So it's my turn on Tuesdays here at Burgundy Wave, and for now till the end of the season, I'll take this space to do some amateur (really, really amateur) tactical breakdown of the last game, which I have dubbed ‘Rapids Backpass': a few thoughts and things I noticed from the last match. Stats and charts. Register your displeasure below. Here what's I saw this week in Commerce City as the boys in burgundy took on Manchester City's American step-child.
1) Axel Sjoberg is evolving
It's become self aware! Sjoberg is becoming a multi-dimensional player. And that is a pretty scary thought, considering that Sjoberg already leads MLS in clearances with 34- he was already proving to be spectacular in that one-dimension. That clearance stat becomes more amazing when you note that the Colorado Rapids have played two games, while most other defenders have had three. So Axel can clear it- that much was known in pre-season. Having Shane O'Neill behind him to take on defenders frees Axel up to head and boot anything coming into the defensive half. And he gets to pretty much everything. That's a great weapon for the Rapids, knowing that opposing teams can't win in the air in our half. Here are all his clearances. Axel had 11. The Rapids had 18, total.
But, in addition to his defense, Sjoberg's passing was much better this game. He tried the route 1 long bomb a few times, to little avail, but was also getting the ball to Cronin, Pittinari, and especially out to Harrington much better this game than against Philadelphia. It's still early, but Sjoberg has already put the league on notice that he's a player to watch for rookie of the year.
2) Dom Badji's holdup play had moments, but we need more, and soon
I'm essentially the lone voice in Burgundy land that thinks Badji can be the guy. His first two big plays came in the 12th minute, when he launched a perfect cross to Gabriel Torres, who put one on frame but into the hands of Joe Saunders. His next big play was at the 17th minute.
You see here he receives the pass, draws two defenders, and spins away to make the pass. Great work, ideal holdup play.
Then he passes... backward... to Dillon Powers... as the rest of the team is jogging into spots around... and the moment is over... the offensive chance evaporates.
This was a great moment, with the defense all drawn to him, for Badji's teammates to make the run for Powers or Pittinari to give service. Didn't happen. Hopefully the chemistry will click soon.
Badji was essentially kept in check the rest of the game, and made little noise until his removal in the 60th minute for Carlos Alvarez as Torres took up the point. Badji, to me, shows promise, but two flashes in 60 minutes isn't going to get the job done. He needs to do more, and his teammates need to work off him more as well.
3) Clogging the middle with Cronin and Pittinari worked to devastating effect
As you'll see from David Villa's heat map, the strong central defense of the Rapids down the spine forced Villa out wide to create on his own.
Harrington hung with him 1v1, and picked up help from Shane O'Neill when Villa got into threatening positions, effectively neutralizing him. Meanwhile, although Mix Diskerud's passing percentage of 88% looks impressive, he only completed one into the final third, and had zero chances created. Most of his passes were short attempts to circulate the ball, as the NYCFC offense sputtered all day. This is a guy who threaded perfect attacking balls all day the week before against the MLS Cup runners-up. That's something to get excited about, Rapids fans.
4) Corner tactic -> is that really the only way?
The Rapids had 8 corners and 22 open play crosses, both huge increases for the team over some of the sleepy offense we've seen on this 16 game winless streak. The main tactic, noted by Balboa and Fleming, was putting Sjoberg (above, #44) beyond the back post and playing it in for him. The advantage is that he can always get it over his shorter defender. The downside is that, often on this play, he starts so wide, its hard to see him get into an ideal position to head it in. Sjoberg should have some headed goals this year, but the Rapids might want to mix up the options in order to make one of these work.
5) This 4-2-3-1 with Torres, Powers and Pittinari can become dynamic on the attack
What has made the 4-2-3-1 so popular- I saw a stat recently that said it was the most lined-up formation across all European leagues- is that it blends strong central defense with the ability to create in lots of ways on the attack. The Rapids showed signs of that this week. On offense, Colorado's attack morphs to a 4-1-4-1. Cronin hangs back for protection with Pittinari joining on the attack, seeking a streaking Powers or Torres on their way to goal. The best chance in the game came on a play just like that, in the second half.
It was impressive how forward in the attack Pittinari's young Argentine legs could carry him. As you can see by his passing map, he not only often gets to make his passes well into the attacking half, but also tends to be passing into the middle, towards the magic 'zone 14', just outside the box and right in front of goal.
I know its just one game. I know the Rapids didn't get the win. And I know we're all sick of Pablo Mastroeni giving a post-game interview where he talks about how great the teams is and it sounds all sunshine and rainbows until you actually look at where we sit in the table. But in all that I saw in watching this game, there really are a lot of encouraging signs as we go into Houston, a team that I don't have a lot of high regard for. So lets go get that first win, huh?