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Backpass 5-08-15 TL;DR: What a terrible first half

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I subjected myself to the horror of re-watching the first half again, if only to understand in an Ed Wood 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' kind of way what exactly made this type of bad soccer sooooo bad.

Angry hipster Pablo watched a first half of soccer that wouldn't have beaten a Norweigian fourth division side.
Angry hipster Pablo watched a first half of soccer that wouldn't have beaten a Norweigian fourth division side.

When I was a kid, each night after dinner, I would race up to my room, sit on my bed, pull out my homework, and dutifully tune the radio to KABC 790 AM each Spring and Summer night at exactly 7:05pm. There to greet me like a warm blanket or an old friend was Vin Scully, the Los Angeles Dodgers iconic radio man. For the next three hours I would pretend to do my homework and Vin would wax poetic on the 2-2 count, and Pee Wee Reese’s contribution to race relations in America, or the time Roy Campanella stole his car.

The Dodgers weren’t any good when I was in Jr. High and High School; they won the World Series in 1988 when I was 11 years old, then played generally bad baseball for the next 20+ years. It didn’t matter. When the Dodgers won the World Series, I watched every pitch. It was at that point that I was hopelessly and totally a Dodger fan.

Full disclosure: I’m a new Colorado Rapids fan. We moved here in late 2011. I was busy with other things during the formative years of MLS 1.0. I was in Los Angeles for MLS 2.0 and the Beckham Experiment, and the whole thing struck me as, well, odd. A bit tacky and over-the-top. Plus: who the hell wants to drive in crushing traffic to Carson, for anything?

I say this all because at some point around half time of the Rapids match against San Jose, I thought the same thought any sane fan does when their team is locked in a brutal and existentially pointless cycle of never-ending futility: why the hell do I do this to myself? Why am I a fan of this team? Why do I watch every game? I’ve only been a Rapids fan for 2 ½ years. My kids aren’t totally hooked yet. We could still switch allegiances to a really good MLS side. Or we could start following another up and coming sport, like lacrosse. Why stick with these bums?

I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it was a particularly bad week at work. Maybe it was the whisky. Nonetheless, the Rapids truly uninspiring play in the first half had sent me to a level of sadness and frustration usually associated with the Chicago Cubs.

But then Dom Kinnear decided to circle the wagons for a full 50 minutes, and the Rapids started bang bang banging on the door until finally James Riley popped that amazing, other-worldly, floating header into the top left corner in added time to equalize. I was beside myself with joy: far moreso than is rational for a midseason match to earn a single measly point.

Still. It explained so much. Fans don’t pick their teams so much as their teams pick them. The Rapids are precisely my team BECAUSE they’re so frustrating. Anyone can buy the latest ‘MLS Champions!’ hat off Ebay from whichever team just won it all. American fans can tune in NBCSN and bandwagon whatever English Premier side they like, with no qualms or guilt. But when you throw in your lot with the local club, well, that’s it then isn’t it?

On to the nerditude.

I did a thing

The Rapids first half, as I mentioned, looked unbelievably bad. The stats available to me did no good at uncovering the ineptitude (many are not broken out by half anyhow). So I tapped into my inner Opta low-paid intern-grunt and re-watched every Rapids possession in the first half and catalogued it. I can prove it: nobody at Opta would simply describe the conclusion of a play as "Ramirez falls on his ass." I got to write that twice. Yay?

So here it is.

This first stretch is the Rapids possessions before San Jose’s goal. 10 out of 16 possessions before the SJ goal concluded in Rapids long balls, long ground passes, or crosses. This tells me the Rapids begin the game defensively, looking for low-percentage, low-risk scoring opportunities. Only 11 in 29 were LBs/LPs/crosses after the goal was scored.

The Rapids plan of attack early seemed to be to bypass San Jose’s stalwart and defensively-minded five-man midfield by launching balls over them to Dom Badji and Gabriel Torres, hoping he could play those balls back to Ramirez or Powers. However, Badji basically got owned by Victor Bernardez all night, and every one of these plays save one at the 11th minute resulted in a Rapids turnover. Or, you could see it another way: the offense in this game relied heavily on getting the ball to Badji so he could doing something all by himself, back to goal. In trying for those big over-the-top ‘homeruns’, the Rapids bypassed their most talented attacking trio of Ramirez, Powers and Torres.

The team put it on the ground more often beginning at 16’, but really didn’t even threaten the goal at all until Powers tested GK David Bingham from 46 yards out on a free kick at the 28’ mark. That’s a long way into a game before you generate a scoring opportunity. No wonder I was so damned depressed.

Colorado’s best three scoring chances occur at 42’, 43’, and 45’; one is the result of a long ball from Harrington, and the other two are the result of a terrible SJ backpass and a midfield turnover. By my count, the Rapids had 45 possessions, and from a long buildup, generated only one shot in a likely scoring position- when Ramirez hit it into section 101. Seriously, if you put two full-sized nets, end-to-end, right of the actual goal, Juan would still be wide 10 feet to the right of that net. Just awful.

I was correct in my abject despair: this was not the Rapids shooting poorly and/or getting unlucky in good scoring positions (although jeez, Gaby, how did you not score at 43’?) This was the Rapids not even generating an iota of offense, neither from low-risk long balls nor from their failure to move the ball through either the middle or the wings against San Jose.

The Rapids played the long ball 14 times in the half. The Quakes kicked it long only 7 times. For comparison, in another MLS matchup this week, New England had 10 long balls in the first half this week, 11 in the second. In that same match, Orlando had 10 and 9, respectively. The Rapids didn’t launch it deep *that much more* than other teams. But they do dig the long ball.

The Rapids had a pretty bad half. Badji could neither bring down a ball and turn towards goal, nor ping it back to onrushing attackers. Ramirez slipped and fell at least four times, and had zero dribbles concluding in a scoring attempt, mostly because he coughed it up or turned it over first. Powers muffed on his one chance so bad, Opta didn’t even register it as a shot. Torres was pretty much invisible, except for his blazing pick-off and shot. It really was that bad.

Dom Kinnear has got to be kicking himself

I had been imagining that Dom Kinnear spent halftime giving the team the anti-Knute Rockne speech. Something to the effect of "Listen, this team looks awful. Keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing, and we’ll skate out of here with a 3-0 win easy."

Except, for some reason, he didn't give them that speech. He changed tactics. Kinnear put the team into bunker-mode straight away out of the half. Whereas in the first half, San Jose pressured the ball starting just inside the midfield third, in the second half the Quakes retreated to the midfield line. In the final 20’, they fell back all the way to the final third. At some point, I doubled checked to see if the Earthquakes had gone down a man, but I hadn’t noticed. Nope. They parked that bus so, so early.

Dom Kinnear deciding to bunker in for the entire second half was probably, in hindsight, the reason the Rapids squeak out a tie in added time. The Rapids basically had a free walkup into the San Jose end for 45 minutes. While the Rapids’ first forty-five resulted in only six chances at all, the second half produced 12 shots. I suppose the hope to catch the Rapids on the counter and break to go up 2-0 was there, but San Jose had the Rapids looking dead to rights after the first half, but changed it up anyways. They pulled back from their midfield pressure, which had been working, in order to defend just the 18 yd box, which yielded twice as many chances for the Rapids, and ultimately failed. I don’t get it.

"Mr. Wizard, get me out of here!"

Dominique Badji didn’t have a good night, but the change at half time for Vincente Sanchez (Paul Caligiuri on Unimas called him "Vincent" at least twice; sooo terrible) was probably as much tactical as performance based. Sanchez, who hadn’t done much in the Rapids first 9 games, was a big factor in the Rapids second half attack, as most of the balls seemed to go through him. The long balls were no longer necessary, and the team could work around for a cross or force a corner. He was a big factor on those set pieces: while the Rapids had only 2 corners in the first half, they had 10 in the second, and Sanchez delivered every one. Including the equalizer.

Howlers Galore

Maybe it was the rain, but there were just so many balls that should have been goals, but weren’t. Powers’ aforementioned 1st half muff, I’ve covered.

Then there’s this:

I mean, look at this. How does a guy get a ball delivered in this position and not score? This would have; *should have* sealed it for the Quakes.

Finally, Charles Eloundou skied a 7 yard shot at the 86th. Look at this face. This is the face of a man who knows he took a shot so bad it means he’ll be on a plane to Charlotte before he can even *consider* the first and last on an overpriced LoDo loft.

Believe me, Charles, we feel you. We’ve been making that face for nearly 10 months now.