I hope this is one of those posts that I look back on in three or four months and laugh at. I hope that while I'm watching Sam Cronin lift the MLS Cup at the end of the year, I'll be thinking of just how silly I was to have any concerns about this ostensibly great Rapids squad. We've always been at war with Eastutah, after all.
I seemed to be one of the few people who was against the Tim Howard transfer from the beginning. I always thought it looked like a bit of a panic move; Alejandro Bedoya spurned the Rapids by claiming he wasn't interested in going to MLS at the time -- naturally, it only took a few months before a team that wasn't the Rapids came along and he decided he was going to come on over to the US after all -- and the Rapids were suddenly left with a very high allocation order spot and nobody to claim with it. Almost immediately, the talk of the town was Tim Howard, and that rumor stuck until it actually happened. There were no other options thrown out, no other rumors tossed into the mixer, nothing except Tim Howard from the first minute to the contract's signing. It was a lavishly expensive luxury signing for a team that absolutely did not need a signing of that caliber at a spot where they already had two good starters, especially after having one of the worst attacks in MLS the year prior.
I didn't relent in my hatred of the transfer at any point and I got some stick for it, especially early in the season when it looked like the Rapids weren't going to blossom into one of the better teams in the league. But I maintained my position.
In my mind, a good Rapids team wouldn't need Tim Howard to get much better so long as they had a goalkeeper who was at least league average. (You'll recall that they got rid of Clint Irwin for seemingly no reason to bring Howard in, and then brought him in anyway when MacMath ended up being one of the the best 'keeper in MLS this year. Smart!) The two teams with arguably the best goalkeepers in MLS over the past several years, RSL and DC United, haven't had their successes because of their goalkeepers, but because their teams were successful in addition to having great goalkeepers. Both teams have had down years recently where their GKs have performed at nearly the same level as normal, but the team around them has failed to perform! And on the same token, a bad Rapids team wouldn't need Howard either because it is a rare, rare time indeed that a GK is what carries an MLS team from worst to first all on his own. (Fayrd Mondragon is the closest I can come to thinking of an example of a GK doing that.)
Goalkeeper is the easiest position to get value in Major League Soccer, as the Rapids had proved with their shrewd signings of Clint Irwin and Zac MacMath the past several seasons. To spend $2 million on a goalkeeper in MLS is to draft a running back in the top 10 of the NFL draft: both unnecessary and, often, detrimental to the team as a whole. He's making nearly eight times the money of the second-highest paid GK in the league, and he has most certainly not been the best GK in the league since arriving. Among goalkeepers with the same or more games played as him, he is currently fifth in the league in SV% with a 74.4 rate. (That, by the way, is only 4% more than the man he replaced.)
It's like the post by Kevin McCauley linked in the previous paragraph said:
Any Rapids fan concerned about the money going toward Howard might be trying to talk themselves into it after Zac MacMath made a costly error during Sunday's game against D.C., but Howard can't just be a marginal improvement over MacMath to be worth his salary. He needs to be the best goalkeeper in the league. Based on the standard Hamid and Rimando have set, that's a high bar to clear.
In my opinion, it's completely fair to nitpick and harp on every minute detail of Howard's play, because his outrageous paycheck -- remember, eight times more than the next-highest paid GK in MLS -- is one of the most ridiculous contracts in MLS history, and it was given out by a team that had needs desperately more pressing than goalkeeper. If Tim Howard is making that level of bank at the expense of a DP slot that could have been used to boost one of the more anemic MLS attacks, he deserves every single smidge of scrutiny thrown his way. Unfortunately, it isn't just the play of Howard himself that is concerning.
Here's the thing: By pretty much every single metric, the Rapids have been a worse team since Howard was brought in. A sample of the easy metrics to follow:
|Record||Win %||Goals For||Goals Against|
Players making millions in MLS are brought in to make their teams better all on their own. The exact opposite has happened with Timmy.
Before Howard was in -- and by the way, I was told more times that I can count that even if MacMath was doing well, he wasn't half the "back line leader" that Howard was -- the Rapids' defense was possibly the tightest in MLS, helping Zac to achieve his ridiculously good numbers. Since Howard's arrival, the defense has cratered. MacMath was facing a ridiculously low 3.4 shots per game -- 54 in his 16 appearances -- while Howard has had to face 4.7 shots per game -- 43 in nine appearances -- since his arrival. The team had not given up a single penalty kick with MacMath between the sticks; in the past nine matches, they've now given up four. (And leave it to Tim Howard to get a Team of the Week mention for saving a penalty in a game where he'd already let two in!)
The goals against number for the team has nearly doubled from .69 to 1.20. That's still a perfectly respectable number, but it puts just that tiny bit more onus on the offense and, well...
Yeah, even though Jermaine Jones' absence has obviously hurt the team on the other end, even the offense has gotten worse since Howard's arrival. Don't think that you can put any blame on Howard for the offense slowing down once he arrives? For $2.5 million you bet your ass I can put the onus on him to catch up and outplay the slowed attack. Shame the team doesn't have a spare few million lying around to buy someone that can actually score some goals.
Attendance hasn't even improved much, as predicted, with Howard's arrival because they already had a USMNT star on the team in Jones, and they were already nearly selling out every match because, stay with me here, the team wasn't a miserable pile of suck!
The team was playing unbelievably well, over their heads in fact, with MacMath in goal. The team decided to destroy a working camaraderie in the name of ticket sales, and they are paying the price.
The caveat, of course, is that it has only been nine games. For $2.5 million, you can't afford to be mediocre through nine, though. But hey, maybe they'll turn things around, win their next seven straight, and level the playing field on all those statistics above. If the team manages to pull itself up and rally around their new star GK to the tune of a strong finish to the season and perhaps even a playoff run, I'll never have been happier for having been wrong. Unfortunately, this is the Rapids, and we rarely get to have nice things. I won't be betting the farm on that MLS Cup run.