This past week the Colorado Rapids lined up in a 4-3-3. This is normally thought of as an attacking formation but with seven defensive minded players in the lineup that was hardly the case. The Houston Dynamo scored three goals and the Rapids could barely put together much of an attack. This shouldn't be blamed entirely on the players. Yes there were mistakes as RapidsRabbi pointed out in this week's Backpass, but defensive shape and knowledge of player responsibilities was partly to cause.
When you play seven of any type of player on the field at once there are too many chefs in the kitchen. The seven defensive minded players sometimes didn't know what their responsibilities were and the defensive shape from that was atrocious. With a lack of attacking players and ideas the only chance at goal was a set piece. Everything changed when Gabriel Torres was subbed on for Sean St. Ledger. Suddenly there was a shape, each player knew their responsibility and we started coming back into the game, but just as soon as that started Dillon Powers came off for Juan Ramirez and all was lost yet again. Enough from last week's game, let's look at the biggest remaining game of the season and the Rapids' only chance at silverware. Today we preview the game against Real Salt Lake and a chance to win back the Rocky Mountain Cup.
Since Jeff Cassar took the helm as coach, RSL has slowly been transitioning from the 4-4-2 diamond midfield, which Jason Kreis preferred to play, to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. However Cassar's tinkering still hasn't dampened the output some of RSL's best players. With Nick Rimando as their goalkeeper the back line feels safe playing dangerously forward knowing that he is a brick wall in front of the net. They also have Kyle Beckerman commanding the midfield and distributing the ball forward into dangerous positions. As for the attack, Joao Plata and Javier Morales are threats both on and off the ball.
Clint Irwin in goal is a given, though unlike last year, John Berner is excellent keeper as well. I wouldn't want to change goalkeeper up at all simply because Clint Irwin was left on an island last week. For the defense I am all for putting Moor back as captain as a center back. I really believe that we are hurting in defense with his lack of leadership in the middle. This makes my back line Maynor Figueroa - Drew Moor - Bobby Burling - Marc Burch. Figueroa and Burch are the only true fullbacks left healthy on our team and with Sjöberg out and St. Ledger not playing well Burling is the only logical choice.
In the middle of the field I like the idea of the spine of Jared Watts - Marcelo Sarvas - Dillon Powers. Watts when played in position can play really well and with Sarvas in front of him and Moor behind him his positional awareness can only increase, Sarvas was more of a box-to-box midfielder in LA and was very good at transitioning play from the defense to the attack, and Powers is our assist leader and works well sitting behind fast runners. The wings will be covered by Vicente Sanchez and Juan Ramirez. Sanchez may not be fast but he is a hard player to defend and Ramirez is in because Dillon Serna is in the USMNT U-23 squad for Olympic qualifying. Finally the striker is Luis Solignac, one because Kevin Doyle is injured, and two because Torres is better played on the wing.
Since RSL plays a formation that floods the midfield I think we should focus on our wing play. With Ramirez and Sanchez on the wings with Burch and Figueroa as overlapping fullbacks we should try to avoid passing through a packed midfield. The spine's main goal is to stifle any creation through the midfield and harass Kyle Beckerman on attack and RSL's creators on defense. As for the defense, their goal is to try and force the strikers and wingers offsides. As the last meaningful game of the season we shouldn't sit back and have the philosophy of "never concede" and instead force RSL to make mistakes. This is the only way we will be able to put Rimando in a situation where he would have to work for his saves. As one of the best goalkeepers in MLS he won't be letting many goals in. Finally we shouldn't aim for "shoot first think later," Rimando will only be pressured if the shots are from meaningful positions in front of the net.
Last week's game plan fell through for the Rapids, will they change it up because it is the Rocky Mountain Cup? As the Backseat Manager I surely hope they do. How do you guys think the Rapids should lineup for the most important match of the year?