I'm still trying to adjust to watching this year's Colorado Rapids team. By that I mean, I sit down to watch the game, beverage in hand (it's Passover, so a nice Petit Syrah must fill in for a pint of Odell's), and expect to watch the team bunker for 90 minutes of 1-0 ball.
And then they... don't. They don't quite play beautiful soccer a la Brazil, but they definitely play effective soccer. They get the ball out to the corners, and then play it back in effectively. This is unlike last year, when they got forced into the corners, only to watch the possession fizzle out. It's still surprising to me to see the Rapids play efficient and smart soccer, and then see them score on those plays.
A big part of that is the connection between Shkelzen Gashi and Jermaine Jones. True, that connection is only a week old, but it was really on display this game, especially in the first half.
Shkelzen to JJ
Here are three of the Rapids best chances from the first half.
This one was the goal at 20', which came from a great free kick from Gashi to Jermaine Jones in front of goal.
This one was four minutes later, off a corner from Gashi to Jones that nearly connected again.
And this one was a nice through ball from Gashi to JJ that got stuffed in front of the net at 29'.
Finally, Gashi laced this pretty volley at the 33rd minute, which very nearly was on target. (It wasn't from JJ, but it was still pretty sweet.)
This kind of thing more or less stopped in the second half, as the Sounders did a better job closing and marking Gashi. Probably because Sigi Schmid screamed a bunch of swear words at his defenders. But the damage was pretty much done.
Last year, the Rapids couldn't honestly claim to have more than one dangerous, reliable attacker on the pitch at a time: Vicente Sanchez. Dillon Powers could play caddy to the attackers. Dom Badji and Luis Solignac were still figuring things out, and also were not going to be able to put the team on their shoulders offensively. Dillon Serna could only be effective in 15 minute appearances - anything more, and he disappeared. Marcelo Sarvas and Nick LaBrocca, solid holding midfielders, were not going to metamorphisize into fifteen-goal scorers just because they were positioned up twenty yards.
This year, Gashi and Jermaine and Pappa are making everyone else better. Solignac has less pressure on him. The d-mids can just d-mid. And the attack forces other teams to adjust and play deeper.
Gashi is finding his feet, adjusting to the altitude, finding partners, and finally, setting up goals. The Rapids are averaging 2.0 points per game - that's not just playoff pace, it's Supporters Shield pace. And they've only have one game with Gashi, Jermaine, and Marco Pappa on the pitch at the same time.
I guess I should stop fearing that the team is gonna bunker. That Rapids team is dead. Long live the 2016 Rapids style.
The D-Mids Can Just D-Mid
The Seattle Sounders came into Commerce City in 2015 and did this:
That was not only the Sounders goal of the year in 2015. MLS recently rated it the Sounders best goal ever.
In 2016, they spent the first 45 minutes fumbling around like Richard Terry* looking for his house keys after a night-long bender. In the second half, Seattle held the ball for possession better and threaten more, but with the Rapids already up 2-0 after a goal at 53', it was too late.
The Seattle midfielders were utterly useless in the first frame, getting something like three total passes in the final third. Osvaldo Alonso was especially invisible. All three Sounders middies - Andreas Ivanschitz, Christian Roldan, and Alonso - needed to try and contain the Rapids midfield, and spent a lot of time containing Jones and Gashi instead of attacking.
But also, the Rapids new-found attacking chops means that their defensive midfielders, Micheal Azira and Sam Cronin, can just do the dirty work. I can't make video super cuts. But if I could, I'd make one of Sam Cronin closing and tackling; intercepting; clearing. The Rapids defensive midfield is solid, not only because the attacking weight is off their shoulders, but also because Axel Sjoberg has been so reliable behind them.
I wanted to mention this because it's important and true, and also because after eight games I hadn't yet mentioned Sam Cronin in a column this year. Cronin is a big key to the Rapids success. He'll be even more important if the Rapids shift Jermaine Jones deeper to play alongside him as a fellow d-mid.
I've been beating the drum for Rapids draft pick Dennis Castillo since the combine. The kid out of VCU looked sharp in preseason, but then the Rapids ... didn't sign him. Daniel Boniface reported that he was training in Commerce City, sorting out visa issues, etc. The Rapids FINALLY signed him up this past week, then threw him on the field when Eric Miller came off with a knock. Castillo hooked up with Kevin Doyle to do this:
That's a great start to his Rapids career...
... Jermaine Jones wished his twins a superhero happy birthday with this t-shirt message.
It got him a yellow, but I think that kind of celebration and swagger is something Rapids fans have longed for. Also, don't blame PRO for giving him the yellow; it's a FIFA rule that players get a card for lifting their shirts. It's a dumb rule. Also, great message from the Rapids new Ubermensch (google it).
Finally... Your Rapids ThugLife Moment
StormInMay pointed out that ending on a picture or gif with something thuglife-y is becoming a nice tradition. This one's 'thug' in a 'gee the Rapids are cheap' kinda way.
"We don't need MLS monogrammed foam blockers to pad the cameras. See? We just take these 'CONCACAF' ones, and a little duct tape, and viola!"
* Note - #DareToTerry . Look up @richardterry85 on twitter.