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What a terrible ending.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Driving home from DSGP in a daze, my friend Stefan sitting silently in the passenger seat, I kept muttering the same thing to myself over and over again:

“That was weird.”

Post-match emotions are always the truest of emotions. This emotion for me wasn’t sorrow, although I fully sympathize with the son of Burgundy Wave writer The South Stands, whose response to this match was “Man. That made me sad.”

This emotion wasn’t frustration, like in 2015 when the Rapids were up 1-0, only to concede a 75th minute goal to Alan Gordon to leave us with a draw. It wasn’t contented resignation, like when we lost to Seattle in the playoffs last year after a season of excellent, possibly over-achieving football. It was bewilderment.

Bewilderment that a Colorado Rapids team, built on solid defense, could concede two shoulda-never-happened goals in three minutes. Three minutes! I never expected a team this defensively-minded to collapse so suddenly. It’s so out of character. It just doesn’t compute.

The coach had a different sentiment. Or, more accurately, a fetid and amorphous blobular object that mimicked his post-game emotional state:

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Quick Recap

Through the first 23 minutes, the Rapids were the sharper of the two teams, getting two excellent shots from Kevin Doyle, the second one finding the back of the net for a Rapids goal. The play began with beautiful through-ball from Bismark Adjei-Boateng to Marlon Hairston, who opened up space on his defender, Danilo Acosta, and slung in a perfect low cross to the head of Doyle.

But for the remainder of the half, the Rapids were on the back foot, as Real Salt Lake took four dangerous and unanswered shots. That was punctuated by Nana Boateng’s departure at the 32nd minute after leaping for a ball and being undercut by RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland, landing on his back. Boateng was replaced by Rapids newcomer Mohammed Saeid.

The Rapids had two chances early in the second half. The second, off a corner, saw an attempted clearance by Sebastian Saucedo ping off his outstretched hand in the Rapids box.

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I’m not sure what to say here. Ismail Elfath is, to my mind, one of MLS’ better referees, but he misses this one. The term used by FIFA regarding whether to charge a player with hand ball is whether the player is in a ‘natural position’ when the ball hits them. While it is somewhat natural to flay your arms out when tipping backwards, Saucedo could have struck this ball with his arms bent at the elbows. In the heat of the moment, and viewing the play from behind, I can understand missing this call. But it looks to me like a missed call.

The next 35 minutes were a bit of a snooze, as both teams fouled and bumped and stopped and started.

Then in the 84th minute, ugh.

On an RSL corner, Luis Silva’s initial header strikes the crossbar. Chris Wingert rebounds and fires. Jared Watts is right in front of goal and has his arms out to his side, in a place where he needs to have his hands tucked behind his back, and he ‘jazz hands!’ the ball. Yura Movsisyan converts the penalty.

In the 88th minute, double ugh.

Colorado is defending very deep. That’s partially by choice, but mostly because they’re down to 10 men now that Jared Watts has been sent off with a red card for denying a goal on his hand ball. Brooks Lennon is dribbling wild. He turns Dillon Powers inside out. He burns Micheal Azira. His shot slices between Kortne Ford and Bobby Burling. Zac McMath sees it late. Goal.

And we all feel sad, bewildered, weird, or like dog poop. Possibly all four simultaneously.

In Between Things

Sam Cronin’s departure has left a hole in the midfield; in regards to his defensive abilities, his abilities at organizing, and his leadership.

Cronin’s game was to attack and harass in order to let Micheal Azira step in and pick off the interceptions as the man on the ball hurries a pass. Without Cronin’s manic-aggressive defending, the Rapids central midfield of Azira, Boateng, Saeid, and Dillon Powers chalked up a total of 1 clearance, 3 interceptions, and 1 tackle.* That’s well-below normal. That’s not good enough. A Rapids team that has defined itself for more than two years as having an impenetrable midfield suddenly looks vulnerable.

You also wonder whether Cronin would have verbally willed this team to hold on for the 1-1 draw had he been there. Cronin might have come out to slide tackle Lennon had he been there. Cronin might have been yelling at the team to stay focused in those final minutes. Cronin, however, was in Texas, helping Minnesota earn a tough road point against a resurgent Houston. Sam was a vocal leader for this team - it was his club to lead. In his absence, coupled with Tim Howard’s three-game suspension, I’m not sure this is anybody’s team right now.

Listen, trading Sam Cronin for cap space isn’t a terrible move as long as it eventually results in the team landing a potent offensive catalyst that can spur the team to greater heights. But they haven’t made that acquisition yet. And it might be a few months ‘til they do.

It reminds me of Seattle last year, as the Sounders began the year waiting for the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro with a 5-1-9 (WTL) start through the first 15 matches - a mark bad enough that it cost Sigi Schmidt his job. Silver lining: Seattle got Lodeiro, their backline became impregnable, and they won MLS Cup. So maybe good things can happen for us?

For right now though, it’s not a good feeling watching Colorado play slightly depleted through the middle. We had all hoped that Cronin could be substituted, or even improved upon, with Mohammed Saeid and/or Nana Boateng. It is still early, but so far, that hasn’t happened, and Colorado is 0-2 without Sam.

What it means to have a top-notch midfielder

Former Rapid Jermaine Jones did this Saturday. !

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With a similar opportunity on the attack, Dillon Powers did this. . While it isn’t an awful pass, its a few yards short, meaning Badji has to do a 360 to gather it in. By the time he’s got it, the defense is composed enough to stop the attack.

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DP and TAM-level midfielders like Jermaine make plays that change games and deliver wins.

Meanwhile, the Rapids passing can’t find the team’s top attacking weapons, Kevin Doyle, Marlon Hairston, and Dominique Badji. That lack of passing is why the Rapids are last in MLS in shots - the Rapids have only out shot their opponents once this year, in their 2-2 draw against Minnesota.

The lack of a proper creative midfielder is why the team is last in MLS in dribbles per game, with only 3.6. And why the team is second-to-last in goals scored, with 5.

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That lack of creativity in midfield results in ugly, route one, long ball soccer. The Rapids lead MLS in long passes, with 85 per game.

So as much as it’d be nice to chalk up this loss as due to a lack of clinical finishing, as some believe, it is more than likely due to a lack of chances created. Yes, it’d be nice if Doyle finished that first chance, but misses happen. If the Rapids create an MLS-average level of 12 shots per game, they might produce 1.5 to 2.0 goals per game. At 7 shots a game, you can expect the team will continue to produce around 1 goal per game going forward.

The central midfield needs to force turnovers. The central midfield needs to produce more chances. The central midfield needs to instill fear in their opposition when they’ve got the ball and are dribbling right at them, instead of bailing out and swinging it to the wings or recirculating the ball backwards.

Boateng and Saeid haven’t had nearly enough time as Rapids for me to pass judgement on them yet. But for a Front Office that’s sitting on a pile of cash and looking forward to transfer season, Boateng and Saeid have only 6 to 8 games to establish themselves as MLS starters, or their opportunities will be cut short. Ask Marcelo Sarvas or Lucas Pittinari.

Quick Hits

  • Welcome to the Rapids Joshua Gatt! Let’s hope there’s more where this came from. The pun possibilities for Marco Cummings are infinite if the dude starts scoring...

  • The Rapids had two fields of little tikes playing soccer at halftime. One was 6v6 and the other was WTF.

C’mon, sales and promotions department. Get it together...

  • Burgundy Wave editor Abbie Mood (below, 24) got to serve as keeper in the Rapids Media Cup game, suiting up against a bunch of journalists as well as former pros Jamie Smith, Brian Mullan, Chris Sharpe, and Claudio Lopez. Good job Abbie!

  • The Rapids loss puts the team behind, 3 points to none, in the race for the 2017 Rocky Mountain Cup. Despite all the great things we did in 2016, somehow RSL reclaimed the cup by winning both of their home matches against Colorado.

  • Kortne Ford was a deserving man of the match for the Rapids in just his second-ever professional match. Ford did a little of everything for the Rapids, as he had a headed shot on a corner that was just wide, 1 key pass, 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 1 clearances. In a pretty disappointing match, the bright future of one of our youngest players is certainly something all fans can be excited about.

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* Maybe you’re thinking that Boateng going off with injury harmed the Rapids, defensively. Nope. In his 32 minutes, Boateng recorded zero tackles, zero interceptions, and zero clearances. But he did tally his first assist.