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Side Pass 4-29-15: The Midweek Tactical Rundown

Cry havok and let slip Dominique Badji and Juan Ramirez. The team attacked fiercely from transition and also played direct and central, but still end up with (sigh) another not-win. Sidepass, the midweek, low-octane back pass, is here to ponder.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Ties, besides being like kissing your sister, are becoming both repetitive and vaguely unsatisfying. Yes, we tied the Supporters Shield-leading New York Red Bulls on the road. And yes, we held another team to just one goal, and we had some great chances on goal as well. But still. This team has played 8 games: 1 win, 2 losses, and 5 ties. We’re roughly on pace to earn 20 ties, which would eclipse last year’s record by the Chicago Fire of 18 ties. (Sigh). It'll be ok.

The best thing about our fixture with NYRB Wednesday was 1) an improvement in the quality of direct play, and 2) a solid effort to run *to the middle*, and not the wings, and 3) fast counter-attacks from Powers, Badji and especially Ramirez.

Over the top can work

Early in the season, we lamented the Rapids ‘defend in numbers, go direct and over the top’, but here is that play *nearly* getting Dom Badji a goal. Last game he was a non-factor. This game, as Badji came off in the second half, NYRB play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi pronounced "He caused problems for NY all game long." He got at and behind the defenders on the play above, and another play just like it 10 minutes earlier, and his speed drew defenders and gave the Rapids real teeth in this one.

Badji’s game is, so far, one and a half dimensional- he streaks to the middle and settles the ball for a shot very well, and his hold-up play is good; not great. But he’s a rookie, so hopefully he’ll develop the other parts of his game. And the encouraging thing is the Rapids are starting to use him the right way. Think about that first goal he got at FCD. Streak down the middle for a long ball. In this one, he burned Matt Miazga and Damian Perinelle, and hopefully he’ll keep causing headaches for central defenders.

Rapids Go Central

The team attacked centrally. Look at the chart above of the Rapids first half passes and shots. Yes, there is a lot of red - failed passes and shots. The team only passed 61% in this game. But that is what happens when the bulk of your passes are into traffic and into zone 14. In past games, all the arrows tend to point from midfield away from goal, toward the corner flags. This game, its lots of flags pointing, like a funnel, towards the goal. Good stuff. A team can back pass and sidepass a lot to a 90% completion rate, but fail to threaten the goal. Having lots of passes into a threatening position is more likely to generate great chances.

Juan Ramirez Goes Ballistic

If Ramirez had only scored on this run, it’s goal of the week for sure. He runs through five defenders and maintains balance after two bumps/clips. He arguably could have earned a free kick from his final fall, which seems like a defender-induced nudge.

This is what Badji and Ramirez did all half: get the ball quickly in transition, run like hell and cause chaos for RBNY. It was damned exciting. This kind of speed and directness the Red Bulls could only deal with by getting physical, and one of those instances ended with Dillon Powers tucking the ball into the net past Robles (yes, I know Torres gets credit, but that goal is 95% Powers, 5% Torres.)

Attacking, running, and playing direct often resulted in NYRB hacking down our players.

Here’s the fouls the Rapids drew in the attacking end: the closest to goal are two by Badji, two by Powers, two by Ramirez. That’s not only exciting, it’s encouraging. Getting into free kick range for Powers to do his thing, or Marc Burch - who swings a mighty hammer - not only makes good tactical sense, it portends the team becoming a real attacking threat.

Damnnit, do I have to talk about finishing again?

I don’t really want to go back over our lousy luck/skill in shooting. That’s been done. I’ll just highlight that Ramirez’ run above, and Badjis two super-runs, and a couple of Powers runs in this one all end in saved shots, falls, or turnover. All three have the legs to get end-to-end, but they need to pick up their heads and dish the rock. That especially goes for Ramirez, who has a propensity to dazzle on the run, then fall down and look with puppy-dog eyes at the ref. I think they’re on to you, dude.

And, we were lucky

Yes, we were lucky. Clint Irwin didn’t reach a couple crosses in this one, but the Red Bulls had no one to hammer it home. The second half was nervy for Rapids fans: RBNY looked sure to score but couldn’t conjure the elusive goal. Some of this had to do with that mentioned passing stat: yes, we played gutsy passes a lot, but 61% passing was also the result of some sloppy play in our central midfield, especially in the 2nd half. Bradley Wright-Phillips had a bunch of shots go wide. If we had lost this one 2-1 or even 3-1, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I’m sure the Red Bulls are kicking themselves a little bit.

So last week we saw Pablo play wide, this week we attacked centrally and over the top. Hopefully, the team will find that right mix of attacking styles, and we won’t set anymore dubious records this season.