Saturday night was a special treat for me. Yes, my son caught two Pokemon in section 106.
Sure it's only a rattata, but maybe the really good Pokemon are saving their money to come to next week's top of the table clash against FC Dallas.
But the treat for me was seeing in person the Rapids sweep another team, which was the first time I'm seen that in my (brief) history as a Rapids fan. The last time the Rapids were involved in a three-game sweep was 2014, when Colorado was swept by both Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake. Ouch.
Our two prior engagements with Sporting Kansas City this year were both Wednesday affairs, and the first was with both teams severely depleted by early injuries and mid-week restings of key players.
All three of our matches against SKC resulted in tense, long-ball filled first halves. By this match at DSGP Saturday, Sporting was pretty sure that the Rapids midfield was impenetrable, so fans were treated to 30 minutes of long-ball united from the men in light blue. Which, on the road, when you haven't looked particularly convincing and haven't scored a lot of goals, is a pretty good approach (unless you're a fan hoping to see exciting soccer).
Colorado's three wins over SKC all came from game winners after the 75th minute.
- And of course, this one finally pivoted in the Rapids favor in the 78th minute when Marlon Hairston stole the ball, one-twoed it with Dillon Powers, and curled it into the top right corner to grab all three points.
It speaks to the Rapids modus operandi all season: keep it tight, and strike late when the other team starts to fatigue. This game also showed a feature of the Rapids attack that we've seen before against SKC: high counter-pressing (when appropriate), leading to an SKC fatal error. Marco Pappa swiped the ball from Benny Feilhaber and fed it to Luis Solignac for the first goal in this series back on April 14. And this week Marlon Hairston pilfered the ball (pilfered, if I do say so, is a fabulous word that really doesn't get used enough anymore) and converted it to sink the team that sounds like it's from Kansas but is actually from Missouri. That's kind of poetic; getting your first and last goal in a sweep on the same kind of play.
Poetic, unless you're SKC.
None Shall Pass
Sporting tried their darn'dest to get the ball into threatening places, but often fired desperate balls towards the Rapids backline. The Rapids backline that, you probably know, is extremely adept at clearing aerial passes; #SwedishMissleDefense. And although Jared Watts had one or two moments that froze our hearts dead in our chests, overall he was quite good once again for the Rapids.
That's Watts with 14 total defensive actions, the teams high. His three tackles each occurred on a critical run, and his blocked shot came on a pretty dangerous and relatively unmarked Jimmy Medranda shot in the 37th minute.
The defense was, once again, the star, and although I singled out Watts, the entire back seven can take a bow here. The defensive midfielders forced SKC to play to the wings; the wings cut down effective passing angles, and the whole team was great at forcing SKC to take speculative long shots that were blocked as often (7 times) as they got through the wall of torsos and legs (7 times), and onto or over the goal. Here's SKC's shot chart:
That's six shots from 30 yards out or more in this game, and five of them blocked. I'll give that as credit to the Rapids for giving SKC very few options. But SKC can be faulted for two things in terms of the lack of quality chances they created. First, speed is not their friend. Sporting never seemed to make a break against the Rapids, or catch them on the counter. Second, if you take that many long shots that don't even get to the keeper (zero, in this case), clearly you're doing something wrong. Without good penetration on the defense, Sporting bought a pack of lottery tickets, and none were winners. All of the Rapids defenders, once again, deserve praise. Even if the most prolific and impressive of them won't be suiting up at the MLS All-Star game to take on Arsenal.
Also, bonus stat: which two Rapids players have started and finished every single Rapids game this season? You probably could guess no problem: Sam Cronin and Micheal Azira. That kind of steady reliability at two key positions means your players can anticipate and intuit where to be and what to do on defense a whole lot. Because even if Jermaine or Mekiel Williams or Jared Watts is going to do something unpredictable, Sam and Micheal and going to be where they are supposed to be, every single play.
Let Dillon Be Dillon
Dillon Powers has had kind of a strange year. In the off-season, he trialed with Reading in the English Championship League. Powers had previously made it known that he was open to a move to Europe: you don't tweet out a photo of your newly acquired Italian passport for nothing.
With the acquisitions of Marco Pappa, Shkelzen Gashi, Michael Azira and Jermaine Jones to go alongside Dillon Serna and Sam Cronin, the Rapids now had a bevy of midfielders who either had greater goal scoring prowess, better defensive chops, better creative chops, or a little of all of them. Speculation abounded that Powers was going to make the move to being a deep-lying regista alongside Cronin in the 4-2-3-1; and Pablo Mastroeni even said as much in an interview with ExtraTime Radio back in February. It was clear that Powers was either A) going to be competing for his job a lot more this year, B) he was going to evolve into some kind of sub, or C) he was going to be tweeting lots of pictures of the Italian passport getting more use in Europe as he trialed throughout the continent.
But as it turns out, Dillon Powers has played almost the same amount of minutes, doing almost the same job - central midfield in the number ten spot - that he always has. Here's some key stats on him care of Squawka, comparing his 2016, 2015, and 2014 seasons, normalized per 90 mintutes. 'Chance Creation' is Key Passes (passes that result in a quality shot) plus Assists.
Powers best offensive year was in 2014, which as you might recall, was a terrible year for the Colorado Rapids. Since then, he's been steady at producing around 1.8 chances per 90, and a modest 0.11 goals per 90. Those aren't Giovinco numbers, but with Gashi and Pappa and Serna and Hairston around him, it's debatable whether Dillon Powers needs to be the grand generator of chances, super powered number ten, that people (read, me) want him to be.
In this game, Powers did his thing, and it resulted in the game winner. He laid off the perfect one-touch pass to Marlon Hairston in space so that Marly could absolutely skin Ike Opara for the game winner. That was just what this team needed from him on the night.
Now look at those defensive numbers; 'interceptions' and 'tackles won', which I picked out because at central midfield, they're more important than clearances or blocks. Powers numbers are waaaaay up on those two metrics. Part of it, from where I sit, is tactical. I see Powers dropping back as kind of a 'third d-mid' an awful lot: early, when the Rapids are playing cautiously, and late to protect a lead. With the team on 34 points and cruising towards a playoff spot, it's pretty easy to make the case that it's worked, and it's those small adjustments (along with lots of other things) that fueled this team's turnaround.
You might say 'But Rabbi! Powers is only in part-time because Jermaine Jones is hurt!' Yes. But, both as a starter and as a sub, he's been in a lot; 916 minutes to Jermaine's 700 minutes. We've needed Powers to do the job he's done, or else the season would be shot. Later in the week, I'll take a look at the Jones and Powers side by side and ask the important questions.
Powers missed a really big chance in this one that, on another night, could have been the whole ball of wax. Here:
I sooooo wish Powers had hit this... pic.twitter.com/7XPV9Zuibl— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) July 19, 2016
Powers isn't a great finisher. This year, he has 1 goal, and his xG ('expected goals' based on the position of his shots he took) is 1.42. In 2015, he netted 3 goals, but had an xG of 4.13. And in 2014, it was 5 goals on an xG of 5.49.* Simply put, Powers misses a fair amount of chances that other guys make.
And that's ok. The Rapids have other guys to shoot the rock, although Powers can score here and there. They have other guys that generate four chances a game, so it's fine that Powers creates a little south of two chances per game. Powers has evolved to be a very effective two-way player, giving the team a little bit of everything they lack, being the chameleon to adapt to the environment. In short, they let Dillon be Dillon, and it really looks like it's worked out pretty darn well.
Dummies are great. If Doyle scores, this play is in consideration for play of the night. Since he doesn't score, I figure you should still enjoy it. It ain't Shkelzen's fault that Doyle didn't stick the landing.
Gashi with the clever dummy. pic.twitter.com/0gAar70SY1— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) July 19, 2016
Rapids Goal Celebration Life
I nominate Marlon Hairston for Rapids goal celebration of the year. Please MarlyG, work with the other fellas on their moves, because you, sir, have the gift.**
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* All numbers care of American Soccer Analysis, a wonderful site which you should visit.
** I'm not a flagrant narcissist, reposting my own tweets. Sbnation changed the blog template so that gifs now play on an automatic perpetual loop, which makes me want to have a seizure. But if your stick 'em in twitter first, you can click to play / not play them. FYI for those that want to know how the sausage is made.