You'd like to think that a mid-season clash between the best team in the East versus the best team in the West would result in a memorable game. You'd be wrong.
For the first 60 minutes on Saturday, Colorado and Philadelphia paced around each other like alley cats, as both teams took a paltry 8 shots total; 2 from the Union, 6 from the Rapids, and none on target. Both teams carefully protected their final third, pressuring lightly in the midfield and hoping the game would turn on an error.
The game was preceding by the electric passing and outrageous technical skill of the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid six hours earlier. That's like having lunch at chef's table with Nobu Matsuhisa, then going to dinner at your Aunt Rita's for meatloaf night.
That's no dig on meatloaf: a good meatloaf with a nice ketchup-brown sugar glaze and the right balance of onion-to-meat-to-breadcrumb interior is really good. But it isn't Yellowtail collar with Umami chicken wings, Bluefin tuna sashimi, and black cod with an oyster mushroom ponzu-balsamic reduction. Neither was this game.
It got better at the 70th minute, especially for the Rapids, as they kept pressing Jim Curtain's club to grab all three points. And just as they seemed to have accomplished the task, Philly Dooped it away from us at the buzzer. Darn.
Speed Kills. Lack of Speed is a Killer.
With Shkelzen Gashi and Jermaine Jones away on international duty, and Marco Pappa and Dom Badji out hurt, the only pacey regular the Rapids could turn to was wonder-elf Dillon Serna, he of the boomer-from-30-yards-to-win-it type shot. Serna's quest to just absolutely take over a game and declare that he's an MLS first-teamer seems to be well into it's third season. But with the only decent set of wheels on this team in this game, it seemed like he should have flashed into open field a couple of times.
Having that end-to-end guy with a rocket in his tailpipe and the good sense to know when to use it is a Godsend; it opens up the game in ways that force other teams to be reactive instead of proactive. The best example of this on the weekend was Dom Oduro.
Oduro gets moving like stolen Camaro from a cop's garage, gets a 1-2 from Didier Drogba, cuts it back to shake Jelle Van Damme, then feeds the calm and settled Ignacio Piatti for an equalizing goal against the LA Galaxy, cool as you like.
Would it be surprising if you I told that the Rapids had a similar play in the first half against Philadelphia? Here it is.
Doyle's gets to the ball first, and although it's not an ideal way to settle the ball, he gets it to Dillon Powers. Powers first touch is also clunky - he rushes to get a head to it, and it floats for a little too long. Had he settled it, he might have had a few options and a good rush.
Instead the ball comes to Luis Solignac with three defenders behind him, and he can't make much of it.
Do I expect this play would have resulted in a goal for the Rapids? No. It's a tough ball to play for each of the three players that touched it. But we very rarely get two players breaking in transition and convert. Jermaine Jones got a ball out to Dom Badji in Snow Clasico II earlier this year. For the most part, our goals have overwhelmingly come from plays in the box, set pieces, and corners. I'll break that down later.
Solignac is showing himself to be a one-dimensional player; of his three goals this year, two were runs over the top when he gets the ball delivered in front of goal and slaps it home. But his dribbles, his passing, and other aspects of his game leave a lot to be desired. I'm ok with him as our backup lone-striker, but starting him regularly on the wing isn't really doing it for us.
Lucho also had this moment to reinforce that point:
If you find yourself that close to goal, all by yourself, and don't score, then, well, my god. I was turning a corner on him earlier this year after he scored three goals in five games, and I was starting to think 'Maybe he's the guy.' This game reminded me: he's not the guy. Matt Doyle's comment on him last year is turning from critique to prophecy.
How We Get Goals
Wins come from goals: #Analysis . Yes, you can defend and hold your own. Yes, the occasional 4-0 blowout (or 7-0 if you're NYRB) will make your stat line look extra good. But in general, if you score 15 goals in 15 games while the league is scoring 20, you'll find yourself in the middle of the table. If that isn't the case in mid-season, than often by the end of the season, the law of averages will take effect. New writer Marty McG said as much in a great piece this week.
A total of 17 goals through 14 games isn't great. The defense, which I've praised repeatedly, has only conceded 10, which is fantastic and should carry us. But we can get more goals: the Rapids are 8th in MLS in chance creation, with 135, but only 13th in Goals Scored, as you can see above.
That means we're still having problems in front of goal - problems we experienced acutely back in 2015.
We're getting two types of goals (which are actually overlapping data sets) - headed goals (5) and set piece goals (6) . We aren't getting two other important kinds of goals (also overlapping data sets), both of which I highlighted with a blue box above - goals scored with the feet, and goals shot from outside the 18 yard box. That last one is a bit worrisome. Shkelzen Gashi leads the team in shots with 35, and he likes to shoot from distance, but has only buried 2 goals.
We can keep going with what works: if we score mostly from set pieces, then let's ride that wave till it hits the beach. However, the team should certainly be concerned that we're struggling to find run-of-play goals. I'm afraid that problem going to be more pronounced without Gashi, Jones, and Pappa.
Marlon Hairston came into the game and had an immediate impact: he had 4 Key Passes and an assist on 19 touches after being subbed on at the 60 minute mark. His speed (see my comments above on 'speed') changes the game for the team. A lot of people want to see more of him. Count me as 'a lot of people'...
I watched the Liga MX final Sunday night and just reveled in how different it was from the Rapids games this year. There was nothing slowing teams in the midfield. Both teams went end to end, non-stop. It was really fun to watch. Granted, a lot of that had to do with the urgency of a cup final, and Pachucha's tactics going into Monterrey up 1-0 and bunkering for the majority of the game, then knowing that tied 1-1 on the road, just one goal pretty much would win it for them. Still, it was so much fun to watch three games - Real-Atleti, Rapids-Union, and Monterrey-Pachuca, that were each so incredibly distinct, and not in a 'one's better and one's worse' kind of way. Note that in between I also watched most of San Jose-Dallas. Which was just awful...
Good luck to Kevin Doyle as he departs today for Euro 2016. Robbie Keane is hurt, so Ireland's kelly green hopes might be riding on the burgundy shoulders of the Rapids' striker.
Sam Cronin's late run into the box for the goal was fantastic, and one of the best things about the way teams use the 4-2-3-1; one of your d-mids can be the late runner. Having two d-mids means you can risk the late run, since your other d-mid will be there to protect against the counter. Cronin scored a similar goal last year that the Rapids tagged as 'goal of the year' in 2015. That one was the mirror image of this one, in that the 2015 goal saw Cronin tying it in the 89th to get the Rapids a point. In this one Saturday night, Cronin got the late go-ahead in the 87th, only to see the Rapids get equalized in stoppage time...
Rapids Thug Life Moment- Rapids Pout-y Face Moment
Nothing really thuggy in this one. But I thought this photo was funny. Sweaty kit. Yum.