The season is, for the Rapids, over. A responsible, thoughtful blogger beholden to team interests might find some kind of creative angle on things to look for in the two upcoming Rapids matches. Clearly if you've been reading my stuff this year, then you already know that I'm not responsible, thoughtful, or creative.
I've already expressed my desire to see Pablo play the kids, and if we haven't seen super-exciting football to this point in the season, I'm not holding my breath for us to turn into Arsenal or Real Madrid Wednesday or Sunday. So I ain't previewing these meaningless games at all. I plan to watch, but mostly to see if Pablo will do something bizarre and shocking with the lineup. Like play Marlon Hairston.
Instead of a preview, I went full-review. I cracked open the predictions on the Western Conference teams I did back in February and March to see how on or off I was. And hey! I did pretty well! Read on to watch me humblebrag.
Prediction: Contender for MLS Cup.
Analysis: I said that Fabian Castillo, Mauro Diaz, and Matt Hedges would take this team far. That was accurate. Dan Kennedy was his usual steady self, except this year, there were guys scoring goals for him. The big question mark I had was the backline. Zach Loyd took a step forward this year, and the Hoops plugged formed center-mid Kellyn Acosta and former Rapids striker Atiba Harris in on the back line, and the team currently sits 5th in MLS for fewest goals allowed. Damn you, Oscar Pareja.
Prediction: Miss the Playoffs.
Result: Correct. They were eliminated from the playoffs with a loss on Sunday.
Analysis: This team is very good, for a club that doesn't make the playoffs. The back line was better with DaMarcus Beasley and Raul Rodriguez. This is one of those teams that really gets hurt by MLS playing through international breaks: they lost DaMarcus Beasley, Giles Barnes, and Erick ‘Cubo' Torres during the Gold Cup and soon after. They went 3-4-1 down the stretch. I think those things are linked. The biggest factor, though, might be the lack of impact of Cubo Torres. Torres played in 10 games, started only 1, and scored in none. What happened? Alicia Tolar of Dynamo Theory thinks the blame belongs mostly with Chivas Guadalajara, who stashed him on the bench in the late spring during their relegation fight, rather than start him or send him to Houston earlier. But it might also be that he's peaked already in his age-21 season. I hope not.
Prediction: Mid table, MLS Semis
Result: The Galaxy sit 2nd in the Western Conference, but got shellacked by Portland Timbers Sunday night, and face a Sporting Kansas City team next Sunday that need a win to clinch a playoff spot. They could finish 2nd, or as low as 6th. So I could be spot on, or a little too pessimistic.
Analysis: I was a bit pessimistic on Steven Gerrard's potential impact, but he's been his regular solid self for the LA Galaxy. Add stellar production from Juninho and Robbie Keane, plus tremendous rising stars Sebastian Lletget and Gyasi Zardes, and the Galaxy are scary good. Oh yeah, and they acquired Giovani Dos Santos. I totally forgot about that. Notice, though, that all the players I just mentioned are on the offensive side of the ball.
On the other hand, this team has conceded 44 goals, 8th out of 10 in the Western Conference. It doesn't matter much if you score three goals in a playoff game: if you concede four, you lose. Robbie Rodgers and Leonardo have been pretty good. AJ DeLaGarza and Dan Gargan have not been very good. Omar Gonzalez has completely turned into a pumpkin in the past two months, and played himself off the USMNT, maybe for good. Also, this team is 12-2-3 at Stubhub Center this year, and 2-8-6 away from Carson. Yikes.
Prediction: Playoffs. Probably.
Result: Almost certainly correct. Portland sit 4th in the Western Conference, with only the Rapids left to play. A win or tie, and they're in. They miss the playoffs if all the following happen: 1) they lose to the Rapids, AND 2) San Jose beats FC Dallas, AND 3) Seattle beats RSL, AND 4) Sporting KC beats either LA or the Rapids. That'd be an epic way to go out of the playoffs: getting passed by three teams on the final day. But it's also hella unlikely.
Analysis: I was sorta right about Portland, who missed the playoffs on the final game of the year last year when Vancouver beat the Rapids to lock up the 5th and final playoff spot, leapfrogging Portland. The Timbers started slow last year, and found their footing too late to make a difference. This year, the playoffs are one spot larger. Portland are a little bit better with Nat Borchers on the backline and with another year of Fanendo Adi. Coach Caleb Porter has them peaking at the right time, too. This is the lower seed team that I'd least like to play if I were LA Galaxy or FC Dallas.
Real Salt Lake
Prediction: If healthy they are back in the playoffs.
Result: More or less wrong. They were pretty much healthy, with the exception of Chris Schuler. They are not back in the playoffs.
Analysis: In the offseason, this team lost Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy, and Chris Wingert. To replace them, they plugged in Aaron Maund, Jamison Olave, Jordan Allen and Devon Sandoval. They also went to a 4-3-3. So perhaps all that lineup turnover plus the challenge of adapting a new system conspired to doom RSL in 2015. I speculated that this team, at 5th oldest in MLS, might be past it's prime as well, which led to a testy exchange on twitter between me and the editor of RSL Soapbox. (I used his expression that RSL was 'experienced' as proof that even RSL fans know that they're old. He didn't like it. In the end, Salt Lake is a lame city with a lame cheer and a silly name and our blog could beat up their blog.) In the end, age probably wasn't this team's undoing, as 35 year-old Javier Morales paced this team with 8 goals & 11 assists, and the elder statesmen of the team of Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave, and Nick Rimando all still looked pretty good. It was actually the youth, particularly up front at forward, that let RSL down. Sebastian Jaime, Devon Sandoval, and Olmes Garcia combined for only 11 goals in around 4300 minutes, and RSL sit 8th out of 10 teams in the Western Conference in goals scored. And that is how RSL missed the playoffs.
Prediction: Miss the playoffs. Probably by a lot.
Result: Close to correct. Likely will miss the playoffs, but only by a little. San Jose can still make the playoffs this Sunday by beating FC Dallas, and having Portland, Seattle, or SKC lose. Beating FC Dallas with the Supporters Shield on the line is easier said than done, though.
Analysis: The guys I highlighted as the preseason guys to watch were Innocent Emeghara, Matias Perez Garcia, Sanna Nyassi, and Tommy Thompson. That was waaaaaay wrong. The guys who actually propelled this team were their rookie keeper David Bingham, two midseason pickups in Anibal Godoy and Quincy Amarikwa, and two trusted MLS veterans in Shea Salinas and Marvell Wynne, who were both put to good use by Dom Kinnear.
(Side note: many of you know that I am mostly Pablo-neutral- I'm neither thrilled nor deeply hateful of Coach Mastroeni. If there is one piece of anti-Pablo data, it's that Marvell Wynne can switch teams and nearly double his CBIs [clearances, blocks, interceptions] and also double his team's clean sheets from 5 to 10. Maybe he struggled under Mastroeni, maybe he needed to move on in order to have a renaissance in San Jose. I'm happy that Marvell had a good year, but I wish it would have been with the Rapids instead.)
If San Jose squeak into the playoffs, I can't see them lasting long, considering they've slumped for the past 6 weeks to 2-2-3 record. On the other hand, the Quakes have an 8-3-6 record at home and beat both the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders twice this year. If they can survive the first round, the next two home-and-away series look not entirely unreasonable.
Prediction: Finish sixth.
Analysis: I didn't preview the Rapids, but rather offered my two cents to the overall BWave piece. All of us thought this team was either just barely in or just barely out of the playoffs. We were all wrong. Was it optimism? Was it Pablo? Were we sold a bad bill of goods on Kevin Doyle and Gaby Torres? Do the Argentinians need more time to gel? We have most of the off season to think about why we were so terrible.
Sporting KC, Seattle Sounders, and Vancouver
Prediction: No prediction.
I didn't preview Sporting KC, Seattle Sounders, or Vancouver. I'm pretty sure I would've expected Sporting to be a little better than they were, and I wouldn't have predicted Vancouver would be as good as they were.
I'm sure none of you will believe me, but I had strong doubts about Seattle. This was a team that
didn't do much last off season didn't make significant additions or subtractions to the roster in the offseason, except for swapping out right back DeAndre Yedlin for Tyrone Mears. And although Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey looked their old dazzling selves earlier this year, international duty, injury and age took both out of commission for a fair portion of the year. Seattle looked positively terrible without them: Chad Barrett and Andy Rose weren't clicking. Seattle won 3 and lost 10 (ten!) in June, July and August, and in one bad stretch of games failed to score for over 400 minutes, a Rapids-esque level of offensive ineptitude. If Seattle loses or ties to RSL on Sunday, they'll need some help from a Portland, SKC or San Jose loss to hang on and still make the postseason. Yikes. If that happens, I think we'll see Paul Allen and Drew Carey writing some big checks during the January transfer window.
I guess in my first year of trying to predict the year I did pretty well. You could say I had 5 right, 2 wrong. Perhaps next year, despite my aversion to gambling, I should take my act to Vegas.