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The much-maligned Rapids tactics aren't improving

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At the start of the year, we were all hoping for something, anything that we could grab onto regarding improved tactics by the Rapids coaching staff. Instead, it might have actually gotten worse.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

People make way too much of formations. Except for the very start of the match when the two teams are lined up ready for kick-off, it's rare that the players on a team are going to look exactly the way that the starting XI had them laid out. Players rotate in attack, fullbacks overlap, midfielders switch positions and sides, and there are a hundred other tiny tweaks in form that a team can take that really makes the formation they started the match in more of a mental thing than a physical one.

Complaining about the 4-2-3-1 that Pablo Mastroeni's Colorado Rapids have been playing is a fairly useless exercise for that reason. Changing it to a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 or whatever other formation you happen to like in Football Manager isn't going to change a thing because the formation is not the problem with the Rapids at the moment. I saw people talking about the 4-2-3-1 leaving Luis Solignac alone on an island, but plenty of teams play 4-2-3-1 formations that feature 4-6 guys in attack, rotating and moving off the ball. The easiest example I can think of to point to is Oscar Pareja's own 2013 Rapids, who played with a lone striker up top according to the formation pictures before matches would start, but whose teams featured incredibly fun, fast and frenzied waves of attack that produced, in retrospect, way fewer goals than they should have. Still, the attacking prowess was there even when the finishing wasn't. (Thanks, Deshorn!)

Formation isn't going to matter a lick on this team because you can re-arrange the verses of a song all you like, but in the end it's still going to be a different variation on the exact same song. And honestly, Pablo Mastroeni and the coaching staff appear to be producing the same shitty cover version of their tune every single match. Pablo's tactics were much maligned by the end of last season, and this season was always going to depend on him improving in the same way as Pareja and others like Jason Kreis did. Instead, he at best has improved only marginally and at worst can probably be argued to have regressed in his tactical planning. After all, even as we saw line-up changes every single match last year, we never had a situation quite as bad as the mind-boggling changing of positions he performs every single week. (Just this week we've seen Joseph Greenspan moved to right back (???), Dillon Powers on the wing and both Marcelo Sarvas and Kevin Doyle as the attacking No. 10 type.)

Specifically, there seems to be no reason to believe this team has any tactical plan when it comes to attacking. Their attacks consist of a seemingly-random assortment of long balls, counter attacks, and runs to the end line ending in an ill-fated cross.

That was my reaction to watching SKC, a team with a very defined and fun pressing and running style of play which leads to tons of bodies forward every attack, go against the Rapids yesterday. Both the SKC and Orlando games featured the old '10 men back and Solignac forward' method of play, which kinda worked when they had Deshorn Brown up top but is destined to fail when the slower Solignac is the man up there. I still maintain, by the way, that he is only missing all of these chances because he is so surprised every time he actually gets the ball in space that his brain just shuts down before he has the chance to compose himself.

Watch essentially any attack from the SKC match again, and you'll see one of a two things:

  • No Rapids players getting into dangerous spots in the final third
  • Some Rapids players getting into the final third, but not moving off the ball at all

That seems to be the Rapids way at the moment. We were expecting things to improve when Solignac and Doyle showed up, but there's really little they can do because they're not receiving the chances they need to succeed. When the team has nearly everyone in defend-first mode and teaches nothing of off-the-ball movement to the attacking corps, you're left hoping for either set pieces or luck.

The Rapids are on pace to score 24 goals this year, which would be one of the absolute worst seasons of offense in MLS history (2010 DC United, possibly the worst MLS team of all time, scored a paltry 21). There has been absolutely zero indication that the Rapids even see what the problem is right now judging by the lack of comments from... well, anybody. We needed an improvement in tactics; we got absolutely nothing, and no indication that things will be changed. It may be an even longer second half to the season than the first was.