Anddddd, just as the Colorado Rapids looked like maybe they’d turned a corner, like maybe the shooting and defending had punched through to produce a result, we’re back to the bottom of table, on a losing streak.
There were good things to note from this match: Clint Irwin was stellar again, stopping some fantastic shots:
We out shot Seattle.
and the Rapids produced a beautiful goal on a picture perfect pass from Dillon Powers again
Considering the Rapids led the Sounders on total passes, pass percentage, shots, shots on goal, and possession, you could just chalk this game up to another instance of poor finishing and/or bad luck. Considering the team has just one win in six tries so far this season, luck is no longer a suitable excuse. There were, in fact, some real reasons this team didn’t win.
A Tale of Two Halves
The first half was an exciting, up-tempo, end-to-end game for both teams. The first 27 minutes produced 11 shots by both teams, and 3 goals. For a minute, I considered the implications of 4-4 tie. At the half. Considering the stats-at-the-half below, not impossible:
13 shots for COL, 8 on goal, 1 goal
8 shots for SEA, 7 on goal, 2 goals
The first goal from Lamar Neagle came on the heels of Dillon Powers breaking on goal alone and putting it past Stephan Frei, only to be stoned by the left post. Roaring back went the Sounders down the left side, and catching the Rapids defense in chaos. Burling, covering for an out-of-position Riley, stepped to Neagle, but it was too late, and he curled a perfect ball over the outstretched arm of Irwin.
The Rapids answered with a nice goal from Gaby Torres, but Seattle went up 2-1 when Neagle put a good shot on and the Rapids defense couldn't clean it up: instead, it looked like James Riley ran into Clint Irwin, and the ball trickled to Neagle who slotted it home.
As the minutes ticked down in the half, I turned to my wife and said ‘If we don’t get an equalizer, we’re going to lose, because we’ll be out-managed. The Sounders will adjust, and Pablo won’t.’ Man, I wish I had been wrong.
The Rapids had some tremendous breaks in the last 4 minutes, including an added time free kick by Vincente Sanchez from distance that challenged the goalkeeper, but was kept out.
And so we went to the half. And Sigi Schmidt told the Sounders to pack it in on defense: concede the wings, put eight defenders behind the ball, absorb, and counter. In other words, become the Pablo Mastroeni Rapids.
Down 2-1, the Rapids needed to do something at the half to change the game. That did not happen. They still came out in the 4-2-3-1. On corners, Drew Moor came up, but the tallest player on the field, Bobby Burling, stayed back. The tallest player in MLS, Axel Sjoberg, stayed on the bench. One last tactical possibility that was not tried was the overload. When facing a tight defense mostly playing zone, one tactic is to send multiple runners through on one side, overloading and causing too many defenders to pull off on to one man and leaving a late runner through the zone open. Maybe it was tried, but I didn’t see it.
Instead, the Rapids tried to break down Seattle's defense in two ways: work to the wings and cross; or shuttle the ball around with sharp passing outside the box for an open long shot. The team took a lot of long shots in the second half. Below are all the shots from Torres, Ramirez, Powers, Sanchez, and Pittinari. Of the 14 shots from outside the box, 10 are from the second half. Only 2 were on frame.
Neither crossing nor long shooting worked. Oba scored his golazo at 72’, and the Sounders parked the defensive bus. After that, the Rapids really didn’t stand a chance.
To put it more simply, Seattle adjusted at the half, and the Rapids couldn’t solve them. Seattle’s adjustments were more effective.
No offensive players to be found on the bench: they were all in Charlotte
At 66’ the Rapids made their first sub. Speedy-moving, sharp-shooting Vincente Sanchez made way for … Nick LaBrocca. Simultaneously, four completely unrelated fans in section 105 stood up and shouted a stream of expletives in a variety of languages. Because, if you need a quick injection of offense, Nick LaBrocca is absolutely the last thing you want. At 80’ after he looked like he pulled his hamstring, James Riley came off for Dillon Serna, who was not brought forward but stayed mostly along the backline. The Rapids didn’t even use their third sub.
The Rapids bench for this game contained four defenders, two mids, and a GK. The team’s only spare forward, Dom Badji, was out with a quad strain.
The sub situation, both before and during the match, made no sense. How do you go into an MLS game with only one forward? How do you bring on a defensive midfielder when you’re behind a goal? How do you bring on a young, quick, offensive spark, but with only ten minutes left? Why would you then leave him at left back?
Moreover, if you’re Claudio Lopez, how come you don’t fly in a forward or two from Charlotte? What, are we pinching pennies on last-minute airfare?
Here’s the list of available wingers and forwards at Charlotte on Friday:
And here’s the list from Colorado:
I don’t get it.
The Great Argentine Regression
One thing that caused so much excitement in the offseason was the acquisition of Lucas Pittinari and Juan Ramirez. And both started off looking good! Lucas played good defense and his distribution out of the back showed promise. Ramirez loved to take on defenders, and his rushes onto goal caused problems for defenses.
Pittinari, however, has looked less convincing as a first-team CDM in the past few games. Last game, Pittinari’s defensive stats were: 1 tackle, 1 clearance, 1 interception, 7 fouls. He had more fouls than the rest of the team combined. In the big picture, it was just the worst example of a downward trend.
Here’s his season stats, with some of MLS' better defensive midfielders to compare him to. The first line is 'Defensive Score'. Defensive score is based on a variety of metrics, none of which Pittinari is excelling at. The second line is pass percentage, and it speaks for itself: he’s prone to the bad pass more than comparable MLS d-mids. And that third line is fouls. Ohhh boy. Pittinari has seemed to misunderstand what Pablo was saying when he talked about the philosophy of ‘Rapids Thuglife’, in which you 1) play great defense and 2) knock your man down when needed. Pitti seems to have absorbed only one of those lessons, and not the good one.
Juan Ramirez is another story: he isn’t bad, he’s just not doing the thing that makes him such an asset to this team. This game, he had a couple good shots and some nice passes, included the pass to Powers that turned into the Torres goal. But as I mentioned a few weeks back, he’s best because his dribble attack creates mayhem. In his first full game, Ramirez had 7 take-ons. Against New England, he had 4. Last week in the stomping of Dallas, he had 2 failed take-ons, zero successful ones. And this week, he had no take-ons at all, failed or unfailed. I think this team is dangerous with Ramirez trying to be Eden Hazard or Lamar Neagle, and a lot less so if he’s going to jog, pass, and shoot from distance.
The season’s too young to write these two kids off; they need a bit of coaching and some confidence. I really hope this coaching staff can be the catalyst to start a turnaround for both of them. Or maybe they just aren't used to the cold. Or the food. If it'll help, I live around the corner from Denver's best empanada place. Lucas, mi hermano, call me. I can hook you up.