaign at 17 games played with 26 points tallied. While strength of schedule is always difficult to assess over a six month stretch due to injuries and trades and certain X-factors, the Rapids up to this point were on pace for 52 points, a team high. Since then they have gone 1-4-1 and have seen their expected point total drop to 44 points and are now looking up in the standings, having fallen below the red line and no longer in the playoff picture.
In hindsight we could make excuses and say our first half scheduling was particularly weak or that we played some teams when they were in a particularly bad stretch. We could look at some of the penalty kicks we were awarded early in the season and suggest that we might have been gifted some points from some games (particularly against the Red Bulls in Game 1 [a tie] and Vancouver in Game 4 due to a red card [a win]). But all teams go through stretches where some luck falls their way. Just ask our last three opponents about bad luck. New England had lost 8 in a row, Salt Lake had a forgettable June, and Dallas has been injury central, but these three teams scored 7 goals against the Rapids while the Rapids have one PK goal to show for their last three matches.
Pablo was going to reach this point, it was only a matter of time. He had a young team and he is a new manager. He has probably gone through this as a player too, when his team found themselves on the wrong side of the score line. Pablo, as well as team captain, Drew Moor, have been frank in their post game comments, saying the right sort of things, but it sounds to me like a broken record. Moor has been especially succinct in saying they have not played well to win. Now whether our opponents have found a secret weapon against our defense, which is at the center of the "consistently inconsistent" argument, or whether the Rapids have been their own worst enemies is the debate.
I put forth the following:
1) The Shane O'Neill Factor. Last year O'Neill became Moor's central midfield partner. When he started his first match with the Rapids on 3/30/13 the team has had a record of 13-4-8. In the five matches he didn't play last year they were 1-4-0 with the one win coming from the Montreal shootout last year where the Rapids salvaged a late win. In the 25 matches he played, opponents scored 0.92 goals per match. In the five he didn't play? 2.2 goals per match. O'Neill's last game this year, before his recent injury was the Philadelphia game. Based on his horrendous play during that game one has to wonder if he wasn't already fighting injury for that match. So if we count him not being at full capacity then in that match and the next five matches he has since missed, the Rapids have been scored on at a rate of 1.8 goals per match. Through first 17 games they had only allowed 20 goals (1.2) and at the time +7 goal differential which is now +1.
Hard to believe one individual could mean so much but there were grumblings over the off season that Wynne had lost a step and with the strong play of O'Neill that Wynne could have been traded. Keep an eye out on the injury report and hope O'Neill finds his way back.
2) Preseason projections had the Rapids finishing in 6th place in the West with 42 points (11-14-9). Currently at 8-9-6, Rapids would have to finish 3-5-3. Also first year Rapid coaches have an average 11-16-7 (40 pts) their first year coaching. With 5 remaining home matches Rapids should be able to win at least two and then perhaps they can get one on the road. Perhaps first half play and last year's playoff run did provide unrealistic expectations for our Burgundy Boys?
3) Buddle Befuddle. Rapids continue to struggle with goal scoring. It has been documented here the struggles Brown has had with finishing. Torres, while he has scored the last two goals for Rapids, is still trying to polish his form. Meanwhile Buddle, sitting on 99 career MLS goals, has been thrown to the wayside. He has started in 9 matches this year (team record 3-4-2, -2 goal differential). Much like O'Neill, Buddle, when healthy and in the lineup, has been a difference maker. As his absence been a detriment to the club's scoring? Or perhaps the constant shuffling up top as been the problem? Rapids should expect Brown, Torres, and Sanchez to be up top. Rapids staff have rotated these guys around into every possible permeation and yet they can't seem to find the right mix. Seemingly Brown has been give the Buddle role up top but as documented last week he is a speedster not a distributor. I feel, with the Salt Lake game fairly prominent as my example, that teams simply push Sanchez and Torres out to the wings and allow very little to occur in the middle. Buddle had "gravity" to pull defenders in, think Conor Casey in his heyday.
4) Attention to Detail. Up until the last three losses the earliest the Rapids had been scored on was in the 23rd minute. In the last three it has been at the 10, 14, and 9 minute mark. Getting into the flow of the game needs to be a priority in the remaining games. Now whether these three goals, all occurring before the 15 minute mark, is just random noise, a quirk in the matrix or whether this team has been too lackadaisical is anyone's guess. These are professionals. Bad luck runs in threes so let's up the concentration returns and we score first for a change.
Eleven matches to go. MLS is never easy and as fans we naturally have blinders as Rapid fans. With some fantastic play the playoffs are still achievable. Nothing wrong with a late finishing rally against some really good teams to hit the playoffs!