This Backpass’ll be short on cool tactical gifs and less detailed than usual. That’s because I spent most of the game trying to simultaneously watch the match while putting up a funny little Jewish hut known as a Sukkah. I assumed that I could watch the detailed replay Monday, only to find that MLS Live has a 48 hour blackout on replays of nationally televised games, and the Watch ESPN app hates me and just did the whole spinning wheel of death thing instead of actually playing the game. So, in between snatches of building this silly booth , I caught the following core things about this game:
- WTF this lineup.
Calvert’s fine, and the kid deserved a chance. Playing Doyle again at the number ten is clearly a ‘Man this totally worked on Thursday! Let’s do it again’ decision. And his play against Portland indicated that, yeah, it was kind of a fluke that he was so good there against San Jose. Marco Pappa has only started 2 of the last 14 games for a reason: he doesn’t provide enough of the high-pressure defense that this team thrives on. The last time Mekiel Williams saw the field for significant minutes was on July 30 against NYCFC. And Axel Sjoberg has been the best player on the Rapids this year, bar none. Having him out of the lineup in exchange for a rusty Bobby Burling, who has missed 13 of the last 18 games with turf toe, was bound to be a problem.
2. Portland had the ball all first half, and our pressure didn’t work, nor was it really, uh, pressure-y.
3. We drew two penalties ( I thought both were justified) and were lucky to only concede one goal (good psyche job, Timmy!) .
4. In the second half, Portland played physically, they wanted it more, and we didn’t have the horses. 1-0, Hipster Lumberjacks.
Kevin Doyle thought we should’ve squeaked a point out of this one.
I say: ‘Nah.’ We were the weaker team. We were a little sloppy. Portland wanted it. I think, considering some of the thunderous runs of Darlington Nagbe I saw while putting a bamboo roof on a shaky little framed hut and that blown second PK from Fanendo Adi, we got off lucky to only lose 1-0.
So what was this lineup?
AKA, should we really be rotating the squad with hardware on the line? Mmm, maybe. Axel Sjoberg hadn’t had a game off since Week 6. Dillon Powers hadn’t had a game off since Week 11. Jermaine Jones and Marlon Hairston are still hurt. The FO need some more data to help decide if Mekiel Williams is part of the puzzle for next season. And even a dog in a doghouse gets to go outside and run every now and again (looking at you, Marco Pappa).
Pablo started Kevin Doyle in the middle and Shkelzen Gashi and Marco Pappa wide.
I still think Shkelzen Gashi gives you much more centrally than Doyle does, and with the frailties of our lineup, this game could have been Pablo’s chance to play a 5-3-2 with Sjoberg, Watts, and Burling. I know breaking out of the 4-2-3-1 is never going to happen agin, but I still like to dream sometimes.
Pablo started the weaker lineup. I assume it means he wants the team rested and healthy for an MLS Cup run. I see the Rapids as having been two victories away from an equally valuable trophy, the Supporters Shield, and deciding not to go all out for it. It wasn’t exactly a bird in the hand, but needing results in two games in order to bag some silverware is a lot easier than needing results in five games, as the Rapids will need to do in order to take home their second ever MLS Cup.
Down two points with one game to go, we can still win the Shield. Especially now that FC Dallas will be without Mauro Diaz. But we made it a lot harder for ourselves, didn’t we?
Even if we don’t take the Supporters Shield, the Rapids sealed up a spot in the Concacaf Champions League next year because FC Dallas are already qualified as the US Open Cup champs and NYCFC can no longer catch us for Supporters Shield runners-up. So we’re in.
I love me some CONCACAF Champions League. I’m the kind of sick bastard that irrationally loves a midweek game at DSGP with a smallish crowd: I like a few games a year with just the folks that <really> care. Matches like early-round US Open Cup games are like the hipster speakeasies of the sporting world. Add to that the possibility of a thousand Central Americans turning out for a team they haven’t seen since they were kids in Guatemala or Honduras, grilling pupusas or lengua tacos in the parking lot, and you have the makings of one of those rare-cultural experiences you don’t see very often in Colorado. And if the Rapids get drawn with a Mexican club in the group stages, like Club America, Chivas, Pachuca, or Tijuana? Dios mio, that’ll be a scene that I wouldn’t miss for all the Cochinita Pibil in the Yucatan.*
Having to play that many more games next year (and traveling to some, uh, challenging locales in the Caribbean or Central America) will cause some health and depth issues for this team next year. But it also will give the team a boost in General Allocation Money that the team can use in 2017 to fill some holes and build depth, like a spare winger, a new leftback, and an experienced defensive bench piece or two. I can’t wait.
Oh yeah, also? ESPN needs to treat the viewers with respect
ESPN’s pre-game coverage took the perspective of: ‘Who are these guys? Are the Rapids for real? What a bunch of no-names.’
That might have been a valid take 10 weeks ago, but with, literally, ONE GAME LEFT in the season, it sounded like a team of pundits who just discovered the United States has a soccer league.
Axel Sjoberg is a legitimate candidate for defender of the year. Sam Cronin and Micheal Azira are the absolute best defensive midfield tandem in the league this year. They totally forgot that Marlon Hairston was tearing up the league before he tweaked his quad.
Also, NBC soccer coverage talks tactics. Fox does it too - and well. MLS fans are, for the most part, knowledgable about the game (except, yes, I still have to explain offsides five times a year to someone sitting nearby.) Why does ESPN think we need it dumbed down? The fans can handle some talk about high pressure, out-manning the midfield, playing route 1, etc. C’mon, man.
Rapids Sukkah Thuglife
(This is actually from last year, but whatevs.)
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* The rabbi experienced Cochinita Pibil when he was a young’un, before his religious fervor led him to eschew some of the most incredible earthly pleasures so that he could connect on a higher level with his Creator. I am fairly certain, however, that in the hereafter, I will be met at the pearly gates with a pair of slow-roasted barbecue pork tacos.