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Backpass: Faceplant in New England

We lost. But there were some bright points to take from this one. No, really!

MLS: Colorado Rapids at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

When I popped open Burgundy Wave immediately after the game Saturday night to see Abbie Mood’s recap, my first words were ‘That’s the perfect pic.’

Another stumble and fall for #Rapids96; this one a bit of a faceplant.

With an ersatz lineup minus Gashi, Pappa, Williams, Jones, and Howard, the team went into this one lacking a bunch of its offensive zest. And the result was a game lacking offense. Although that can be chalked up as much to the team surrendering the lead in the 13th minute as it could be the result of missing players. Any soccer team faces a difficult task when going behind early on the road; it allows the opposing team to dictate the pace of the game, allows them to sit deeper, forces the team behind to come up with solutions.

Both the Revs and the Rapids played fairly boring, fairly direct long ball for the opening 12 minutes. Here’s the Revs map:

Those arrows are very long. This is, generally, not the way to attack the Rapids, since Burling and Sjoberg clear these like Mutumbo swatting away breakfast cereal. The Revs then stopped this nonsense and got a goal from Juan Agudelo on the 1-2 from Gershon Koffie.

In Praise of the Rapids (No Really!)

To the Rapids credit, they responded to falling behind really well. The backpassing and long-balling of the opening ten minutes was shed for a sense of urgency. The team moved the ball out to the wings, where tight passing between Burch, Badji, and Azira, or Cronin, Le Toux, and Miller, opened up a couple of runs that resulted in good chances.

To even the most neophyte soccer fans, that’s a very different passing map than the one above. You see big clumps of Rapids players playing short passes up the wing. You see some nice field-switching from right to left by number 23 Bobby Burling. You see number 4 Marc Burch and number 3 Eric Miller playing high up the pitch. The Revs were forced to bend their shape into something that left the middle exposed.

This map also showed that the Revs were capable of being exposed on the wing, and Badji took advantage of that. Here he is burning Andrew Farrell to the endline and rifling a fantastic ground ball to Powers, who can’t hit the target.

Powers would get another chance five minutes later, but backup keeper Brad Knighton would turn it away.

On the whole, that Rapids stretch from minute 12 to minute 24 was excellent. The Revs would respond.

Credit to Jay Heaps

The Revs have been a listing ship for months. New England sit eighth in the Eastern Conference and had lost five of their last six games coming into the match against the Rapids. Their -16 goal differential stands as worst in MLS. But they got this one right. First, they exploited the Rapids in a weak spot by scoring against them early. The Rapids have conceded only 7 goals in the first half: best in MLS. They play best when they muck things up for the opponent and score late. Heaps flipped the script by getting that early goal.

Then, he really got the defense right.

Colorado played a lot of 10 and 15 yard passes in the opposing that died a cruel death at the feet of Revs defenders. That’s because New England stayed exceedingly organized and never got pulled apart or stretched out. Gershon Koffie was always taking away central passing lanes to Dillon Powers and Kevin Doyle. The Rapids, to their discredit, never seemed to learn, and the result was a lot of intercepted passes.

Actually, a Very Even Game

If you just go by the numbers, this was actually a very close match. Possession was 51-49 to the Revs. The Revs had 16 tackles while the Rapids had 18. New England had 12 interceptions; the Rapids had 16. The Revs had 13 shots, the Rapids had 14 (each team with 7 shots inside the 18 yard box). So in the end, it was finishing that determined the outcome.

Powers’ finishing has always been a tad below-average: this season, his G-xG is -1.07, and in 2015 it was -1.13, meaning the average MLS player converts one more goal shooting from the same spots as Mr. Powers. If he finished a little better, he’d be a guaranteed starter, and if he finished a lot better, he’d be Benny Feilhaber in 2015, or Lee Nguyen in 2014 - a game changing midfielder.

Did Kevin Doyle Do Anything?

No he did not.

But I’m not going to say anything about it anymore.

Sebastian Le Toux was Off

Everybody has an off game or two. Many players have them when coming back from injury. This was Sebastian Le Toux’s ‘off game’.

Other than some nice wingside combo play in the first half, Le Toux seemed to get the ball and force in a bad pass, or not be in a position to get the ball at all. He was not good. Here’s Dom Badji’s map for comparison. Yellow arrows are key passes - passes that resulted in shots.

So Le Toux had a clunker. OK.

All in all, it’s time to turn the page

The team had a player that wasn’t clicking, a defense that got pulled apart a few times, they were a little unlucky in finishing, and they were away on turf. All of this means, to my eye, that it isn’t really time to panic. Granted, the Rapids went out and made one of the worst teams in MLS look like a juggernaut. But credit the Revs for playing well when they needed it. the three points they collected puts them three away from the playoffs. Meanwhile the Rapids mini-slump over the past six games - collecting only five points - still has them sitting third.

The team needs a fresh start, a couple home games, an easy opponent or two, and things will be looking up.

(Don’t let the dread seep in.)