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Midseason Review, Part 2: Fullbacks

The defense is better this year than last, and the fullbacks are part of it. But, it could be better too. Rapids fullbacks, graded.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The wide guys have been pretty good, but they've also been victim to the most lineup changes of any position. Here they are, sorted by grade and comparable beer selections.

Michael Harrington

Grade: A-

Beer He Most Reminds Me Of:

Newcastle Brown. Very satisfying. Utterly dependable. Nothing flashy.

Mikey ‘Mo Money’ Harrington has been the best of the team’s offseason’s acqusitions, because he’s exactly what was expected: a mobile fullback with good long ball skills and very good defence. He doesn’t go further than he needs to, and will always track back to defend. He is not quite at that top-tier of fullbacks in MLS like Robbie Rogers or Deandre Yedlin was, in the sense that he helps the attack but isn’t a game-changer. That’s ok- I suspect Marvell Wynne is no longer with the team because he sallied forth too far to try to be the hero, and that became a liability. Mikey doesn’t do that.

Mikey also doesn’t seem to be an automatic choice for Pablo Mastroeni, which is bizarre. Squawka’s performance metric rates him the Rapids second best defensive player, behind only Axel Sjoberg. Among Rapids defenders, he’s the best at launching long balls. He hasn’t played the last three matches: Kansas City, Orlando, and Dallas, all of which were really poor matches from the burgundy crew. What I first thought was maybe squad rotation or a training knock turns out to be part of the mystique that makes Pablo Mastroeni’s managing so baffling: the Rapids had one dependable fullback, and now he rides the pine. Huh.

Marc Burch

Grade: C-

Beer: Molson. A small number of people think this is a good beer. Those people are objectively wrong.

Burch has a hammer for a shot and is an adept defender. He’s not fast, but he also keeps his man in front of him and isn’t reckless. To start the year, he looked solid on the other side of Michael Harrington. Burch has only played in 6 matches, and his last match was on April 4 against New England before he was parked on the pine for nearly two months. I didn’t remember him doing anything egregiously bad that match, so I went back and looked. Here’s his passing map:

Good God, y’all, that’s bad passing. In the final third, in the middle third, in his OWN third, Burch was hot garbage on the pass. No wonder he was buried on the bench for the next 7 games. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 25/42 passing, or 59%. That’s bad for a striker. It’s comical for a defender. On the season, his passing is 66%, so Burch’s ability as a defender is quickly undone by his propensity to give the ball away to the opponent; sometimes in really bad spots.

James Riley

Grade: C+

Beer: Coors. It’s not great, but it’s from Colorado, it’s cheap, and usually does its job.

In the 11 games that Riley’s played, the Rapids have only conceded 9 goals. That’s good! Three of those goals, however, were pretty much on him: Marco Pappa, Lamar Neagle, and Fabian Castillo. That’s bad. Riley gave each of those players too much space and failed to close them down, and they each busted out a skillful shot to beat Clint Irwin. It’s pretty harsh to give him a C+, considering he’s a reliable defender, still has good wheels, and gets forward in the attack without becoming a defensive liability. But those three goals would translate to a tie and a win if they don’t happen. Four points is a lot when your team only has 14.

Riley was a scrap heap pickup from the LA Galaxy, who in turn took Edson Buddle for some strange reason. For what it cost to get him, Riley earns an A-: I didn’t expect him to make the team, let alone start and play well. I think he’s better than those three goals conceded would indicate. For one, all three necessitated really, really good shots from really, really good players. For another, he takes two steps forward on any of those and the goal doesn’t happen. To me, that says he’s likely to hold it down for the rest of season and earn a better grade.

Beware the effects of excessive roster jockeying, though: Riley got flipped from RB to LB last game, and sat the game before in favor of a 6’6" traffic cone. I’m convinced Riley is our best right back, but the Rapids coaching staff may think other wise.

Marlon Hairston

Grade: Incomplete

Beer: A beer flight taste-test of IPAs. It could be really good, but you had one damn sip and can’t really tell an Odell’s from a Hopfather.

Hairston played 90 minutes against the USL Colorado Springs Switchbacks, and looked reasonably good to me. The Switchbacks right wing that night did not compare to Fatai Alashe, Joao Plata, Lamar Neagle or Darlington Nagbe: the guys likely to come down the right wing in the Western Conference, so it’s hard to tell if Hairston would look good against MLS competition. I, for one, would like to see the Rapids give him a try full time at the spot.

Joseph Greenspan

Grade: D

Beer: Hefeweizen when you ordered Guiness Stout.

There’s nothing wrong with hefeweizen unless you were expecting something else, and then it’s just bad.

Greenspan’s only played three games: once at center back, once at right back, once at left back. What? If you were a coach, would you put a rookie in three games in a row at three diferent positions?. Jose Rivas went by the 6’6" Navy ensign like a speed boat loaded with llello around a Coast Guard barge to set up Orlando’s first goal, feeding Cyle Larin for a goal. He got beat more than once by Kaka, too. Against SKC, he looked adequate, but Krisitian Nemeth had too much space too many times.

Sample size is small for Greenspan, so he may have just made some inopportune rookie mistakes early in his career, and he may be struggling because he’s playing out of what I assume is his natural position at center back. Still, he hasn’t been good, and he’s been started by Pablo ahead of someone with more MLS experience, Marlon Hairston, which baffles me.

Ben Newnam

Grade: Incomplete

Beer: Miller Genuine Draft. It’s beer alright, but not good enough to make any lists.

Newnam was thrown in to play in Red Bull Arena on April 29 and played reasonably well until the 29th minute, when Mike Grella fed a ground cross into the box and Newnam decided to slide tackle new Red Bulls DP Sasha Klejstan from behind. In the box. At home. Penalty kick to BWP, Rapids escape with a tie. Newnam flew back to Charlotte. Kid made a blunder on a big stage, and I hope he gets another chance, but he’ll have to be really good to displace Riley, Burch and Hairston.