If you're an American, and you're reading this post right now, then kudos. On a day following a devastating USMNT defeat to Argentina, in which we looked outplayed at virtually every position and in every possession and on both sides of the ball, you are hereby commended for taking any interest at all in soccer. I listened to a game recap on the ride to work this morning, and I'm pretty sure that the waves of nausea, the lower back pain, and the slight ringing in my ears are signs of post traumatic stress disorder. Or of the double whiskey I knocked back at the whistle to dull the pain.
To write about tactics, and then watch a game with an absolutely terrible tactical approach just hurt. The US didn't man-mark Messi. They didn't high press with all ten men, or bunker . They didn't pack the midfield with bodies. But forget tactics: even if these guys had got the tactics right, the USMNT have rough first touches and bad passes and bad turnovers. The defending had good stretches, but that first goal surrendered was awful. Just, I mean. Awful.
... OK. Now grab your head. Shake it like an etch-a-sketch. Go back to better times. Like Saturday night against the Fire.
The Fire are, as I wrote before, bad.
In this game, they started a midfield that included Arturo Alvarez, Nick LaBrocca, Joao Meira, and something called a Khaly Thiam. Alvarez was a decent MLS midfielder back in 2011, but was ineffective in this one, and got subbed off at the half, to be replaced by Fire Homegrown 22 year old Joey Calistri. LaBrocca has a fierce workrate, as Rapids fans know, but he isn't a creative force. Meira was not good on either side of the ball in this one, and made the critical error that gifted the Rapids their first goal. Thiam was ok, especially as a passer, but he didn't seem to have the steel in the tackle required to be a good defensive midfielder.
Here's that first Rapids goal. Like I said, Fire: Bad.
Sean Johnson probably shouldn't be trying to play it out of the back if the Rapids are high pressing. Johan Kappelhof and Rodrigo Ramos should be screaming 'man on!' earlier. Joao Meira should open up more, and control the ball more. But this Fire team is bad, so they do things like this.
If you've got at least a decent team and a few talented guys, then you can go head-to-head in MLS most nights. If you make a bonehead play like this every week, then basically you're gifting the other team 3 points, no matter what you do the other 89:55. Ask Zat Knight. Or Steve Clarke. Or Steve Birnbaum. (Shudder).
Basically, the Fire conceded a fair amount of possession to the Rapids and looked to strike on the counter with their two talents: Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam. The Rapids effectively kept them off the ball most of the game, except in this instance, when Accam got lose all by himself in the midfield.
Jeez that's terrifying. But this is pretty much all the Fire have, and the Rapids did a good job of keeping the ball out of Accam's hands in the open field. And Igboananike botched this one up too to save us.
This Fire team could be good with two talented midfielders and another defender to support them. Rumors have been cast that they're buyers for the summer transfer window. But until that time, they're destined to be relegation-fodder in MLS.
Strong One-Two Punch with the Right
Somebody ought to check the pitch at DSGP after Saturday's game: it might slope a little to the right.
The Rapids came down that right side an astonishing 48% of the game.
Not surprisingly, a whole lot of shots came from that side too.
Like, all but one.
Marlon Hairston and Mekeil Williams came down that side, working an effective and intimidating overlap all game. Kevin Doyle and Dillon Powers checked back to provide relief, and even Micheal Azira was a release valve for this devastation duo. Their speed and ability to dribble at defenders meant that they could draw players out of the box to defend them, creating opportunities for those unmarked strikers in the box.
Here's a really good example of that. There were at least a half dozen of these, all with a clever one-two ending with a cross or a pass to the top of the box.
Anyhow, I hope we see more of this overlapping tandem.
In theory, this should have made the defense tilt during the game to the right, giving Luis Solignac more chances as time wore on. Did that happen?
Here's shots (circles), key passes (yellow squares), and dribbles (upside down triangles).
No. Lucho, number 21, didn't do much here, which is a little perplexing. The numbers you see a bunch of are Hairston (94) and Williams (5).
Either Williams and Hairston didn't pick Lucho out when he was open at the back post, or Solignac didn't get himself into the right spots to be useful. I saw it as the latter. Which lead me to conclude the following...
Hey, Guys, Stop playing Lucho at Left midfield
I hate to consign a player to one spot: soccer teams can't do much with players that are completely ineffective outside of one exact spot and one exact formation. If a player goes from ‘good' at central midfield to ‘terrible' at right midfield, then their overall utility as a soccer player is seriously diminished. That said, Luis Solignac has played parts of two seasons on the left side of the midfield, and has never, not once, looked effective there. He can harass in a high press a little, but his lanky dribble isn't beating too many guys, and he doesn't seem to have the nose for long crosses or clever 1-2 play that make guys like Marco Pappa so good.
Here the Rapids get a break on a clearance that bounces right into the path of Marc Burch, who gets it up to Solignac, with Kevin Doyle and Dillon Powers on the break. Doyle probably gets a little ahead of the play, and Powers is really far to the right, so maybe they contributed to the death of this break. But Solignac tries to put a move on the right back, Ramos, and instead gets his pocket picked clean. Threat neutralized. I think another player does better there. I only pick this out because... well, as you can tell from the chart above, he really didn't do anything else.
Lucho's goals this year came as the lone striker. So lets do that. Make him the 70' sub for Doyle that'll work like crazy and get that put-em-away goal. Let guys that have proven effective on the outside: Serna, Badji, Pappa, and Hairston, do that job. Because his line of zero shots, zero key passes, and only 31 touches; lowest on the Rapids team for a starter; indicates once again that he's not comfortable in the midfield.
Speaking of Subs...
Pablo made three subs in this game: at 81', 82', and 84'. Some research has been done about when it's best to bring on subs. The analysis concluded that before the 58th, before the 72nd, and before the 79th score a goal 36% of the time. Teams that DON'T sub at these times score 18.5% of the time.
I'm not saying you have to sub at these times: we won here, and we won with a late sub, so it's hard to really criticize. But as has been noted before, I think the coaching staff needs to either critically and statistically analyze subbing, or explain to the fan base why, exactly, Mastroeni is doing what he does. Maybe it has a rationale, but for much of the season, us fans aren't privy to the logic here. We just think it's weird.
Rapids Thug Life Moment
This video is already above: Axel Sjoberg stopping the Igboananike shot with his face. Damn, Axel. Thanks for sacrificing your Nordic beauty for the cause. Put some frozen peas on it, it'll be right as rain.