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Colorado Rapids Scanty Substitutions And The Return Of Marco Pappa

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A tendency to wait until it is almost too late, and the importance of Marco Pappa's return to the Colorado Rapids midfield.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rapids squeaked by the Chicago Fire on Saturday night by a score of 2-1 thanks to a gift of a goal from the Chicago defense and some late game heroics from Marco Pappa. Not the ideal result for a team atop the MLS table playing at home against one of the league's bottom feeders, but a result that netted all three available points and pushed the Rapids past the thirty point mark after just fifteen games, the quickest they have reached that milestone in team history.

With Shkelzen Gashi and Jermaine Jones on international duty, I was shocked that Pablo Mastroeni did not start either Dillon Serna or the recently available Marco Pappa, who finally made his long-awaited return from injury. Instead, the Rapids started a midfield three of Luis Solignac, Dillon Powers, and Marlon Hairston. The Rapids struggled to create many scoring opportunities against a Fire defense that seemed hellbent on keep at least nine players behind the ball at all times. With the score tied 0-0 at halftime, I figured we would see a half-time substitution, or at least a change around the 60' mark if the Rapids continued to struggle.

In seemingly typical fashion we did not see any substitutions until just after the 80 minute mark. Following Chicago's equalizer in the 81st, Mastroeni finally chose Dominque Badji to bring some energy into the Rapids midfield. Over the next four minutes he sent in Pappa and Serna to further jump-start the Rapids offense. The Rapids offense played with renewed vigor, which culminated in Pappa's 89th minute winner. We know Mastroeni has a tendency to be very cautious with his use of substitutions, often waiting the majority of the game before beginning his rotations or even letting some go unused. Less conservative rotations will be needed as the season rolls along to ensure everybody is fresh and healthy come playoff time. In addition, while Saturday's approach may be enough to sneak past a team like Chicago, we cannot afford to field an XI void of dynamic playmakers against a team like say, the LA Galaxy, who the Rapids happen to play at the Stubhub Center in Los Angeles tonight.

Despite their recent 1-0 loss to Toronto FC, the LA Galaxy are the only team in MLS with a better goal differential (+10) than the Rapids (+8). Credit their offense, the highest scoring unit in the league, for a lot of that success. The Rapids are going to have to score to get a positive result in LA (i know, #analysis). I understand that Pappa was just coming back from injury, and that Mastroeni may have been resting his midfield playmakers for this very game, but I do not think the same conservative approach should be employed against the Galaxy. Especially in the case of Marco Pappa.

In the limited time Pappa has taken the field for the Burgundy Boys, he has been the most efficient, most prolific creator of goals on the Rapids roster. He has recorded two goals and three assists in only 406 minutes, which translates to 1.18 goals contributed per 96 minutes of action (the average length of a game when accounting for extra time). The Rapids as a team have scored 1.27 goals/96, and if you remove the five goals Pappa is "responsible" for, that number drops to a sorry 0.93 goals/96.

He also leads the Rapids in expected goals scored (xG) plus expected assists (xA). For those unfamiliar with xG and xA, they are very useful statistics that attempt to quantify a player or players' total offensive contributions. American Soccer Analysis offers a wonderful explanation of their usefulness and how they are calculated here and here. Pappa is averaging a very healthy 0.57 (xG)+(xA) per 96 minutes, with the next closest Rapids, Gashi and Jones, at 0.50 and 0.38 (xG)+(xA)/96 respectively. Even more astounding, that number does not include Pappa's performance this past Saturday. You know, the one in which he played roughly twelve minutes and scored the game-winning goal.

Pappa's importance as an offensive catalyst cannot be understated. Perhaps even more so against the LA Galaxy, a team that has allowed four of their last seven goals against to come from their opponent's midfielders. I am hopeful he gets the start tonight in an important Western Conference match up, and I'm equally hopeful he can provide some more moments of creative brilliance and play the role of difference-maker yet again.