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Backpass: The Other Guy Blinked

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Colorado went eye to eye with the defending champs. We learned that this 2016 Rapids team gets something it never used to in past years: respect.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In a famous moment during the 1962 Cuban Missle Crisis between the US and USSR, after nearly going to thermonuclear war over the placement of ICBMs in the Western hemisphere, after expressing utter obstinance until the very brink of war was glimpsed, the Soviet Union relented and agreed to remove their weapons. War was averted. A posturing power admitted that they were not superior to the US, but accepted being mere equals.

The Secretary of State at the time, Dean Rusk, uttered the famous, and possibly apocryphal quotation: "Gentlemen, we just went eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow blinked."

That's the true significance of this game against the MLS Cup Champion Portland Timbers: they came into Dicks Sporting Goods Park with extreme caution. The Timbers potent offense of Lucas Melano, Darlington Nagbe, and Fanendo Adi created some chances, but mostly had to pick their chances on the counter, as the Rapids out possessed them 63-37 and outshot them 14-8. A couple of good shots off the post by Adi and Ned Grabavoy saw comparable efforts from the Rapids on several fair chances from Shkelzen Gashi and Jermaine Jones, and a lovely turn-and-shot from Dominique Badji late in the game.

Let us reflect on this. Twelve months ago, DSGP was no fortress: far from it. When teams came to Colorado, they'd hit up Root Down or maybe Sushi Den (or if they're a homegrown on a $40K contract, Chipotle), then stop by Commerce City for three points, or at least one, and go off on their merry way. The Rapids were a doormat-like 5-5-7 (WTL) at home in 2015.

This is, by my count, the third team in a row to come into the Dick playing cautiously on the road. Portland did it, the Chicago Fire did it, and the Philadelphia Union did it. You could even argue the game before that, Sporting Kansas City, that that was the game plan, but I thought SKC looked so befuddled it was hard to tell if they had a plan at all.

Nevertheless, teams respect the Rapids, and especially respect DSGP. Tim Howard's debut on Independence Day is nice. But the real narrative is that the Rapids played a completely even match against a talented Portland Timbers team that is a point below the red line, looking outside-in on the 2016 MLS Playoffs, and in need of three points. And the Timbers were the ones showing respect to a Rapids team that has earned it.

Are Squad Goals Enough?

The Rapids have 19 total goals this season; good enough to be a lowly eighth in the Western Conference in Goals Scored. Our leading scorers are...

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Yeah, thats: the guy suspended the first six games of the season; and the guy filling in on the wing and up top who couldn't hit the broad side of a boat last year; and our millionaire DP striker. All tied with three goals each.

Three. Goals.

Kevin Doyle has got to... GOT TO... pick it up. If the point of 2016 was to make the playoffs - and remember, ZERO Burgundy Wave writers, MLS pundits, enlightened mystics or shady bookies had the Rapids as playoff-bound before the year began - if it's about making the playoffs, well, then I think the team can almost start resting on its laurels. The defense needs to hold up and we need to keep nicking a goal here and there, and we'll likely make the playoffs.

But with the final transfer window open before the playoffs, Colorado has to be wondering: can Kevin Doyle bag enough goals to get this team a second MLS Cup? Or is it time to bring in some help?

In this game, Doyle had a few threatening diagonal runs that didn't receive service. And he dropped back to receive and dribbled well, and I generally thought he looked ok. In most games I generally think he's just 'ok'.

But it's really really simple. He's not a goal scoring machine. In two seasons, he has 8 goals in 33 appearances. Fanendo Adi, meanwhile, has 25 goals in 50 appearances. In just this season, there have been 41 players in MLS who have more goals than Kevin Doyle. Tommy McNamara of NYCFC has an equal number of goals in almost an equal number of games. And that's because, with David Villa leading the charge with 30 goals for NYCFC since March 2015, Tommy has a free hand. Doyle's supposed to be our David Villa. But instead of clinical and efficient, we get:

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Forget the whole ‘he's been isolated'; ‘he doesn't get service'; ‘the tactics aren't built to get him goals'. Cyle Larin had a crap team around him last year, except for Kaka, who every team in the league just surrounded, and Larin still had 17 goals. Mike Magee has rebounded from injury and absolute MLS purgatory to have 5 goals this year. Goal scorers find ways to score goals, even on bad teams, with poor support, and lousy service. Dom Dwyer and Chris Wondolowski and Mike Grella all have more goals this year. Houston and Chicago are both awful this year, and Houston has three players with more goals than Doyle. Chicago has two.

Adi himself showed us what a goal scorer can do, all by hisself:

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Three things on that play: first, whatever Tim Howard said to the posts Monday night, he should keep whispering it. Second, holy moly can Adi move. And third, lets all hope the Rapids remember the next time we face Portland that Axel Sjoberg isn't fast enough to stay with him, and that we need to keep either Marlon Hairston or Mekiel Williams to stay with Adi.

I'll write a piece about moves the Rapids should make during the window later. But damn if I'm not frustrated with Kevin Doyle. At his DP salary, Kevin Doyle's eight goals are worth about $275,000 each. Larin's twenty-one goals come in at $16,667 each. You tell me what the Rapids should do.

First Half Frustration

This gif here shows how Portland contained the Rapids so well in the first half, as the club had only 3 shots in the first 45 minutes.

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Chara follows the ball to harass the man just in front of the final third, leaving Ben Zemanski and Darlington Nagbe to cut down passing lanes or man-mark, and the wings to cover the flanks. It didn't always work - in the second half, the Rapids worked the ball into the lanes quicker and to the sides better, and Doyle and Jones began to link up better too. But that play above was vintage late-2015 Timbers. This team is not a pushover, especially when they harass the midfield even better than we do on the day.

This is Pur-dee

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This is what gave this team 11 shots in the second half: they found the gaps, they came back to their man, they effectively came down the wings to ping short passes. Good stuff, and there were more examples of it. That kind of thing, if you keep doing it, turns into goals.

Fare Thee Well, John Rosch

Managing Burgundy Wave Editor John Rosch stepped down the other day. Here's what I think about that:

John was a fantastic editor. He cultivated and built a core group of writers, including me, a guy without a long track record watching American soccer or much writing experience outside of sermons and religion op-eds. John directed us gently but well, and grew a humble little blog into a large, multi format website with a multitude of voices. And thoughtful ones too: Burgundy Wave is not just a forum for lunkheads dishing out bullshit hottakes! and clickbait threads, but a place for a lot of honest, solid, interesting writing.

John walked the fine line between hard-core fan and partner to the official Rapids professional staff with remarkable aplomb. Some folks think the blog is too critical of the Rapids. Others that we aren't critical enough. That shows that we've pretty much nailed it, haven't we? That's entirely John's doing- the tone and tenor of Burgundy Wave is John Rosch.

More importantly, John is a warm and fantastic human being, an awesome father, and a good friend. I wish him good health and rest as he steps down, and hope whomever follows in his footsteps can do half as well.

Quick Hits

With the game tied and the two teams fairly even, Pablo Mastroeni swapped Gashi for Marco Pappa at 67', Hairston for Badji at 69', and Cronin for Dillon Powers at 82'.

Huh.

Those are all really good subs, at the right times, for the right tactical reasons...

I talked earlier in the season about how the Rapids have a tendency to flip their wingers from right to left and vice versa as a little funky tactical wrinkle. I was all for it. I still am.

But it exposed a weakness of Shkelzen Gashi. Dude loves his left foot.

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I mean, it's a good foot, don't get me wrong. But twice he had the ball on the right side, and the defense just cheated his left, and took away any chance he had.  When Gashi's on the right and not breaking free, he's as good as dead. Above, he was breaking free, and the goalie cheated him, and he was STILL dead. It's a problem that maybe needs to be solved before the playoffs...

Tim Howard did this against Darren Maddocks. It was his best save on the night.

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Zac MacMath probably would have done the same too. But, for posterity's sake, now you can just do back to the Wave in 50 years and show this gif to your grandkids and say ‘I was there, when...' ...

Rapids Thuglife Bedtime Story

My daughter delayed this post a day because she demanded an epic bedtime story of the chicken who was a princess, and a princess who was a chicken. I will not recount the exploits of said chicken and princess: suffice it to say they live happily ever after. But someone sent me a soccer-chicken gif. Enjoy.