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Backpass 6-19-15: The Tyranny of Low Expectations

In MLS regular season play, the Rapids seem to alternate between losses, and ties that feel like losses. Is this the new normal?

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Our internet connection, which has always been dicey at best, went out completely two weeks ago, and so we had our quarterly phone call to the Comcast call center in the Philippines. We’re cord cutters, so this is something of a major life interruption: a lost internet connection when you rely on MLS Live, Foxsoccer2go, and Hulu for all your entertainment is disastrous. Calling Comcast for help is, to some degree, kabuki theatre for me: I have to walk through the steps and do the same seven things for 30 minutes, even though I’ve already tried all those things, so that the nice lady could send a service person to our house. Then, all week, I anticipated the technician coming to my house, even though, in the pit of my stomach, I knew what ever fiddling he did would either be temporary until the next quarterly failure, or, worst case scenario, the technician would fail altogether. It was the latter.*

And yet, I wasn’t surprised. I was sort of disappointed, but not really. Having been a Comcast customer for the better part of 15 years, and knowing that they have a history of terrible service, have always only provided ridiculously slow internet, and also inconveniently have a near-total monopoly on internet in Denver, I expected nothing less than long waits for crappy service.

This is what I have termed ‘the tyranny of low expectations’: when you’ve been so consistently disappointed by something that you just recalibrate and lower the bar, and then lower it again and again, until it suits the circumstances as they present themselves. You begin to expect very little. When you get something half-decent, you are ecstatically joyful. That’s the 2015 Rapids experience in a nutshell.

I watched Friday’s game differently than my community of Rapids twitter devotees. There were varying degrees of disgust with the team, especially after conceding a sort-of soft goal from the left side for like the fourth time this season. The disgust was also centered around the teams hapless attempts at attack for most of the second half, but also around the lack of finishing in the first half. Shane O’Neill sitting while Jared Watts played was unpopular. So was Pablo swapping Marcelo Sarvas for Lucas Pittinari. None of these things bothered me.

I was more positive. The first half the Rapids had better chances than FC Dallas. No, it wasn’t great, but the team put some good chances on goal. Dillon Serna was a bright spot for the team again. Gabriel Torres had some nifty footwork to beat two defenders. Bobby Burling stepped out to make a glorious saving tackle on Dallas break. I was happy.

Afterwards, I realized it was the tyranny of low expectations. The Rapids stealing a tie at home on a late equalizer is not something a fan should get excited about, but, well, here we are. In my head I know that getting only one point each game isn’t good enough to put us in the playoffs, but in my gut I don’t care. I can’t get upset anymore. I’m running out of emotions. Because I think in the past 30 games, I’ve been disappointed about 27 times. (Sigh).

Return of the Serna

Dillon Serna started twice this week: he was player of the match against the Colorado Switchbacks in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, scoring a goal and an assist. He was a lot to handle for FCD all game, then bagged an awesome equalizer on a spinning pivot. It was the kind of goal we need more of this year: this team’s most effective plays have either involved the striker, back-to-goal, feeding one of three frontline attackers for a strike, or the striker drawing defenders away from one of those three attackers, like in this case.

Serna played the number 10 on Tuesday in the Open Cup, then moved out to the right side against FCD. He gives you a lot of the things Juan Ramirez does, but he has a propensity to finish his chances. That’s some thing Ramirez hasn’t done much this year, as he has zero goals, one assist through 946 minutes of play. Ramirez has fewer goals for the Rapids than Joe Greenspan, I guy who I thought was guiding tankers through the Straits of Hormuz but, it turns out, is actually playing in Commerce City.

Serna played his way onto the bench last year. I think it was a combination of a lack of defensive skill and a tendency to disappear in games, especially in struggling to make runs or get into space when he is off the ball. Serna was so good these past two games both on and off the ball. He still tends to hold the ball a bit long and forget to pass. But he if can develop this last piece of his game, he could become this teams best player. He’s only 21, so if it takes another 2 years for these pieces of his game to emerge, he’s still ahead of the curve.

I still think a Serna-Sarvas-Ramirez attacking midfield would be, like, the most fun thing ever to watch. With a Powers-O’Neill d-mid pairing! Oh, that’d be swell. But referring back to my first thoughts, this is never going to happen, if only because it would bring me joy, and I know the Rapids too well to expect this.

Defensive Experimentation

Drew Moor got a late sub into the game again Colorado Springs at Left Back, and the Switchbacks scored shortly thereafter on his side. OK. Mastroeni gave Drew a full run out at the position on Friday night, and it looked like a good choice, as Moor got forward enough in the attack on occasion to give the team extra oomph. Moor is great at finishing with his noggin, and I suspect Pablo is trying to give him chances to score; being the stay-at-home defender makes that harder, so he swings out to the wings. He provided the cross into-the-box for Serna, so I’d say that idea worked out ok. Michael Harrington and Marc Burch were carrying knocks, though, so it may have been of necessity and not ingenuity.

James Riley, on the other hand, is looking less and less like a brilliant pickup after being cast aside by the LA Galaxy, and more like the weak link in a strong defense. He is normally reliable on defense, he tracks runners well, and he gets back in transition well. What he doesn’t do is step out on attackers down the left side. In the first half of the season Marco Pappa, Lamar Neagle, and now Fabian Castillo have all taken the ball on the left side and frozen Riley to his spot 3 yards off. Each calmly then popped the ball into the net: Pappa and Neagle on long looping shots over Clint Irwin, and Castillo on a strong drive that Clint Irwin probably should have done better with. After seeing Marlon Hairston debut at Right Back against the Switchbacks, I think he’s ready to get a shot there full time. In a season that looks like a lost cause, getting young’uns like MarlyG, Joe Greenspan, Axel Sjoberg and Dillon Serna more MLS experience is probably the only thing we can hope for.

The Fans want to Understand What the Hell is Going On

South Stands wrote a fantastic piece on this game as possibly being the beginning of the souring of the milk for fans. It's not that we're losing: that much we can endure. It's the nature of the losing. It feels disjointed, passionless, and chaotic.

If you were paying attention to the soap opera offseason of NY Red Bull, you know that it ended in a nasty, angry, but ultimately productive town hall, in which fans could voice their displeasure with the firing of Mike Petke and the aimlessness of NYRB. Rapids fans are starting to feel like the ship has no rudder: our offseason saviors from South America look like they're fit to be benched for being subpar, and our midseason saviors Kevin Doyle and Luis Solignac haven't scored, despite having chances.

We deserve a town hall with Tim Hinchey and Pablo Mastroeni answering some of the burning questions South Stands stated so well. Go read his stuff.

On a Positive Note...

...that stupid mustache is gone. It was brutal knowing that the only thing with talking about by the MLS media was our coaches mustache. Win, Pablo, and you can sport a comb-over and jorts and I will love you. But the biggest mustache in the world isn't going to endear you to the fans as we languish at the bottom of the table.

*Note: We figured out the internet problem, although it took a lot of trial and error. But it finally works! Now I can finally go back to neglecting my wife and kids to watch soccer. I know you were all worried. Although Comcast is less-than totally responsible, they are still, based on scads of experience, a terrible, terrible company to deal with. So hey, there's always hope, even amidst low expectations.