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Backpass: Snow Clasico II has Rapids Fans Believing

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The Rapids have as many wins six weeks into the season as they did through four and a half months in 2015. Is this for real? Is this a fluky good-luck streak? Backpass investigates.

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When does anticipation, wonder, and hope begin to change to something else? When does it metamorphisize from ‘maybe we won't be as bad as last year' to ‘maybe we could snag that sixth and final spot in the playoffs'? And then again to ‘maybe we can win the league'? Can the human heart hold a flicker of hope that a 10th place team in 2015 could... might... possibly... be a title contender in 2016?

Is this crazy talk?

Not really. For one, MLS is a league with unprecedented parity. The distance in the English Premier League from last to first as of Sunday morning was 57 points. From 17th to 7th, the ‘irrelevant middle' zone of teams that are safe from relegation but don't make Europa, the split is 20 points.

In MLS in 2015, the distance from 13th and out of the playoffs to 1st and Supporters Shield holders was only 13 points. So any team that flip 4 losses to 4 wins; maybe score 8 more goals a year, or concede 8 fewer; it's a whole new ballgame for them.

You want another stark example of the possibility of a rapid reversal of fortune in MLS? It was on the pitch Saturday night against the burgundy and blue: the 2015 Supporters Shield winning New York Red Bulls have one win, six losses, and goal differential of -10. The only difference between last year's NYRB and this year's is the departure of Matt Miazga - a talented defender, to be sure - but certainly not the club's lynch pin by anyone's estimation.

For another, Leiceister and Golden State, former sports also-rans, are doing things nobody would have dreamed two or three years ago. Reversals can happen.

Two factors account for this. One: the Colorado Rapids are probably not as good, and the Red Bulls are probably not as bad, as current results indicate. Both teams will (probably) regress a bit towards the mean. Two: The Rapids, like many MLS teams, made off-season upgrades at a bevy of positions. The Red Bulls stood pat, assuming (wrongly) that Ronald Zubar and Carl Ouimette are good enough defenders to keep the Red Bulls in the hunt. They are, so far, not.

One caveat to all this: Colorado and New York are philosophical opposites this year. The Rapids are going all in ... damn the torpedoes... to win today.

The Rapids team is composed primarily of free agents, like Shkelzen Gashi, and older players with short shelf lives, like Kevin Doyle, Jermaine Jones, Marco Pappa, and soon-to-be Tim Howard. Meanwhile, New York has recently promoted six of their academy players to the senior team. The Red Bulls are planning for long term success, starting in 2018 maybe.

The Rapids are built to win right now. And so far, they're doing it.

Spiraling in Frozen Fractals All Around

Playing in snow requires a slight change to your approach. The nimble dancing at full speed of your creators; using cutbacks, step-overs, etc.; become that much harder. Visibility is lousy. As a result, passing accuracy falls. In this game, NY had 59% passing, and the Rapids had 55%. Dribbling becomes more important, and so does keeping your feet.

Size also matters, because players go down that much easier, and the ref has to decide whether a player goes down because of a rough shove, or because of the viscous dynamic of sub-freezing temperatures on molded polymer-based plastics and mass to velocity dynamics as they are negatively impacted by declining friction.

Or, in other words: team than not fall down go boom do good. Jermaine not fall down. Jermaine team win.

FNGs FTW

On this gif, you've got Mekiel Williams stripping Sasha Klejsten from behind, finding Marco Pappa, who feeds Jermaine Jones. Cronin makes a run; ball is knocked loose, JJ recovers and pings out to Burch. NY does finally stifle the ball though.

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This was a microcosm of this game. A lot of midfield pinball, but the ability to do it 10% better than your opponent: to stay in the play, make the smart run, stay focused, make smart decisions, find space well; that determines this game. Also notable: Pappa, Williams and Jones are all new guys. There's no doubt that they had a great game. All three of those guys would combine to make the first goal (coming up later) happen.

The Rapids don't score on this play, but they did on others. They had more of this kind of play than NYRB by far, and that's why they win.

JJ's debut was pretty much everything the Rapids could have dreamed of. He played in the middle and high up the field; way higher than I anticipated (thanks for making me look dumb, Pablo). He cleared and held the ball strong and was an aerial force and passed well and was dangerous. It was pretty spectacular. I think that's $550,000 well spent.

RBNY: How Not to Defend

The Rapids got their first goal on a sweet play from Mekiel Williams to Jermaine Jones, with help from Marco Pappa. Some nice four v two in the corner turns into a screaming cross that nobody deals with. Observe.

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Here's Pappa holding off Kemar Lawrence, Mike Grella holding on. But Mekeil Williams shows and Pappa slots it through.

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Dax McCarty comes over to close down Williams, and Kljestan looks on. But...

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Williams spins and crosses. And...

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It's great work by Pappa and Williams. But what the hell, NY? You put four guys in the corner, and another four in the box, and you can't stop the ball? The worst is that second pic: Dax McCarty has Williams pinned to the endline, and he lets him turn and fire off that cross. That absolutely can't happen. McCarty has to close that down. He can't let the player turn.

Meanwhile, there's four guys in the box, and they're marking space, but not a man.

You could say it's a wicked lucky pass, but the Rapids got another almost identical one; Pappa crosses, JJ fires; at the 38' mark that Robles saved. Luis Solignac pounded home the rebound and the fireworks went off at DSGP, but he was offside.

RBNY fans have been panicking because the team can't hardly score goals. That's a problem; they look a lot like the Rapids last year, with Bradley Wright Phillips on an island up high and the team unable to feed him. But if I were Jesse Marsch, I'd be much more concerned about this defense that doesn't close down, doesn't clear, and doesn't tackle when they need to.

Thou Shalt Not Judge a Man By His Worst Shots

I'm admittedly a big Dom Badji fan - his size and speed make him a tremendous asset. He has a ways to go to figure out how to combine with other players, when to make that run, how to holdup the ball and find the runner, but he gives the team dimensions on the field that Dillon Serna can't, because he's got size. Many Rapids fans, though, remember him for one or two particularly bad shots on goal last year. Listen, that happens to everyone.

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If you didn't want to watch, that video contains awful misses by such futbol luminaries as Fernando Torres, Freddie Ljungberg, and Diego Forlan. Good players, big scorers, in big leagues.

Horrendous misses happen. Ask Chris Wondolowski. Everybody Wondos sometimes.

But in this game, all should be forgiven, because Badji did this.

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And he almost put in this, too.

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So show the man some love, huh?

Quick Hits...

After two shaky games, Zac MacMath kept his nose clean. Granted, he didn't have to deal with anything really dangerous. But a solid performance to build on...

... I kind of liked the move to have a north terrace and south stand supporters section that Centennial 38 went in on at the start of 2016 - more loud supporters at both ends is good. But on a night with terrible weather and low attendance, it really hurt our ability as supporters to make sufficient noise. If that ever happens again, I hope they consolidate C38 into one spot...

... Another great night for the defense, as Burling and Miller dealt with everything inside and Williams and Marc Burch were not beaten on the outside. The Rapids conceded on a second chance cross and header from Kljestan to Chris Duvall that wasn't dealt with by Burch. But the Rapids strangled NY for 75 minutes, dominating all but a 15 minute stretch from 46' to 60', and the D and Cronin and Azira's work, while playing a higher line and trying to keep the ball out of the final third altogether, was laudable...

... I used to sit in 105, but my ticket rep moved me to section 106 for this season. I hate the 106. I participated in or tried to start a half dozen different cheers. No one in my section uttered a word except for the East Stand's go-to, highly unoriginal, and eventually irritating cheer ‘Let's go Rapids!' Which they did frequently and loudly, so I guess that's cool. But I'm done. Man cannot live on one stupid, repetitive, non-soccer specific cheer alone. I'm asking any of you kind Rapids fans to adopt me: get me out my sucky silent section...

... And finally, Sasha Kljestan deserved two yellow cards. One for this play below, and one for that stupid mustache.