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Backpass 8-8-15: The Beginning of the End

With twelve games to go, it looks like the Rapids won't be playing for MLS Cup, and we're already out of the US Open Cup. 1...2...3... what are we fighting for?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We've pretty much reached the point in the season where the metric we've been using to measure the Colorado Rapids: Wins, Losses, Ties (AKA Points) is no longer a valid metric. Short of a collapse of virtually every team in the Western Conference, and with only 12 games left to make up a 6 point deficit from the last spot, the playoffs are now a virtual impossibility.

So we've got to measure the team on some other yardstick. Last year, the last stretch of the season was measured in one simple way: can we win? In case you missed it (and you should consider yourself lucky if you did) the Rapids failed to win from July 26, 2014 until into early this season, ending last season on 14-game winless streak. Just hoping we could nick a win was the goal, and we even failed at that.

So, if we were to set the bar really, really low, we could measure the Rapids on their ability to win any game between now and October 25th. Looking at our next three opponents, San Jose looks like a good possibility, and is in the middle of a six game winless streak themselves. The Chicago Fire are surging a bit, but are still a middlin' MLS side. And Houston has been consistently inconsistent, mostly on defense.

Other than that, the schedule mostly looks like an opportunity for the pure soccer fan to see poetry in motion. The burgundy crew head to Canadia to play Sebastian Giovinco and Toronto FC. Didier Drogba's Montreal Impact will be here on October 10. We get Sporting KC twice, and Benny Feilhaber is clearly the best central midfielder in MLS this year.

Another thing the Rapids could do is use the back end of 2015 to try out the young'uns. We've shipped Shane O'Neill out, but there's still a chance to give the keys to Marlon Hairston, Charles Eloundou, Juan Ramirez, Dillon Serna, and Axel Sjoberg. Caleb Calvert and Dom Badji are still available for selection. Ensign Joe Greenspan, too!

That might not sit too well with the oldsters though. I can't imagine what Drew Moor would be thinking if he lost his starting spot to a guy that hasn't clearly proved he deserves it. Still, this team is in dead last, and if the Rapids don't blow it up and start over again in the offseason, I'd be surprised. I imagine the veterans on this roster are feeling pretty uncertain about their futures in Commerce City. Let's use the end of the season to make sure that the young players we have are the right ones.

The last thing the Rapids could play for is the Rocky Mountain Cup. A win or tie at home against Real Salt Lake on October 4 delivers the cup into our hand. Beating RSL is always something worth celebrating, even if, in a calamitous season, it's kind of a hollow victory. If that's the only kind of victory that's available at this stage, well then, I guess we'll have to take it.

Defensive Spacing

This game was kinda similar to a bunch I've been to at DSGP the past year: a come-from-behind win from our opponents after they adjusted at the half and we didn't see it coming.

The Rapids controlled possession in the first half, and got into Columbus' final third often, delivering end-line runs and crosses that turned into lots and lots of corners. In the second half, Columbus ran wild, and the Rapids didn't stop them. From minute 55 to minute 75, the Crew were all over the Rapids, and the defense, especially through midfield, was unable to stop them.

As much as the Rapids couldn't generate any offense out of the lone-striker 4-2-3-1, and as much as Solignac, Doyle, and Torres don't fit the mold for a #9 in that formation, the ability to have two defensive midfielders meant that the Rapids were rarely caught on the break. With a high pressing 4-3-3, a counter-attack that starts with one good pass is devastating, and the Rapids midfield was either too tired, too slow, or too out-of-position to react. Observe:

At minute 63 Columbus plays out of the back. Sarvas, Doyle, Watts and Eloudou are all guarding... nothing. Michael Parkhurst has Chris Klute, Kristinn Steindorssen, and Hector Jimenez ALL wide open.

... so he goes to Klute, who's now looking at three attackers, one of whom (Frederico Higuain) is in acres of space.

Klute waits and the defense collapses two players on him, while Will Trapp, Higuain, Ethan Finley and Kei Kamara suddenly have a 4 on 4 attack.

Klute picks out Finley in loads of space, and the Rapids defense is scattered and ill-prepared to stop anything. Especially the wide open Kamara at the bottom of your picture.

Finley puts one on the far post and Kamara gives it a great cross-goal header, which is only stopped by the outstretched arm of lightning quick Clint Irwin.

No matter though, because the Crew recover the ensuing clearance and send it in to Jimenez, who puts a perfect ground pass in the box onto the waiting foot of Kamara, and the Rapids are toast.

Rapids fans all hated the fact that the 4-2-3-1 couldn't generate any goals for us, and left our striker on an island, but it allowed for Pablo to play the kind of hard-nosed defense that I think he'd prefer out of his team. Sadly, the 4-3-3's Achilles heel is it's vulnerability on the counter unless both your midfield and your backline defense are absolutely stellar. Ours normally is, but Kei Kamara is just too much.

One Dimensionality

One problem this team struggles with is that there are too many players that do just one thing. Doyle can poach in the box, but he isn't gonna set the world on fire on the dribble, and he's not big or strong or tall either. Vicente Sanchez can dribble: he had a double cutback in the 60th minute that had the whole crowd ooo-ing and ahhh-ing, but he's not out-running too many guys any more at age 35. Juan Ramirez and Charles Eloundou are really similar: pacey, but can't pass or shoot well. Eloundou's passing map:

That's 6/12 passes. Notsogood. He also failed to put away a goal on 4 shots, although he was oh-so-close on one. That seems to be a trend.

Lots of teams have one-dimensional guys: Kekutah Manneh and Dom Oduro; Chris Wondolowski; Conor Casey and Chad Barrett. But somehow they utilize their one tool in a way the rest of the team can benefit from, and they deliver wins with these Babe Ruth all-or-nothing types. Maybe the Rapids have too many uni-taskers, and not enough jacks-of-all-trades. Maybe it's about the game plans or the coaching.

Kevin Doyle's Finishing Needs to Justify his DP Status

Kei Kamara had seven shots: three were on goal. The first was from a sharp angle on the left side of goal to beat Clint Irwin far post. Really tough shot, nothing Irwin could do. The second shot was that awesome header from up above that Irwin baaaarely saved. The third was the game-winner, which he slotted home on a one-timer from Jimenez.

Kevin Doyle, in comparison, had three shots, and none hit the goal. Here they are:

The first one was a great headed chance early. The second was that long range shot , and the third… another blown header.

These things happen. Of course not every shot is gonna go in. It’s just that the ability to convert limited chances in front into goals makes underdogs into lions, and makes English league castoffs like Dom Dwyer and Bradley Wright-Phillips into high paid and highly-desired DPs. Don’t believe me? Look at Sunday’s West Ham-Arsenal match. West Ham had 6 shots, and Arsenal had 14. West Ham finished their chances, and won.

As a DP, there’s a higher burden than on a regular player. A DP can shine and prove their worth, like LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane. Or they can underperform and hurt the club doubly: both by losing games and also by wasting money that could be spent elsewhere, like NYRB’s Rafa Marquez. Which is Doyle going to be?

Jared Watts is my MOTM

Its interesting to me that Jared Watts hasn't merited to enter into Rapids Twitter's lofty status of #RapKids: he came up just around the time that Dillon Powers, Shane O'Neill, and Dillon Serna did. Watts had some bad performances last season, filling in on the backline for O'Neill and Moor, and I criticized him just last week for being not so great at CB. So the fact that he wasn't elevated in the past to the status of RapKid is merited.

This week, Watts was the best Rapids player on the pitch. He had 78 touches and 69 passes, including 3 Key Passes; that's way more than the rest of the team, especially Marcelo Sarvas, who had only 29 touches. He was the main link from the backline to the front, and he had more clearances, blocks, interceptions, and tackles than any other Rapids except Marc Burch.

Mastroeni finally played Watts at the position he'd been listed at when he joined the Rapids, CDM. I thought he looked good there, and I believe he might just turn into the RapKid success story we were hoping would come from Shane O'Neill, who now makes the big adjustment to life in a fringe European league, a diet rich in Souvlaki, and pretending to like Ouzo. Embrace Jared, folks, before the front office exports him to Malta in exchange for some sea shells and a 12-pack of goalkeeper's gloves.

I think Watts got the start on the idea that his height was needed in order to have an impact at midfield, or maybe to counteract Kei Kamara. I'm not sure either of those things happened, as Kamara beast-ed through the Rapids lines pretty thoughroughly, and Watts only won one aerial duel. Nonetheless, I though he proved he can be an MLS starter.


Really? Bubble gum? Go back to the mustache and the bowties. I prefer to take my whimsy in the classy variety, and not the silly variety.