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Sidepass: We want the Shield

The Rapids sit atop the table after a midweek win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Sidepass (the midweek Backpass) takes a quick look.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s us at the top of the Major League Soccer table. On October 15, 2016. Only two games to go.

Look at this. Remember it. Savor it. Burn it into your retinas and hope that it looks the same at 4 pm on October 23.

Colorado sits astride the world. There can be no doubt. On points, on points per game, with an equal number of games to the rest of the teams in MLS, we are the best. With 57 points to FC Dallas’ 56, the Rapids are supreme.

Many folks will say ‘That’s great! Now lets go win MLS Cup.’ This attitude is to acknowledge the dominant theory amongst MLS fans: that MLS Cup reigns supreme, and all other hardware: Supporters’ Shield, US Open Cup, and even the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League trophy (that’s a mouthful) are secondary in nature.

I don’t agree. In this humble rabbis opinion, the trophy hierarchy is: 1) CONCACAF Champions League, 2a) MLS Cup, 2b)Supporters Shield, and 3) US Open Cup.

CCL is tops because of the level of competition and the sheer rarity of MLS teams winning it: only DC United and the LA Galaxy have won it since the tournament was created in 1962.

Knockout tournaments, to me, are inherently less demonstrative of mastery than league play, since winning one game (potentially in extra time or even a penalty shootout) involves a significant amount more luck than winning dozens of games over a 34-game season.

I was a baseball fan before I was a soccer fan, and when I was a kid, only four teams qualified for the playoffs after a long, taxing 162 game season to see who would be on top. And up until 1968, only the top two teams made the ‘playoffs’. There were no playoffs. The American League champion and the National Champion, determined by league play, faced off in the World Series. The regular season meant everything. Today, of course, ten teams make the playoffs in baseball. In basketball and football, losing teams regularly qualify. It’s dumb.

Granted, the old-school baseball system is dumb too. Having half of your league’s team effectively eliminated from hardware by July is a huge fan turnoff. I’m pleased that MLS Cup exists, and I like it’s format.

But I like the Shield a lot. It recognizes that being the best on the season is a huge accomplishment, demonstrating depth and skill and tenacity and tactical acumen with only a small portion here and there of luck. It is a true test of a team. And let us not forget that it qualifies a team for CONCACAF Champions League, something that I personally have not seen since I moved to Colorado. Also, the Supporters Shield was created for, and belongs to, the Supporters. You and I might pass it around section 105 or 117 next year and take Shield selfies and so-on. That’s pretty cool.

To win the shield, the Rapids have two games to go: the first against Portland tomorrow at Providence Park; the second at home against the Houston Dynamo. Portland sit 2 points below the redline, so you can expect they will be ferocious and desperate. Houston will just be muddling through a final game in what has been a lost season for them. Meanwhile the other Shield contender, FC Dallas, play against a surging Seattle Sounders team this week and an LA Galaxy side that will likely have a lock on 3rd or 4th place with little to play for.

It’s possible we take the shield if we earn 4 or even 3 points, but anything short of 6 points out of two games is likely not enough.

I really want to hold that Shield.

Really Simple Tactical Recap

The game was pretty boring for 30 minutes. The Rapids high press frustrated San Jose but both teams played organized, compact defense, played the long ball, and waited out their opponent. Then, this.

SJ had been giving Marc Burch a lot of room for 10 minutes, focusing on closing down things in front of the box, and eventually, it burned them.

It was nearly doubled six minutes later, when Badji rounded David Bingham but was foiled by the Quake’s second netminder, Victor Bernardez.

San Jose would earn a penalty at 57’ and score. It was a questionable foul, as Wondo steps in front of Eric Miller to get the ball, and Miller trips over Wondolowski, who then trips and falls. Felt like no-foul, but the zebras thought otherwise. Wondo v Howard was a pretty cool USMNT mano y mano for fans to see. Score becomes 1-1.

The field began to open up and the game rose to pace that Colorado often doesn’t see. The Rapids got a good look at 71’ with a lightning bolt from outside the box from Doyle. Then Fatai Alashe knocked down Dillon Powers on a corner, and referee Robert Sibiga pointed to the spot. Kevin Doyle fired the go-ahead goal down the middle. 2-1, Rapids.

Caleb Calvert got a good look at 75’ but Bingham made a tremendous save. The Rapids absorbed a few late attacks from the Eartquakes. Whistle.

Three points and the top of the standings; boom. A little luck, a lot of skill, great high-press offense and deep defending as well, and the Rapids power on.

About Kevin Doyle

I am only too happy to be proven wrong about Kevin Doyle, whom I have excoriated on numerous occasions in this here column. He needs more than one good game to prove his worth, but he put in a great performance at a time when the rest of the Rapids are peaking as well. Awesome. While he still needs to do a lot more to prove that he’s worthy of a DP slot, his spectacular diving header proves that he can do things. His propensity to come deep for the ball means that, in this game, playing as the Central Attacking Midfielder, he could operate in spaces that haven’t been his territory to date. And boy did he take advantage.

Dom Badji also did good work holding up and occupying defenders: his physical size and speed up front, and Shkelzen Gashi’s ability to pass and shoot and threaten alongside Doyle, made Doyle very dangerous as a number 10 because he was often freed up. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

I wouldn’t play Doyle as a number 10 when Jones comes back, but I might prefer him over Dillon Powers there. I really think a front four of Le Toux, Gashi, Hairston; Badji is our best look, but Hairston’s leg injury and the need for some squad rotation with games only 3 days apart means that what Pablo throws out on Sunday against PTFC is anybody’s guess.

On To Portland

On to Portland, which is 50% of the way to silverware. If you look back at what we were writing back in February and March about the Colorado Rapids, you’ll see why I can’t believe I just wrote that either. #KeepFighting