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The Backseat Manager: Substitutions, Substitutions, Substutions

This past week we saw some very strange substitutions near the end of the game as the Rapids were down to the Impact. Changing things up and testing ideas is one thing, but doing so without a plan is dangerous especially regarding substitutions. It's time that the Rapids go back to their substitution style from 2013 and 2014.

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Last week when Pablo Mastroeni substituted off Sam Cronin for Joseph Greenspan I was very confused. Then when Greenspan moved into a forward position I was even more flummoxed. This is what inspired the next topic for TBM. I think the Colorado Rapids should experiment with Substitutions.

Near the beginning of the 2014 season Chris had this article with a quote from this interview it goes: "You can make substitutions to defend players, but I make all my substitutions to defend the ball and put pressure on the ball. I want to win the game. I want to lean forward, I want to fall forward, I want the ball to go in the other goal, not ours. When you start to make defensive substitutions, it's a mind-set for me and as a player I hated it. The momentum starts shifting, balls start coming into your box, you're defending on your heels and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy." I want this Pablo back.

Starting around the middle of last year we saw something completely different from that philosophy. Pablo has been making either like for like substitutions or, even worse, adding in more defensive players to the game. Some people think this corresponds with the absence of John Metgod. This week was no different. I could tell that his game plan after subbing in Greenspan was to put big guys in the box and hope that a set piece would get us the equalizer. One, if I was able to glean that from my couch what is to say the other manager wasn't able to do the same and compensate. Two, substitutions are supposed to be game changing occurrences, not a signal to the other team that you are essentially giving up. How about we try subbing off the extra defensive midfielder we normally play with for another attacking player and shift the formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3.

The other way substitutions affect the game is when they are used. Bret Myers published a paper in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports in 2012 called "A Proposed Decision Rule for the Timing of Soccer Substitutions," in which he states this rule: If you are down at halftime make the first substitute prior to the 58th minute, if still behind make the second sub prior to the 73rd minute, and if still behind make the third sub prior to the 79th minute. If you equalize or go ahead substitute at will. This rule may not take into account depth differences or scorelines, but it is something to build off of. In fact many of the games this year Pablo hasn't used all three of his substitutions. Does Pablo not trust his bench? Why else would you not want to put another fresh set of legs into the game?

I saw how substitutions could effect a game during the Houston game a few weeks ago. When we subbed Gabriel Torres on for Sean St. Ledger in the 58th minute. All of a sudden the shape shifted everybody knew their responsibilities and the Rapids had extra life, but that extra life was killed as Dillon Powers was subbed off for Juan Ramirez in the 81st minute. Suddenly players looked like they were lost and individuals were trying to make something happen rather than the team. In this one game I saw a good substitution and a bad substitution. I want to see the Rapids try more substitutions like their first. Sub off on of the extra defending players, because we all know there will be plenty of those on the field. Let's throw in a fast attacking player a la Dillon Serna or creative playmaker like Vicente Sanchez who can make other defenses react. I want to see the Rapids be the team that causes other teams to react and not the team that is reacting.

When I began writing this week's column I expected to learn more about Pablo's substitution management, what I expected to find was that Pablo has regressed from his substitution style in 2014 to something much worse in 2015. What I didn't expect to see was that I think it is still declining. Was this due to John Metgod leaving unannounced in the middle of last year? Could it be that Pablo Mastroeni still does not trust his players? Or is it the simplest answer, Pablo might just be over his head.