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Backpass: The Epitome of the ‘We'll take a Point on the Road' Kind of Game

Defense, restarts, and set pieces. The Rapids did the job, stopping Piatti (with fouls) and Drogba (mmm, sort of.) Backpass has your week eight rewind from MLS' only French speaking enclave. Oui.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

I'll be honest. This was not my kind of game. I like well-formed build-up play, sharp tiki-taka passing, long runs, spectacular dribbling, and end-to-end action. This game had none of those things. Also, I watched half of it in under the soul-sucking fluorescent lights of the Tel Aviv airport waiting area before getting crammed into the uncomfortable seats of a fourteen hour trans-atlantic flight, and I had already watched both of the decent movies available to me. One of them, ‘The Martian', I watched again. I did not regret it. I took a chance on a movie I was curious about, ‘Concussion.' It was awful. Don't see it.

This game was better than ‘Concussion' but worse than ‘The Martian'.

It had lots of goals, but those goals were kind of unspectacular. All four goals came on short, quick restart plays. Two were set pieces; the Drogba free-kick goal and the Gashi kick, footed home by Bobby Burling. And two were throw-ins; a Rapids out-of-bounds restart went to Mekiel Williams, who crossed low to Shkelzen Gashi in front of the frame for the goal; the Montreal throw rattled around and out of the 18 and got pounded home by Maxim Tissot. None came from breathtaking dribbles or spectacular 15-pass build-ups.

Fine. Call me a snob for wanting action-packed, highlight reel soccer. It's true. But this one, while tidy and ultimately successful for the Rapids in that in resulted in a hard-fought point on the road, was not poetry; not on the defensive side or on the offensive side. Sometimes, you just take that and move on.

Wait, Jermaine Jones is really our number 10?

When Jermaine Jones debuted as the Rapids central attacking midfielder in his first game against New York in a slushy snowstorm, flanked on either side by Marco Pappa and Shkelzen Gashi, it was a bit of a surprise to me, and I think a fair number of other Rapids fans. I thought the USMNT's best defensive midfielder would be likely played... as a defensive midfielder. I know, crazy, right?

It worked great, though, as Jermaine connected passes, served as a third d-mid when needed in a ‘box-to-box' role, and was a threat inside the opposing eighteen due to his size and shooting accuracy. The Rapids repeated the ‘experiment' again in a 3-1 win over Seattle Sounders, and in the 2-2 draw against Montreal this past Saturday.

When I wrote ‘Damn the Torpedoes, Go get Jermaine Jones', suggesting that the Rapids go out and get Jones back in February, I never imagined they'd use him this way.

I thought we were getting a slightly older, slower, less productive JJ; prone to injury, likely to help add a different and more offensively minded look to the defensive midfield. Instead, we get a Jermaine that's been revitalized by the move to Commerce City, and has in turn revitalized the team. He's so effective offensively, he's actually become an attacker with defensive chops, instead of what I assumed he'd be: a defender with attacking chops.

It wasn't until Matt Doyle and Andrew Wiebe joked about Jurgen Klinsmann playing him as the USMNT's number 10 this summer at Copa America that I fully realized: Jermaine is our number 10. Once is an experiment. Twice is a dalliance. Three times is a firm commitment.

I'm more than OK with it: I think it's great. How can you argue with it, anyways? Jones has 2 goals, 2 assists through 3 games. The Rapids have 7 points in 3 games with Jones on the field. There is no argument: Jones is good as the number 10. Whatever beef fans have had with Pablo Mastroeni playing players out of position, this time, it worked like a charm.

Last thing on this topic: Jones addition as a number 10 means that the Rapids assumed-to-be-standard midfield quintet is: Gashi, Jones, Pappa; Azira, Cronin. Either you assume these are your best midfielders, or the the midfielders that perform the best together, even if they don't have the raw skills to be on a ‘Best XI' team of the week type fantasy lineup. If you go with the first assumption, you assume Dillon Powers and Dillon Serna have dropped in the depth chart to 6th and 7th. Or, including Dominique Badji, who has more minutes than either Serna or Powers, they're 7th and 8th on the midfield roster. Yikes.

I think it's more likely the latter: Micheal Azira isn't one of your best midfielders, but his positioning and tackling are impeccable, and with Jones on the field, you need not one but two reliable, smart, and defensive-minded midfielders to protect him when he gets far up in attack. As the season progresses, and coming off of the off season's rumored interest in selling Powers on to Reading FC in the English Championship, I'd expect Powers to be shopped again at fairly cut rate prices. He wants to start; we aren't giving him the chance. The team is winning without him. I want Powers to be successful and happy, but I'd be surprised if it turned out that Colorado is the place that he achieves that success.

Burling Blows it, Fullbacks Super High

As I mentioned, all four goals came off restarts and set pieces. One of the games-within-the-game of soccer is field position. There aren't, as far as I know, good publicly available metrics that take this kind of thing into account: time of possession broken down by thirds-of-the-field is close, but it doesn't account for earning fouls in the opposing third or earning throw-ins on the opponent's end. But getting into the final third and earning a foul, and NOT letting the opponent earn fouls in dangerous spots, is a valuable skill.

The Rapids and Montreal both did this well on the offensive end. But I can't help but think that this might have, could have been a 2-1 win for the Rapids if we hadn't conceded a foul in a bad spot for the first goal.

Maybe the team was giving a subtle nod to Colorado's 420 celebrations, but the 'Pids started the game super indo-chronic-cheeba-cheeba high. Up the field, not 'actually' high. Observe:



Here's the play that resulted in the Drogba free kick for goal number one. Gashi turns the ball over - not an egregious turn over, but not a fine moment either. The Rapids had been on attack, and... EVERYBODY got forward, without noticing that everybody else was forward. Both fullbacks are on their way to overlapping the attackers; JJ's playing second striker with Kevin Doyle, and Luis Solignac is playing third striker (huh?); Cronin's higher up than Gashi; Azira's too high.

And Bobby Burling decides to play cowboy and go take the ball off of Drogba, leaving Ignacio Piatti, one of the best players in MLS, alone in acres of space with zero defenders within 25 yards of him. If Burling's gonna do that, he has to, 100%, no doubt, win the ball.

He doesn't.



Drogba plays the ball to Piatti. Burling, Hairston, and Azira all turn on the jets to catch him. Piatti is an amazing player, but speed isn't his primary asset. If that had been Darlington Nagbe or Kekuta Manneh, we'd have been picking the ball out of the net straight away (instead of two minutes later off of a free kick.)


Burling makes a tactical foul about 22 yards out. Whether that was the right thing to do or not doesn't matter, because it was Burling's screw up (and Azira's and Hairston's) for being too high in the first place.

Burling had the equalizing goal later in the game, and he had ten total defensive actions. He's also been pretty solid on defense this year alongside Axel Sjoberg. The Rapids have conceded only 8 goals this year, second in MLS, and the central defensive pairing is certainly a big part of that. But this gaffe from the Rapids D, early in the game, was significant. They were much tighter for the rest of the game, and they never again threw that many guys forward.

But what if they hadn't over extended themselves in the seventh minute? Darn.

Everybody Wants to Be Steph Curry (long shots from Montreal)

Montreal had 16 shots, with only 3 on target. Many of them were from way outside the 18, including both goals - Didier Drogba's free kick and Maxim Tissot's ground screamer were both from roughly 28 yards out.


The Rapids earned a lot of blocks, and Montreal missed the frame a lot too. Was this the plan from the Impact? Did they mean to dish-and-shoot as much as they did in this one? I think some of their shots were really wasted. Harry Shipp had a wide open one without any defenders near him in the first half that, had he dribbled in a little, I think could have sunk the Rapids. Ditto two or three other shots Montreal took, including a long shot from Drogba at the 78' mark that' would've been a winner. In other words, maybe the Rapids got a little lucky. But they also had 7 blocks. So maybe, they're a little good. Both can be right.

That Pretty Passing Sequence

The best sequence of the Rapids was this:


More of this, please.

Hairston at Right Back

Marlon Hairston has played RB twice now- the first game of the year against San Jose and Saturday at Montreal.

No major mistakes, and he again he showed the ability to track back at light speed and make the saving tackle. Hairston led the team in tackles with 5, and added 3 interceptions, 2 clearances, and a blocked shot. Overall, the Rapids defense had a ton of defensive actions: 19 tackles and 7 blocked shots are both (I think) season highs. Defensive actions are a stat that can be argued as to their meaning- it means you had to stop the other team a lot. A team with sloppy possession or wild and misdirected clearances will rack up numbers on defensive actions. But a lot of defensive actions also means exactly what it says: you took the ball away from the other guy a lot. Make of it what you will.

Hairston was effective at right back, albeit clearly in relief of the injured Eric Miller, who does most of things Hairston does, minus the blazing speed, plus a better ability to dribble and control the ball. It's nice to have options at fullback, as I'd argue Burch, Williams, Miller and Hairston have all been very good. Remember when we had Maynor Figueroa and Drew Moor at fullback (Drew's great, but he's not really a fullback)? Remember James Riley? I'm trying to suppress those memories too. I hope I didn't just give you a PTSD flashback.

Your Rapids ThugLife Moment

This game was was pretty clean - nothing super thuggy on either side of the ball. Gashi earns the moment for this though.



"Aww. I just wanted to hold hands, Ignatio! (Rips off Argentine's arm)"