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Backpass: Diagnosis Offense

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The attack has been anemic of late. What gives?

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With only three goals in the last six games, and a paltry 29 goals through 28 games, it’s no secret the Rapids attack is pretty weak. Without the aggressive helter-skelter end-to-end mayhem of Jermaine Jones or the dangerous shooting of Shkelzen Gashi these past few games, an offense that was by no means prolific has gotten even less effective. And with the San Jose Earthquakes under Dom Kinnear, expectations for a goalless draw were high. And thats what we got.

But instead of following every fan’s first instinct to turn off the game and forget about it completely, I actually decided to dedicate my time to cataloging every single possession, to see if I could discern a pattern in the failure that might explain what was wrong with the Rapids attack. Was it tactical? Was it technical? Was it finishing?

I recognize this level of scrutiny is irrationally insane and possibly the result of spending altogether too many hours at kindergarteners birthday parties on Sunday. But hey, what the hell.

And yes, last week I discussed how Rapids fans need to embrace that reality that the club is a defensively-minded team, first and foremost. That still doesn’t mean we should accept games with nary a single goal. Fans should be alright with winning 1-0. That necessitates scoring one goal, though. Why couldn’t that happen Saturday at Dick’s?

Here goes my breakdown, possession by possession:

That’s 47 possessions the Rapids had of significance. I counted:

11 ended in a shot (Opta counts 13).

5 ended in a cleared or caught cross

13 ended in a bad pass or interception

The most involved player in the final three touches was Dominique Badji, with 22. Dillon Powers was listed as one of the final three to play the ball 21 times. Following him was Marlon Hairston, with 19. Badji and Hairston were involved in a play together the most of any two players, with 8, although only once after the 46th minute.

Plays were characterized as ‘long’ 17 times, ‘medium’ 12 times, and ‘short’ 9 times. Surprisingly, the long plays ended all but once (?) in a controlled resolution in the final third of play. Most of the ‘long’ balls were played on the ground, especially in the second half.

Sebastian Le Toux had zero shots, and ended a Rapids possession with an errant pass 4 times in his 12 ‘final touches’. Powers also finished with zero shots, but was involved in a possession resulting in a shot 6 times.

In short,

1) the team generated some quality chances, but failed to connect in a few occassions that they really should have (Hairston’s shot at 15’, Badji’s shots at 24’ and 68’).

2) The offense results in a chance much more often if the team can get Dillon Powers a touch.

3) Badji and Hairston linking up creates problems for the opposing defense.

4) Sebastian Le Toux has yet to be effective in a game for the Rapids.

The Rapids chances that fell to Badji were really possessions that should have resulted in a goal. Badji couldn’t find a way to deek SJ’s keeper and ended up passing the ball across the face of the goal at 24’. At 68’, well, take a look:

The Quakes have a full-blown defensive meltdown here, as Andres Imperiale and Jordan Stewart both commit to Marlon Hairston, leaving Dom Badji wide open with only David Bingham to beat. But he didn’t. Hairston had his chance back at 15’, when he was fed a perfect lofted chip from Dillon Powers on the run, but floated it wide left just before colliding with Bingham.

The Rapids very well could have -should have - finished one of these. The Quakes D was shaky from minute 60 to minute 80. But like I said: shoulda; coulda. Didn’t. The chances and the tactics, though, were not to blame.

Man of the Match: Jared Watts

Jared Watts had himself a game. On the defensive side, Watts had 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, 6 clearances, and 2 blocked shots - that’s 14 total defensive actions; far more than anyone else. Several of his tackles and interceptions were in the 18 yard box, and could be called game-changing plays. But wait! There’s more! Watts also led the team in total passes, with 58, and in so-called ‘Accurate Longballs’ where he was 6 for 11, including this one:

The Rapids are 4-7-2 (WTL) with Watts in the starting lineup, so nothing spectacular, or definitively ‘game-changing’ in his regular impact on the team. He has also matched a lot of good performances with a bunch of clunkers, including a poor performance against the Whitecaps in a 2-2 tie on July 10 and the 5-1 horror show at NYCFC on July 30 that might have sent him to the bench until now (it could also be Bobby Burling being healthy). I like Watts, and I think his performance against San Jose shows what he’s capable of - distributing the ball like a regista, tackling like a center back, but with the mobility of a fullback. That’s a potent mix.

That said, he and the Rapids coaching staff need to work on isolating the things that made him so successful this game and drill them into his head, so they become repeatable. If Watts can make a game like this the norm instead of the exception, he can be the lynchpin anchor that feeds this team’s success for years to come, much like Drew Moor was before he went off to a well-deserved payday in the frozen tundra of Toronto FC.

Let’s not disrespect the Goalkeepers

To say that Hairston and Badji should have scored, it’s only fair to give credit to David Bingham, who was excellent in goal. There is good reason why he earned a January-camp call-up to the USMNT, and I think right now, he should be considered the Men’s teams third-choice goalkeeper, since Bill Hamid can’t stay healthy, and he’s looked more impressive to me than William Yarbourough, Ethan Horvath, and Luis Robles. Full disclosure; I’ve only watched Horvath and Yarbourough once each in the past six months. Still, Bingham was stellar, and the SJ defense needed him to be.

Our own DP goalie* was pretty good too.

He had two others that were solid if unspectacular. But either team might have gone home with a 1-0 win on another day. Props to the net-minders.

Our Haircut of the Match

In the interests of keeping things fresh, the ‘Thuglife Moment’ will be rotated on occasion with other matters of whimsy that strike my attention, like advertisement boards of products I though were defunct, or, this week, an MLS hairstyle ‘yea’ or ‘nay’.

Here’s Darwin Ceren’s coif. Is this a ‘fashion must’ or a ‘hairstyle you don’t trust’? Tell me in the comments.

Happy Tuesday, people.

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* Writers don’t call GKs ‘goalies’ very often. It feels kind of hockey-esque. I dunno. Let me know if there’s some unwritten rule that soccer players must be called ‘keepers’, and not ‘goalies’. I must have missed that day in soccer blogger school.