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Backpass: Wut

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Holding a lead three times, the Rapids defense collapsed and surrendered three points on the road to a heretofore hapless Whitecaps team. Wut?

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
I think Pablo is as confused as we are with this draw.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado went into BC Place on Saturday with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. They held the lead three times. They were playing against 10 men for 35 minutes. They generated the most goals they have all year.

And they came away with a 3-3 tie.

Wut.

This game was so uncharacteristic of the Rapids, it totally boggles the mind.

First, they scored a lot of goals for once. That’s weird.

Second, the defense was absolutely porous. In the second half, they couldn’t stop anything.

Third, with a lead in the final 10 minutes, with a team filled with experienced MLS veterans accustomed to using guile and experience to win, the Rapids couldn’t/didn’t hold on to the ball, making aggressive passes rather than waste the clock. They gave Vancouver chance after chance, conceding 5 shots in the final 10 minutes. And VWFC burned ‘em.

So What Happened?

There are four possibilities as to what happened, to my mind.

First, it’s Chinatown Jake. By that I mean, it’s one of those weird, quirky, MLS-gonna-MLS kind-of games that happens once in a while, like NYCFC drubbing the best D in the league for 5 goals, or the sudden and bizarre collapse of the Montreal Impact down the stretch, a team that was in sniffing range of CONCACAF Champions League glory and MLS Cup just last year. The Rapids got snakebit a little.

I’d buy that if the whole game was a dog. But the first half was pretty good from the ‘Pids. The second half was awful.

That leads to a second possibility: the team is tired. Yes, this is a team that is built for the last 15 minutes: they’re generally fit, and playing at sea-level, they should emerge as the most fit against the Caps. They played badly in the second half because they were out of gas. They played especially badly in the final 15 minutes. Check out this chart with possession by the minute:

For the final 10 minutes, the Whitecaps dominated Colorado in possession, and when they did get the ball, they didn’t hold it all. The Rapids looked pretty toothless.

The team has been without Dillon Serna, Jermaine Jones, and Bobby Burling, which means the remaining first-team guys have been playing a lot of minutes, and there’s not a lot of squad rotation, with the exception of Kevin Doyle, who wasn’t much use when he was in the starting XI anyways. Guys might be tired. I’d call out Pablo Mastroeni for not rotating the squad, but... rotate with who? Your healthy options at midfield to spell the regulars of Cronin, Azira, Powers, Hairston and Gashi are Le Toux, who hasn’t found his groove in this squad, Pfeffer, who has zero MLS minutes this year, and Marco Pappa, who stepped on the field and turned over the ball multiple times - the last time to help lose the team the game.

So we might just be discovering that team depth, which felt great at the beginning of the season when we had Serna and Hairston coming off the bench, suddenly looks pretty darn thin.

The third possibility is that this team really isn’t as good as we’d hoped: that MLS parity and statistical regression-to-the-mean is finally coming home to roost. I looked at how the team were performing based on goal differential: are they better or worse than past MLS teams with a +5 GD in previous years? In general, they’re right on par or a little better with other +5 GD teams. The Rapids have 5 losses and 11 ties. The Chicago Fire had 11 losses, 6 ties in 2012 with a +5 GD. And MLS Cup finalists Columbus Crew in 2015 had 11 losses, 8 ties with a +5 GD. Most other examples are similar going back to 2011. The Rapids, on points, are a little better. So maybe they have been a little lucky. And maybe they are regressing to the mean.

The last possibility is the Whitecaps had a fire lit under them at the half that nobody was going to stop. Carl Robinsons team needed some points out of this game, or the season was effectively over. Playing for their jobs, desperate to win, the Whitecaps attacked with gusto and pinned the Rapids deep to rescue a result. I could kinda believe that, except that the Rapids should have wrapped this game up with a 3-2 lead, and choked it away instead.

The truth is, we’ll never know. But some combination of the possibilities above seems logical to me.

Ugh, the Defending

A simple reason they lost was that the defending was bad in the second half. Here is the play that conceded the second goal.

Jordan Harvey is overlapping with Giles Barnes on the left wing, and Harvey draws the defenders before getting the ball to Barnes, who threads an unmarked pass through to the runner, Erik Hurtado. Hurtado dribbles through and past Sam Cronin and Eric Miller, at which point the Rapids are in deep doo-doo.

Micheal Azira closes and stymies a pass that ends at the feet of Giles Barnes; the problem here is that Sjoberg, Azira, and Miller are all on Hurtado. Barnes makes the run un-marked - Sam Cronin is there, but a step or two late. Our last hope is Marc Burch, who picks up the runner in the box, Pedro Morales, but loses concentration and finds himself kind-of trying to cut off Barnes and defend Morales simultaneously. He can’t. The game becomes tied, 2-2.

Did I mention the ‘Caps only had 10 men at this point?

I could say mistakes like this happen once in a while, but the Rapids nearly conceded on an identical play 14 minutes earlier. Observe.

It is, essentially, the same. The Rapids are out numbered on the wing, and the ‘Caps and pinging little 1-2 passes between Kendall Waston, Barnes, Hurtado, Harvey and Christian Bolanos. This could have easily been a goal. The wings have been beaten. The defensive mids have to bend out of shape and get exploited. Jordan Harvey has multiple open and unmarked targets to hit with a short cross, and he does.

The team had been defending great until this week. This week, in the second half, the Rapids made errors up the field that cascaded into disaster. If Hairston gets beat and Cronin gets beat, then guys have to shift around to cover the open man. That opens new problems. Suddenly the whole team is rushing to close down the ball rather than sealing up passing lanes, like the Rapids normally tend to do.

That’s not to even mention how shaky the team looked on corner kicks in this game, or the disaster that was the third conceded goal, which is such a shambles, defensively, I can’t bring myself to post it.

This was the defense getting exploited and torched, which is not a total anomaly. The Revolution did it to us. NYCFC did it to us. When the team’s front three are a little slow to press, and the midfield three are a step behind or a little out-of-position coming back fro the attack and fail to close down passing lanes, the Rapids defense has a tendency to fail catastrophically.

We’ve only got a few more games to get this right before the playoffs. I hope the boys are watching tape.

Gashi’s Goal, Though

Yeah. That was awesome.

Finally, Don’t Make Sam Cronin Mad

Update: Don’t Make Pablo Mastroeni Mad Either

Night, y’all.