First of all, kudos to the Switchbacks on a hard fought, well played game. Being the little guy in a fight against an MLS team stocked with top talent, in the unfamiliar territory of DSGP, is tough. The Switchbacks players came into this game with the right mix of aggressiveness, fire, and composure, and definitely had stretches where they looked the better team.
Compare that to last year, when the Switchbacks looked like the bright lights and big stadium were a bit out of their comfort zone en route to a 4-1 pasting. This year, the Switchbacks endured and absorbed for 85 minutes before finally succumbing to the non-stop pressure by the Rapids.
We'll get to the tactics in this one that both kept the Switchbacks in the game, but also ultimately spelled their doom. But the guts; the moxie of this team, to come into DSGP, to not be afraid, and to push around a very talented Rapids team was very impressive. Nice job, guys.
Rapids Depth is Tested, and gets a C+
The Rapids had to do without Jermaine Jones, off with the USMNT... at the Copa ... Copa America... the hottest spot ... nothing rhymes with America. (Sorry, that was terrible.)
They were also missing Shkelzen Gashi, off at the Euros and Bobby Burling, out with a knee injury. They carried a bench of only three, as Marc Burch, Jared Watts, and Kevin Doyle were un-available, for some reason.
So bench players and reserve players like Eric Miller, Dominique Badji, Conor Doyle, Dillon Serna and Dennis Castillo all started. Marco Pappa came back for his first match in six weeks since and injury. Dillon Powers started in an unfamiliar spot as a deep holding midfield, a position folks have been hoping he get a shot at for on about two years now.
The results were below average at best. Powers' passing was good, but his position change didn't suddenly re-invent the offense the way adding Jermaine Jones in April did. Eric Miller and Dillon Serna were steady and effective. Marco Pappa looked a tick slow, and maybe a bit rusty, but mostly the Switchbacks stuck to him like glue and only gave him two good looks all night. One was almost there:
Badji, Castillo, and Doyle, all in positions to impress on this night and try and earn another starting look in a league game, did not impress.
Badji had at least three shots in the box, blown sky high over the bar and off target. One was off and electric run that only his exceptional pace could've created in the first place, but the shot was well off. Shades of Deshorn Brown. Dennis Castillo had at least three misplayed balls for turnovers in just the first half: some grouchy souls in my section started sarcastically clapping from that point on whenever he did the simplest thing right. I didn't approve, but I can't say I blame them.
Castillo makes an error on a long cross. Switchbacks fwd has a good look from left side; skies it. #USOC2016— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) June 15, 2016
Conor Doyle, well, John Rosch and I couldn't figure out his game, precisely. He's not fast: a Springs player ran him down on the break each of the times he got away. He's not a physical presence in the box, and didn't win any headers, to my memory. He didn't seem to run channels or poach, or holdup the ball for the slick pass. I didn't see him shoot from distance. I didn't see him create on the ball. I didn't see him get into open spots when he was off-ball much; I didn't see him drag defenders out of space much either. I concede the sample size is small: no forward scores in every game outside of Ronaldo and Messi. But I can't recall if Doyle even had a shot on goal. Oh, also, this:
For those at home: Doyle whiffed completely on it. https://t.co/hvhUcD4kq7— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) June 15, 2016
In short, the lack of contribution from these depth guys hurt the club on this night. I'm no fan of Luis Solignac, but when he came on in relief of Doyle, I was positive he'd be an improvement. And he was: way more speed and fire and physicality. And he had a great shot in stoppage time.
All of the problems individually contributed to why the Rapids couldn't get much going before the 70th minute. Things picked up though, as the game opened up and the Switchbacks got more and more defensive in hopes of preserving the draw:
And the Rapids finally cracked the Springs D in the 85th minute. The Switchbacks just wouldn't venture forth too many players, and they never got very far .They barely saw the final third in the last 20 minutes, and paid for it. Dillon Serna, who has a knack for those late goals, did it again. If I have the time, I'll go back and investigate, but his ratio of ‘game-winning goals after the 75th minute' to ‘goals scored' has got to be unnaturally high.
Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) June 15, 2016
In short, the Rapids relief corps was sub-par, with bright spots from Serna and Pappa. It doesn't bode super well for a deep cup run, and it causes concern if we have some injuries. I'm hopeful that these hiccups can be looked at and corrected before the next round.
Switchbacks Tactics: Trittschuh Plans This One Almost Perfectly
In 2015 against the Rapids, the Switchbacks came out swashbuckling and swinging, playing an open, attacking offense. The result was a 4-1 loss. This time, they came with a more pragmatic approach: defend like the beejeezus.
On offense, the team ventured forth with 5 players, and a touch of slightly deeper wing support. But when the Rapids had the ball, it looked like this:
Switchbacks bunkering consistently. Playing for counter. Formation most often resembles 5-4-1. pic.twitter.com/FbF1owWl1z— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) June 15, 2016
Colorado Springs put nine behind the ball for most of the game, and didn't pressure the ball until the halfway line. This really worked. For much of the game, the five-at-the-back meant that the Rapids would send Doyle or Badji into the line, where they'd get picked up by a defender. And there'd still be more defenders to fill the zone and protect. The midfield three could do the shielding and harassing. Powers would swing to castillo or Williams, they'd advance up, look to pick out Pappa showing or Doyle making a run, and the defense would snuff it out. The Rapids tried the long ball, but there was never a break until the game entered the end stage.
I thought this was brilliant. It was a tacit acknowledgement by Switchbacks Coach Steve Trittschuh that going toe-to-toe with a bigger club and swapping punches like equals is foolish. Hang on for 90 or even 120 minutes and hope for a lucky break or a win on PKs. This is knockout soccer played smartly.
It only just failed because the Rapids adjusted slightly. For the final 20 minutes, the Rapids pushed 8 attackers in a 4-3-3; Serna, Badji, and Doyle flooded the backline and Powers, Cronin and Pappa worked inside and on the break, with fullback support. With all of that attack, the Rapids were vulnerable on the counter, but with nine behind the ball, the Switchbacks couldn't possibly breakout. So it became defend and pray.
Perhaps the Switchbacks needed to be a little more aggressive to create some semblance of attack. Perhaps the talent gap was too great: no tactical adjustment would have gotten Colorado Springs through. But I was damned impressed with the thinking in this one. We now know that a 5-man back will frustrate the Rapids. And that Mastroeni can make the smart adjustment to win. At least against a USL squad.
One last bit: the Switchbacks looked every bit a lower-tier side to me, with the exception of three players that stood out. Josh Suggs
in the midfield at left back had great acceleration and vision. Ditto Luke Vercollone, a 34 year-old USL veteran who made the 2015 USL All-Star XI. And Rapids Academy product Davy Armstrong was physical on the ball and made a few dangerous passes into space. All three demonstrated clearly why Colorado Springs has been so good this year: 7-2-2 and in second in the Western Conference.
Good luck to the Switchbacks the rest of the way in USL. But especially, hoping for good luck for our Rapids in the next round of the US Open Cup, coming up on June 29.
Final note: MacMath cleared a ball into section 129, row 10, seat 8. I squared to catch it. It smacked my shoulder and bounced away. Never think for a second that because I write critically about athletes being imperfect, I think I'm some kind of athlete-that never was. What these guys do is incredibly hard, and I totally, completely suck at it. So glad that I am occasionally reminded of this in front of hundreds of fellow supporters.
Woulda been nice to catch that ball though.