To start, there's this win over the Chicago Fire. It was, in fact, a win; something I’m supposed to be excited about. But really, I’m not. The Fire are a team that looks a lot like the Rapids, in all the bad ways.
Mired at the bottom of the table for a second straight year? Check.
Suburban stadium in the era of cool MLS 3.0 downtown stadia? Check.
Imported Irish international DP that was supposed to save the franchise but has been a disappointment? Check.
Angry mob of supporters chanting ‘[Insert sucky ownership group] Out’? Check.
This is like that really awful video on youtube of hobo-boxing: two destitute and down-and-out teams slugging it out for a few coins, with no real meaning attached.
The only practical implication of this win is that the Rapids might (should?) switch places with the Fire at the bottom of the ‘MLS Power Rankings’.
The nature of this win was really hard to stomach. The Rapids scored on a buttery, flaky, gorgeous short-popped cross from Gabriel Torres to Dillon Serna in the very first minute of play. Then the Rapids bunkered for 89+ minutes. Colorado had two shots on frame, and 32% possession, to Chicago’s 20 shots total: 4 on target, 9 off target, 7 (7!) blocked. Any ball in the final third was cleared. The Fire missed some really great chances:
at 13’, David Accam was saved by Clint Irwin. It was a great save, but Accam really didn’t hit the ball with enough oomph. A good forward buries that nine times out of ten.
at 20’, Larentowicz headed a ball right into Irwins paws. Bad luck.
Kennedy Igboananike struck the post at 33’. The Chicago commenter stated ‘It’s just been that kind of year.’ Rapids fans and Fire fans nod in unison knowingly.
At 50’ Accam send in an errant cross that should have been a goal.
Gilberto hit the post at 92’.
The Rapids cleared the ball a lot, rather than risking holding the ball at the back; they had 35 clearances (!). They also went forward with a skeleton crew of attackers, especially after the 60th minute. It was safe. It was boring. It won three points. It will almost certainly not be remembered as the great turning point of the season, since the season is probably already beyond getting turnt. (did I use turnt right? I probably didn’t use turnt right.)
I don’t mean to get down on the team, because midfield defense was quite good, especially from Marcelo Sarvas, who seemed to be everywhere. It’s just hard to make much of this game, though, because in addition to the Rapids being boring, the Fire were both bad and unlucky. And tactically they were poor. The Rapids conceded the flanks, and so the Fire sent in crosses and crosses and crosses: 37 crosses! Against an excellent goalkeeping of Clint Irwin and the towering tower of Bobby Burling (6’5")? OK then.
Understanding Kevin Doyle
The Rapids have run two formations this year: the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1. Both formations generally put emphasis on a #9 (the lone striker or center forward) having several specific skills: being tall, making crafting runs behind the defenders, heading well, dribbling in traffic, good holdup play, and/or poaching in front of goal.
Other MLS number nines: Kei Kamara, Cyle Larin, Fanendo Adi, Dom Dwyer; have at least three of the characteristics I listed above. Kevin Doyle, to my eyes, is a good poacher, and that’s about it.
It’s confusing. It’s not confusing because Doyle is a bad soccer player: he’s not. He’s OK. But his play so far has indicated that he’s the kind of striker that passes well to make another striker better, or that he’s the guy that rams home the goal that a faster or stronger player bulls into the box to shoot. Meaning: he's good in a 4-4-2, or 4-1-3-2. He's not meant to be the lone guy in the box. When he first arrived from Wolverhampton, looking at his paucity of starts over 2014-15, my main concerns involved him being rusty. Turns out, that was wrong. He’s never been rusty: he’s always just been a round peg in a square hole for the Rapids offense.
Yes, I know he had the secondary assist for the goal in this game against Chicago Fire, but that came on the far right at midfield. It’s great that he did that, but it’s not what he’s supposed to do.
What he’s supposed to do is put the ball in the back of the net, and he hasn’t done that. Here’s his stats to date.
That’s not so great. Especially 4 shots on goal out of 21 total. Looking at Doyle's 'Expected goals' mark of 1.60 doesn't clarify matters, in that he's scored on goals that proximity and probability would say he should score. The problem is the shot he isn't getting into position to take, and the low probability shots that he winds up missing. Neither is good.
What’s most confusing is that the acquisition of Kevin Doyle feels like a miscommunication between Cladio Lopez, Pablo Mastroeni, Padraig Smith, and Paul Bravo. The coaching and Front Office are supposed to work together to identify offseason needs for the system the coach wants to run, then plug those holes. If they all agreed that Kevin Doyle had the skill set: shooting, dribbling, poaching, speed; then the Rapids braintrust screwed up. On the other hand, it’s possible that some elements of the Front Office thought Doyle’s portfolio of skillful poaching and adequate dribbling, adequate speed, and adequate shooting was the right guy to pair with another striker like Luis Solignac or Gabriel Torres. Meanwhile the coaching staff didn’t get the memo; and put Doyle in a spot that wasn’t really right for him. Or the Rapids Front Office were trying to get a long list of other, better players, and somehow wound up needing to go to Plan B.
It’s still possible that Doyle could work out: Clint Dempsey wasn’t an immediate success. Jozy Altidore hasn’t really been a success either. It may take some time. But MLS teams don’t always display patience in letting a player who is underperforming find their rhythm. Shaun Maloney and Rais M’Bolhi can testify to that.
On the Matter of KSE Out
I have the following criticisms regarding the way KSE operates, namely:
That KSE places far too much effort and emphasis on generating revenue, instead of putting emphasis on producing an excellent soccer team.
That KSE and the Front Office have done a disservice to fans by having a somewhat phony ‘fan-forum’ in which the PR team could produce pre-prepared responses to the litany of complaints about the team.
That KSE operate the team on a shoestring budget, with limited investment in players and a lack of spending on the fan experience in ways that other teams have done.
That the Rapids lack coordination with their Youth Soccer programs.
That the Rapids social media and overall marketing efforts are below-par.
That Tim Hinchey has not shown great direction and leadership over the last two years, and might not be the right person to lead this club going forward.
That having a hodge-podge of the Altitude and KSE office, sales, and marketing run through the office in the Pepsi Center for the Avs, Nuggets, and Rapids is probably doing a disservice to all three teams.
That being KSE’s fifth-most valuable asset out of six teams (in order: Arsenal, the Rams, Nuggets, Avalanche, the Rapids, and that Lacrosse team) shows in the lack of effort and attention they pay to the Rapids.
That other MLS teams create opportunities (contests, meet-and-greets, fan forums) for all their supporters, while the Rapids only create opportunities for Full Season Ticket Holders.
All those reasons lead me to strongly identify with KSE Out. However. If you’ve ever loved a sports franchise (oh, how stupid that sounds, but it’s the truth), and been through many owners, you know that they all suck: it’s only shades of suckitude that the fan has to evaluate. The KSE Rapids have yet to disgust me in the manner that Frank McCourt’s LA Dodgers, or Donald Sterling’s Clippers, disgusted me.
McCourt bought the team by leveraging his parking-lot empire as equity, then used the team as both a personal and corporate piggy bank. The first thing he did was cut the budget on player salaries. The next thing he did was raise the price of parking to $10. Note that there is no other way to get to Dodger Stadium than by car. McCourt vastly expanded luxury boxes for the rich, while cutting the cost on security, concession staffing, and even bathroom maintenance. The fan experience went from magical to exploitative. The team turned to crap for a decade.
I’m not going to recount the sins of Donald Sterling other than to say that his racist remarks were nothing new to fans who’d paid attention: Sterling had been discriminating against Black and Latino apartment residents for 20 years before his awful statements about minorities were broadcast to the world. And besides all that: the Clippers were the cheapest and worst run franchise in sports history.
As a rabbi, I’m of the ‘hate the sinner, not the sin’ type of thinking. I want KSE to recognize something is wrong and change. I don’t want them out. I’m terrified of what another, worser, owner would be like. I think KSE isn’t great. I don’t think it’s quite at the ‘burning-in-effigy’ stage, for me. I hope KSE can address the fan’s frustrations over the coming months.
I might be at the game tomorrow (I have do some rabbi-ing at back-to-school night first). And I’m on the fence about whether to wear green or burgundy. I feel sad just writing that. Because I still want very much to believe in this team. But I’m starting to think I’m a sucker if I do.