The Rapids have played their share of 0-0 draws in the Pablo Mastroeni era. A lot of them have been dull, grinding snoozers.
Not this one. Colorado Rapids faced Los Angeles Wednesday, with both teams depleted by injury and the international break. Both teams missed key offensive contributors, like Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane for LA and Jermaine Jones for Colorado. But both teams had their best defenders available to play. LA dug in with defender Jelle Van Damme and the kung-fu fighting defensive midfielder Nigel De Jong, along with the rough-and-tumble play of Baggio Husidic. The Rapids had Axel Sjoberg and their midfield tandem of Micheal Azira and Sam Cronin.
The result was a fast paced, physical game. Neither team really bunkered or mucked up the game: the key events turned on two midfielders going in for a 50-50. Whoever came out alive got a break in their favor. When LA tried to bypass the midfield for the pacey wingers Emmanuel Boateng or Sebastian Lletget, those balls all were struck down by Swedish Missle Command, AKA Axel Sjoberg. Check out these numbers.
Twelve clearances is (I think) the most for Sjoberg since his very first MLS game last year against Philadelphia, when he had 14 (!). He leads MLS with 81 clearances, sits third in Blocks, and his overall defensive rating on the season puts him second to only Drew Moor. Axel is truly a game changing defender that is changing the way teams prepare to play us. The Rapids are definitely getting their money's worth on Sjoberg's annual salary of just $81,000 a year.
Respect the Trapper Keeper
I don't talk a lot about goalkeepers in Backpass. That's because I don't hardly understand the job. It's a lonely, odd task; hanging out deep behind your team, calm, serene, maybe even bored all by yourself there. Waiting for the occasional, maybe even rare, opportunity to make a play. Hell, in the USA-Argentina Copa America semi-final on Tuesday, goalkeeper Sergio Romero could have legitimately dragged a couch out on the field and taken a nap, seeing as the US didn't fire a single shot all night.
And when the GK does have an opportunity to do something, it's five seconds of terror. If they make the play, most fans will say 'Oh, bad shot. Right at the keeper.' If the goalie blows it, he'll be excoriated on message boards and in fan forums without cease. Galaxy fans blame their 2015 playoff exit on Donovan Ricketts shaky play. NYCFC has a putrid defense, but it's Josh Saunders that gets the blame. And let us not forget poor, poor Joe Nasco, who made one ill-judged lunge at a ball six seconds into a game, and will now be an ignominious footnote in the annals of the MLS record book for all eternity. It's a hard job. It's a misunderstood job. It's a thankless job. If you want a modicum of insight, Roger Bennett did a nice documentary on it that you can watch here on the NBCsports website.
Brian Rowe and Zac MacMath, who have both been maligned at times by their fan bases this season, were stellar in this game. MacMath had four saves - one a long reach on a deflected ball. Rowe had five saves; at least two were of the heroic variety (poor Marlon Hairston). I can't talk about the positioning or the reaction time or proper GK form. So instead I just made a gif supercut of each. Respect, fellas.
Not every stop a keeper makes will earn its way onto MLS' 'Saves of the Week' highlight reel. But miss just one, and you may have cost your team 3 points.
Also notable that this is likely Zac MacMath's last MLS regular season start for the Rapids, as the next league match is on July 4th, when it's pretty much assured that Tim Howard will start between the pipes for the Pids. We can expect MacMath in goal in the US Open Cup math against FC Dallas on June 29th.
This game in LA is as good as any to recognize and thank MacMath for getting the Rapids to this point: 11 games unbeaten, top of the table in the Supporters Shield race, tied for 1st in MLS for clean sheets with 6. Thanks, Zac.
Marco Pappa is Magic
Marco Pappa: "Oh I'm sorry were you looking for this?" pic.twitter.com/0L87NZQFpD— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) June 23, 2016
Everyone on soccer twitter was going nuts about the effortless meg on Husidic. But for me, the magic is the way he shows the ball to De Jong, then yanks it back like Lucy ganking the football from Charlie Brown, THEN steps over him like he was a crack in the sidewalk. The meg is just the cherry.
Rapids Thug Life Moment
Azira possibly saved the game with this tackle. The fact that he was leveling EPL legend Stevie G makes it that much sweeter.
Ok well. Sometimes something is very clearly a yellow card. Thank you Azira for restoring the baseline. pic.twitter.com/X9igBqAlCy— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) June 23, 2016
Next week's Backpass depends on whether there's a stream of the June 29th US Open Cup match. (Crosses fingers). Hopefully, see y'all then...