What we said at the end of 2016:
Burch had an excellent 2016 year, and showed no signs of slowing down. Miller was equally excellent, although I think his crossing could stand improvement. Williams as a backup is a luxury, in that he started on several occasions and looked great, and can play on either the left or the right side. Castillo needs more experience. This position is pretty deep.
2017 Counting Stats:
17 GP, 16 GS, 0 G, 2 A, 1397 min, 7 YC, 1 RC
Lead all Rapids defenders with 15 Accurate Crosses and 10 Key Passes, as well as 3.0 tackles per game. 15 crosses, however, was only 14th-best for defenders in MLS, and he had the lowest rate of Clearances, Blocks, and Interceptions of any Rapids defender, with only 3.71 per game.
Mekeil was absolutely lights out in front of nearly 45,000 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta for the Rapids first-ever meeting against Atlanta United. Facing an attack of Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, plus having to contain the tremendous Hector Villalba on his side, Williams was active, alert, and virtually unbeatable. He recorded 3 tackles, 9 Clearances, 2 Blocks, and 6 Interceptions. His high-interception in the 95th minute ended up cleared by Atlanta over the line, and resulted in a last-second corner kick that the Rapids very nearly converted. On offense, he was of no consequence, which is interesting to note. Mekeil can be dangerous in attack, and stalwart in defense, but rarely does he do both in the same game. Here’s his defensive action map. It’s the platonic ideal of what a fullback map should look like in a bunkered 4-4-2 game plan.
As an aside: it seems the Rapids got their United’s confused in 2017. Colorado played well against the elite Atlanta side, but looked really shaky against DC and Minnesota, two of the worser teams in the league. MLS gonna MLS.
Marcelo Balboa: "I'll say it. I'll say it. On a corner kick, ball comes back to you there? You can't go back to your keeper. You just can't." pic.twitter.com/tmmQrFQmlv— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) November 9, 2017
Compare to this:
Not only does Mekeil hold it... hold it... hold it! He ends up backpassing to Howard. So awful.
Rapids fans are loving. Rapids fans are forgiving. So what if we aren’t a winning football team? So what if we haven’t had a double-digit scorer since 2012? We love this team, and we love these players, and we support them through think and thin. This is not Philadelphia, where the Eagles are likely to be booed at halftime on Christmas day even if they’re winning because the fans thought they ran the ball too many times. When Rapids fans boo one of their own players, it is a moment that speaks volumes. But that’s what happened to Mekeil Williams.
I need to set the scene for you a little bit here. It is May 5th, a Friday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The Rapids, who had the second-best record in Major League Soccer in 2016, have just gone winless in their previous six games, with five of those matches being losses. The team met previously hapless Minnesota United twice in that span, and gave up Minnesota’s first MLS point in 2-2 tie, and their first win. The Rapids had lost 2-1 to Real Salt Lake in an epic end-of-game collapse that only Atlanta Falcons fans are familiar with. The team was averaging 0.7 goals per game, looking utterly toothless on offense.
And then Mekeil has a ball fall to him off a corner, and he does... that. Hold it for an hour and a half and then just give up and dump it back to Tim. Burgundy Wave writer Matt ‘SouthStands’ Perry called it ‘The One Play that Summarizes the Rapids 2017 Season’, which was pretty much spot-on.
To be fair, it isn’t the worst thing a soccer player ever did. It’s not like he bit someone or something. But Williams had been given an incredible opportunity by the Rapids when starting Left Back Marc Burch was traded to Minnesota on March 31st to take over that spot for the year, elevate his play, help the team generate offense, and establish himself as a first-rate MLS-caliber defender after apprenticing in a substitute role for the previous year and coming to the team from Antigua FC in the not-very-prestigious Liga Nacional de Guatemala.
Mekeil hadn’t been bad up to that point for Colorado, but they also hadn’t won with him in the lineup either. And then on May 5th, Williams had that backpass. And the boos rained down.
A few minutes later, Mekeil would pick up a yellow card on a bad slide tackle. After the half, he got used like a slalom pole by Sheanon Williams ...
... and then at the end of the match, he got another yellow card to get sent off. It was his worst game, but it also was a pretty good overall indicator of the moment the fan base snapped, and it looked like the team wasn’t going to be good in 2017. Did I mention that this happened in early May?
Mekeil Williams isn’t a terrible Left Back. He’s a pretty good Left Back, with two GIANT exceptions.
He’s very good at getting forward in the attack and crossing the ball, as he has both excellent speed to get into dangerous spots and a deft touch to get the ball on-target in the 18 yard box. He’s also a fierce tackler, leading all Rapids players with 3.0 per game. If he’s chasing a player down from behind and nobody’s yelling ‘Man on! Man on!’, odds are that Mekeil’s gonna take that ball off him.
But here are the exceptions. First, he gets waaaaaaay too far forward, which leaves the defense a man short when they face a counter-attack. And second, he has a tendency to lose the man on the back post or over his left shoulder. These are serious exceptions for an MLS-level fullback.
There were many, many times watching replays of the Rapids where I said ‘well, Mekeil’s not at fault on that goal, because Mekeil is still coming back from pushing forward.’ And at some point my brain said: ‘WAIT A MINUTE! MAYBE THAT’S THE PROBLEM.’ In a game against Sporting Kansas City, a game against Real Salt Lake, and in a bunch of other spots, you saw Williams returning to the play well behind the other defenders. Maybe that’s not his fault. Maybe the coaches told him to press high on attack. Maybe the Rapids turned over the ball on those overlapping attacks too frequently and too high up. But I also think that Williams was too aggressive in getting forward, too often, and not aggressive enough in getting back. As Rog Bennett of Men in Blazers would say, he can “Cherun” quite well, but he doesn’t proper “Dolo” as much.
Williams also lost his man on the back post a bunch of times; not so frequently as to qualify him as criminally negligent - I only saw an instance of it every 3rd game I re-watched, like here where he gets beat by Diego Valeri - but enough that back-post defending can be listed as one of his his liabilities, and not his assets. Here’s one that really gives me heartburn:
Mekeil loses Elis in the box... pic.twitter.com/kAgCrDsTSV— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) November 9, 2017
But perhaps the most damning condemnation of Mekeil Williams came from the Rapids coaching staff, as Mekeil was benched in the months of August and October in favor of Mike da Fonte, who, as we said earlier this week, is not very good. And the final verdict on Mekeil’s performance was rendered this past Tuesday, when Daniel Boniface at the Denver Post slipped this little aside from Rapids Interim GM Padraig Smith into a longer article on Claudio Lopez’ departure from the team (emphasis mine):
(Padraig) Smith said the Rapids have identified a number of key additions they are targeting this offseason. In the short term, Smith said he’s looking for a left wing back and an attacking midfielder. He said those players should play with intensity, urgency and boldness.
The Rapids haven’t announced who is and is not receiving a contract extension for next season, but with this little statement, they’ve made it abundantly clear that Mekeil Williams won’t be the starting Left Back. I’m a strong believer that while the most important position on a football team is the position of Central Midfielder, Left Back is the second-most important. The Rapids were good in 2016 with Marc Burch at Left Back. And simply put, they were bad in 2017 with Mekeil Williams. Time to try again for 2018.