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Backpass: Starting Strong

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The Rapids outlast New England for the 1-0 victory, as the magic of the Dick endureth once more.

Axel Sjoberg goes up to clear the ball. The lanky Swede would clear 12 before the end of the day.
John Babiak, @Photog_JohnB

Whooo! We’re back! Man I missed you guys. If MLS didn’t come back, I was going to pitch Abbie on a 17-part series on culturally inappropriate swear words in the Allsvenskan and Tippeligaen. Thankfully, for all of us, it came back just in time.

The 2017 Rapids have really, really decided to just not mess with what works. There was exactly one player different from the opening day lineup in 2016 and the opening day lineup in 2017. Take a guess.

Nope.

Colorado’s 2016 opening day lineup vs. SJ. Not much has changed.

Burch was the one guy that didn’t start last year. But Marlon Hairston was there... at right back. Remember when Marly was gonna be a fullback? Yeah, I’m glad that didn’t happen.

One thing that was different from last year? A Rapids win. Despite a bounce-back 2016 campaign, the Rapids lost on opening day in 2016 as the Quakes opened their brand new Avaya Stadium with a 1-0 win. This year, the burgundy boys earned their first MLS opening day victory since 2012.

Colorado played a physical, mostly slow, risk-averse match for 90 minutes. Between Friday and Sunday, I watched five other MLS opening weekend matches: Portland-Minnesota, Houston-Seattle, San Jose-Montreal, Orlando-NYC, and Atlanta-NYRB. The Rapids game had by far the least action and fewest scoring chances of all of them. Again, not much has changed from 2016.

But the Rapids did get the only goal of the game, and they won, and that’s what counts. And, just like in 2016, they got their goal and then battened down the hatches for the final 20 minutes hold on to a 1-0 win.

The lone goal came on a free kick in the 52nd minute, as Dillon Powers sent in a laser that struck Jared Watts, rattled around in the box, and got booted high again by Watts before Dominique Badji power-headed it into the Revs goal. The Rapids should have had another goal a few minutes later, but a second goal from a cross-and-flick to the foot of Kevin Doyle was waved off for a questionable foul on either Badji or Powers. Both teams played a lot of crosses; both teams kept their defenses tight and never truly opened up, and it ended 1-0. Which is all very familiar.

And that’s fine, because New England were frustrated all day. Axel Sjoberg had 12 clearances - only Atlanta’s Jonathan Spector had more for MLS opening day - as the Revs kept aiming crosses for Kei Kamara’s head, and Axel kept denying them the satisfaction.

This match, and the opening day experience as a whole (it was my first-ever MLS opening day, if you can believe that), were more than just the game and its outcome. There are a lot of micro-things to discuss.

More of this please

Colorado nearly got on the board in just the 2nd minute of the game.

Such a slick pass from Badji to start this off, and you kind of wish Doyle could have razzle-dazzled this one into something more by cutting in instead of wide. But the general idea: that Doyle is a free-floating creator that will interchange at various spots in the attack, along the wing, as the second runner, etc. and not just post up off the centerbacks, is one that I hope bears fruit for Colorado. The Rapids got one or two more plays like this on the day, but the passes were a little off and the feet were a little unsure. That’ll improve as the team shakes off the off-season rust.

Miller’s Crossing ; Burch’s Crossing

New England conceded the wings to the Rapids to bang in crosses, and the Rapids obliged. It wasn’t any more or less than usual in an MLS match; as most games see between 14 and 20 in my experience, and other leagues see more like 22+. In this match, the Rapids had 20 crosses, while the Revs had 23. The Rapids used their fullbacks to do the lion’s share of the crossing: Colorado got 7 crosses from Eric Miller and 4 from Marc Burch. Miller was often slashing it into a busy 18 yard box, and only found his target once. Several of Burch’s crosses came on a break, meaning that he had few defenders to evade with the ball when he crossed it. Burch was 2 for 4 in crossing, including this nice combo that Badji couldn’t get on top of. Badji would get another chance later and make it count.

Miller led all players on both squads in crosses, and although his rangefinder was off a little in this match, look for him to dial in the right coordinates at a match coming soon.

‘Miller’s Crossing’, also, might be the only time I can work in a Coen Brothers reference to a Burgundy Wave article about the Rapids. Unless we land the superstar striker from Bayern Munich and I can write the headline ‘The Big Lewandowski’. But I’m not holding my breath. So, thanks Eric, for giving me this chance.

Badji gets another chance and makes it count

Dom nailed a great power header to give the Rapids their first goal, and gave the team their first three points of the 2017 campaign.

It was nice that Badji was the one to find the loose ball in the box to put home, since it was him that got fouled in the corner by new Rev Benjamin Angoua to set up this Dillon Powers free kick. I’m just gonna point out that in the Burgundy Wave pre-season predictions, I picked Badji to lead the team in goals. Just sayin’.

Powers and Doyle: Occupying defenses, but not creating chances

In what is a concern that extends back all the way to 2015, the Rapids couldn’t get much going centrally from their attack, as both Dillon Powers and Kevin Doyle couldn’t get a lot of chances in the central part of the final third. Powers had zero shots on the day, and Doyle had 3 shots, but only 1 on target. Powers got credit for 3 key passes, but 2 were corners and the third was that free kick up above that turned into a goal.

In other words, as you can tell from the gifs above, Badji and Hairston were running the attack, with Burch and Miller providing the important passes , while Powers and Doyle played as decoys, or inside muscle to set screens for the others. Here are the passing maps for Powers and Doyle this match, to further illustrate:

Powers passing map, 3-4-17
Doyle passing map, 3-4-17

You can see from the top map that Powers had two little pockets with a flurry of green arrows pointing forward: spots where he liked to combo with Burch and Badji on the left, and Miller and Hairston on the right. Meanwhile, Doyle held up the center backs and had those two back passes in the box, but mostly was contained all day. That’s fine for now, but they’ll need to be chance creators too by passing and releasing into more dangerous spaces.

Revs: a lot of hype coming in, but not a lot to show

There’s a lot of hype and excitement for the Revs this year: Extra Time Radio thinks they’re a sure-fire playoff team, and a lot of people think this is finally the breakthrough year for USMNT youngster Juan Agudelo. But, at least in their first go, I don’t think New England and Agudelo lived up to the hype.

Kei Kamara had the only two good chances of the match for the Revs: a 10th minute header that bonged wide, and this play:

To be fair, everybody else on the Revs had zero good chances - Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen had shots on target, but both were weakly-hit balls right to Zac MacMath.

That above was a great fast break that came about on three long, quick passes; a diagonal from Andrew Farrell to Lee Nguyen; a quick tap on to Kellyn Rowe, and flawless long cross to Kei Kamara, who Jared Watts momentarily lost, nearly resulting in a Revs goal, if not for the hand of MacMath.

Other than that play, the Revs struggled to mount an attack, and were overwhelmingly out-possessed in the first half. Late in the game, both teams looked a little gassed. It’s early in the season, and I suspect full 90-minute match fitness hasn’t totally taken hold for either team, but especially not for a Revs team on the road at altitude.

Agudelo was cut off all day by the Rapids tight defending from Sam Cronin and Micheal Azira, and was effectively neutralized playing at the tip of the Revs 4-4-2 diamond; 1 shot, off target, zero key passes, 1 successful dribble. Lee Nguyen, who had a disappointing 2016, was even more mysterious. He played as a free-roaming attacker; sometimes popping up on the wing or deep in midfield, other times shadowing Kamara. It didn’t really work, as he had only 23 touches, fewer than anyone else on the team except Teal Bunbury, who only came on at 82’. Nguyen came off in the 54th minute with an ankle contusion.

I think the Revs are capable of more than they showed, and a lot of teams struggle against the Rapids defense. Still, this game didn’t calm any of the fears that Lee Nguyen’s breakout year in 2015 might have been a fluke and not a trend.

C38 really shines

I was more than impressed with Centennial 38’s efforts to keep the noise level and the cheering up throughout the game. They used all of my favorite cheers and chants, too. C38 especially made sure to carry a cheer right before opposing goalkeeper kicks in the second half, rather than allow a small minority of their contingent to yell an offensive word. It was noticed, and appreciated, and I was really glad for that fact.

They also provided the fans with a great opening tifo. The only problem: the sunlight and the angle of the South side made it really hard to read. I think maybe it might be better to go back to the old tifo spot off the top of the north terrace. Minor issue: otherwise, a great day for our largest SG.

Fan Notes

I was really happy with the teams performance, and I’m heartened that the Rapids look like a possible playoff team again in 2017 on the field.

Off the field, as both a fan and as a member of the media, I kept wait for some kind of glossy ‘new! at DSGP’ video or announcement about some improvements or changes to the 10 year-old Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. When they never came, I thought: ok, they’re gonna surprise me.

Didn’t happen.

The north terrace, formerly the turf of Centennial 38, was disassembled, and in its place were a couple of tents and a few dozen chairs for a corporate gathering. Maybe they could have put a pop-up beer garden there? Or a food truck? Nope, nothing. The ‘Montejo’ bar at the north end is now the Bud Light bar, although I didn’t see hardly anyone there. A new latin food kiosk opened on the northeast side, but it didn’t offer anything I could eat. My son and I got pizza, which was drastically overcooked, and french fries that were bathed in so much Old Bay I could hardly eat them. To be honest, as much as I love watching the Rapids, the food offerings are bad enough that I’m having second thoughts about getting a partial season ticket package.

There wasn’t much else new or different at DSGP. Sign boards still aren’t digital - will we be the last to switch? Heck, even the slogan for 2016 is still being used: I guess I like ‘Strength at Altitude’, but I thought maybe that was done with? Maybe the club has some exciting stadium additions planned for later in the season. Maybe they are waiting for C38 to come up with an awesome slogan like ‘Keep Fighting’ before doing some new signage. In my dark fears, though, the team is minimizing expenditures and maximizing revenue.*

Rapids Thug Life Moment

There weren’t a lot of crunching tackles in this one, although the Rapids picked up three yellow cards in rapid succession, one-after-another, in the second half: Calvert, Powers, Cronin. Powers had two light fouls that got harshly judged for a card. Cronin tugged on Juan Agudelo at the 75th minute and got a card that the fans couldn’t believe. Neither could Cronin. And he said so pretty bluntly to referee Jose Rivero.

Telling the ref ‘That’s a horseshit foul’ - pretty thug, Sam.

Glad to be back everybody.

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* In layman’s terms, I’m suggesting that maybe KSE is cheap.