Quick, name a position on the Rapids that raises serious question marks for next year's squad. Striker? Certainly. Kevin Doyle, Dominique Badji, and Luis Solignac together have conjured only 5 goals this season. Attacking midfield? Probably. Dillon Powers has looked good in most games, but it's becoming clear that he's a reliable box-to-box midfield workhorse, and not a slick game-changing creator a la Sebastian Giovinco, Lee Nguyen, Diego Valeri or Benny Feilhaber. Marcelo Sarvas sometimes lines up as the number 10 and plays deeper than his defensive mids; also, he's been so un-exceptional that he's been shuttled to the bench a lot this year.
Wings? Dillon Serna and Vicente Sanchez are the most reliable elements on this team. Torres and Ramirez... notsomuch.
Defensive mids? Sam Cronin's been pretty good. He leads all outfield players in minutes, is reliable on the ball, has a great workrate and defends well. Lucas Pittinari covers a lot of ground, and that's about it. Jared Watts has had bright moments, but also... not ( especially in this game... we'll get to that in a second. Clint Irwin has been mostly very good this year, but he gave up a soft goal against Toronto. This team doesn't have Giovani Dos Santos, Steven Gerrard, and Robbie Keane playing in front of them. They need their GK to be a brick wall every time out in order to stay in games. Irwin is almost definitely the starting keeper next year, but he's not above reproach.
Before September, you could make the argument that the Rapids one area not to worry about was defense. Up through August 29, the Rapids lead the league in goals against, having allowed only 27 goals in 26 games. In the four games since, they've allowed 9 goals.
It's not so simple as to point to the Rapids new defensive additions at the mid-season transfer window and say they're the problem, but they are probably the problem, as was in evidence with a plethora of bone-head plays in this game.
The defense in this one was so bad, the notably tight-lipped and player-defending Pablo Mastroeni actually (finally) called out his defenders for forgetting to bring their lunch pails. Pablo: "We just made too many individual mistakes along the back line and too many poor decisions defending. When you have that and you concede three goals, you're never going to win the game." For the generally cliche-tossing post-game bland-ifying Pablo, this is the equivalent of hellfire and damnation for the backline.
Before the latest four game swoon, the additions of Sean St. Ledger and Maynor Figueroa had immediately triggered a three-game win streak. However, those wins were against the woeful Chicago Fire, the inconsistent and out-of-the-playoffs Dynamo, and a Sporting KC side that has only pieced together one win in their last 8 outings.
In short, just as I was starting to think the Front Office had locked down two solid backline additions that might be solid building blocks for next year, it's looking like it's back to the drawing board once again. Let's examine the evidence from this game.
Exhibit A: Will Bruin Skins St. Ledger
After Will Bruin trucks Jared Watts off the ball, the Dynamo bring a three-on-four against the 'Pids. That's cool. We got this, yo.
And that's when Sean St. Ledger decides to play super-hero. Instead of falling back to close off options and stay between his man and the goal, St. Ledger charges for the spectacular tackle...
Um. What? I mean, what? Instead of going for the team play, St. Ledger tries to do it all by hisself. That works out poorly. Bruin feeds the streaking Giles Barnes, Leonel Miranda adds a pineapple to his fruit hat, and the Rapids are working from behind.
Exhibit B: It doesn't result in a goal, but it probably should have
Watts doesn't quite get to Barnes for a tackle, and doesn't close off the pass up top. But not to worry! Bobby Burling has totally got this.
Except... he overplays the ball and the Dynamo player (I think its Rasheed Olabiyi) gets right by. Olabiyi dribbles in and feeds Will Bruin, but St. Ledger puts on a saving block and the Rapids escape, for the moment.
Exhibit C: The Leaky Backline Makes Two Big Mistakes Here
That's Maynor Figueroa at the bottom of our picture, fielding a sharp but routine back pass in minute 24, I think from Sarvas. He whiffs on it, Will Bruin pounces, and it's off to the races.
Now Bruin and St. Ledger have a race to the ball. It looks like St. Ledger wins! Yay! Cake for everyone!
Ohhhhhh. Nooooooo. I don't quite now how St. Ledger missed this, but he did. Now the defense has turned in two errors in 5 seconds. Bruin dribbles in, feeding Giles Barnes who streaks to the left post and bangs it home.
The Rapids would tie it up, and Houston would score again to put it away. The Rapids had 30 minutes of fruitless (ha! see Carmen Miranda reference above. If you didn't catch it, google it.) soccer and lose again.
But really, this games is over at minute 24. Colorado cannot make these kinds of mistakes and win. Toronto FC can make those mistakes. LA Galaxy can make those mistakes. Seattle Sounders can make those mistakes. They get to play in the playoffs. We get to start rebuilding.
This game was kind of amazing in that Vicente Sanchez put the team on his back and scored two awesome goals, one with the help of a gorgeous one-two from Dillon Powers. Still, having seen this team struggle to dig up goals, it was very deflating to see them give up a goal in the 3rd minute. Once they conceded the second in the 24th minute, only the most irrationally optimistic fan still retained hope that this team could steal a win on the road. This is a Rapids team with only 29 goals in 30 games. If we can't win it the Pablo way, with defense, we can't win.