Let's rewind to the start of the 2015 season. The Rapids put together three 0-0 draws in a row, and people were cautiously optimistic about their chances in Pablo Mastroeni's second season, especially considering how awful they had been on defense at times the season prior. They dropped a 2-0 loss to the Revolution in the fourth game of the year. Then, in the fifth match of the season, the unthinkable happened: The Rapids somehow completely dominated Western Conference favorites FC Dallas and pulled out a 4-0 win.
Is the 1-0 win over Los Angeles Galaxy in mid-March going to be the 2016 season's version of that match? After the dismal showing that the Rapids put on against DC United last night, it might be time to ask that question and pump the brakes on the optimism for the Rapids actually being good on the attack this year.
There's been a lot of talk about how Zac MacMath's mistake cost the Rapids all three points last night, but I think it's being used as a pretty convenient scapegoat to ignore how little the Rapids deserved three points. Just as they really deserved to be leading that LA Galaxy match before Marco Pappa finally scored in the final minute of stoppage time, the Rapids had no business being in the lead at any point of that DC United match even though they still managed it somehow.
I've said before that the main reason I'm against the Tim Howard signing is because I don't feel like this is a playoff team he's coming into, and just about every part of the Rapids' play last night showed why. They were outshot 19-8 and the Rapids only had a single shot on target, which happened to be Dillon Powers' goal. DC United had more shots from inside the 18-yard-box than the Rapids had at all. Their passing accuracy in total matched DC United's at 71%, but the majority of that came from their passing around the back; in their final third, the Rapids' accuracy was a laughable 48%.
Perhaps it was a blip in the radar, and I'm sure that the fact that Gashi was missing from the team will be held accountable for a lot of it, but there were many deeper issues there.
Dillon Powers was once again played as an attacking midfielder high up the field, and he once again looked lost in that position. (It's worth noting that when Jermaine Jones arrives, Powers will likely either stay in that position for the rest of the year or simply won't play at all. This is a bad thing.) Marco Pappa was once again the only player of any actual creative note on the Rapids offense, running endline to endline desperately attempting to make things happen, and failing because of the lack of support every time except for the corner kick that was eventually scored on. Dominique Badji is still a shockingly bad soccer player yet played a full 90 once again. Pablo Mastroeni opted to use only a single substitute all match, a substitute that took the Rapids' best player off the field and replaced him with the always-ineffective Luis Solignac. There was little to no link-up play from the defensive side of the midfield to the attacking side of it outside of the usual ineffective longball tactics we were already sick of in 2014, and the reason why so many shots were had outside the box was because there was rarely much support for guys like Kevin Doyle when they actually made it in.
In short, the Rapids looked a hell of a lot like the 2015 Rapids during that game.
If the Rapids are to be good this year, the attack needs to be ages better than it was last year, because even with Tim Howard coming in this July it's unlikely that the defense will hold the same fantastic record they did the first half of 2015. (If they've dropped too many points in the fast and furious Western Conference, it might not even matter.) In the first two matches, the attack resembled Oscar Pareja's 2012 attack: messy but effective at getting shots away, though very rarely converting those rushes forward into goals. Yesterday it much more resembled last year's offense in all the worst ways. It cannot resemble either of those if the team is to succeed.
As has always been the case, the thing to watch on the Rapids this year is not Tim Howard, but Pablo Mastroeni's ability to get the offense clicking. It managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat against the LA Galaxy, but the DC United match should pump the brakes a little bit until we can see a consistent repeat of that sort of attacking mettle.