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Backpass: Backwards step for Colorado

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The Rapids are blown away in the Windy City.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Chicago Fire
Schweiny and crew suffocated the ‘Pids on Wednesday.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado’s loss to Chicago Wednesday night was somewhat disheartening. After the debut of a new formation and a big 3-0 win Saturday against San Jose, it felt like the team was trying to get something going, to develop some momentum for a mid-year turnaround. Wednesday wasn’t a catastrophic, season-statement loss. It was a painful step backwards however.

In short, the team regressed to an earlier state where just taking shots was a problem. Chicago had tallied two goals by the 57th minute. The Rapids in that time frame had just two shots; both unimpressive, both from outside the box, and both from Shkelzen Gashi.

Credit to Chicago: Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty were punishing in the midfield. No pass, no run, no daylight was permitted in Zone 14 - the critical area above the 18-yard box from which the vast majority of good chances originate. The Rapids were committed to trying to play into the middle of the field, rather than surrender to the corners, and that’s laudable. But if nothing really happens in the final third, then you know the offensive plan was a failure.

The new offense will need more work. Some of the personnel will need adjusting. And also, maybe, we aren’t going to be very good this year. A backwards step is just one step. Unless you keep taking it, week after week.

Damn it, Watts

Jared Watts was very effective in 2016 alongside Axel Sjoberg: the two had chemistry and Watts played well.

What the hell happened to that Jared Watts?

On Wednesday, Watts failed to kill the lofted cross from Brandon Vincent into the box that Nemanja Nikolic headed home. Watts was set to win the header, but maybe jumped a step too shallow, or a half second too late, or let Nikolic have too much position. It was a slight error, but an error. And it let Chicago go up 1-0 in the 15th minute, which made for a steep uphill climb for Colorado on the road.

This second goal was also very much Watts’ fault, in a ‘what the hell are you doing’ kind of mistake that feels like a bush league screw up unbecoming of a starting MLS centerback.

He gets burned in this Polster-Solignac-Nikolic 1-2-3 so bad I can’t even begin to understand. He follows the ball to Solignac, and then just... lets... Lucho... go. I don’t. I mean.

Eric Miller makes a mistake by coming too deep, which allows the previously offside Michael de Leeuw to suddenly be onside. Marlon Hairston has a full-blown ‘Olé!’ on the ball because he’s going too fast. Neither Powers nor Burling mark de Leeuw, who is all alone in front of goal. Everybody here screws up. Watts’ screw up is the worst, but man... I think Pablo will probably break some stuff when he re-watches this play. This is shit defending from the entire back six, and it is not ok.*

After this point, the team is down two on the road with only 30 minutes left to play - the 3rd goal is just a ‘game-states’ goal - the Rapids pushing more numbers up the field are vulnerable to the counter, and they give it up.

If the team had hung in there after 1-0 a little longer, I think this match was salvageable. But the second goal was a dagger.

This year, Watts has been guilty of mistakes that resulted in goals in three or so games to my recollection; last year I don’t really recall more than one goal that was on him. I don’t know what is going on with him. I think it maybe time to sit him, and give someone else a chance. And those of you that regularly read Backpass know that I’ve been a fan of Watts, so I don’t write that lightly.

Strangle the Playmaker, Win the Game

The Rapids had one shot in the first half, and zero successful passes in the final third. Why? Here’s Mohammed Saied’s passing map in the first half:

...

The missed passes are disappointing; but it’s the lack of overall touches that concerns me more. Dillon Powers played as the two-way midfielder and had 43 touches on the game. Saeid, the offensive fulcrum for the 4-4-2, had just 20 touches.

...

Chicago clearly had a game plan to block the entry pass into Saeid using their elite-level midfielders Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Then they watched as the Rapids asphyxiated without Mo’s creative passing. This game plan really worked for the Fire.

Moreover, when Alan Gordon has way more touches than Mohammed Saeid, it bodes poorly for the Rapids. Chicago allowed Alan Gordon to drop back into space, knowing that he wasn’t a dribbling threat. Instead of a defender following Gordon at the expense of letting Saeid make a run, they let Gordon go and stuck close to Saeid. This is a thing our offense needs to prepare to adapt to in the future, or we’ll need a more multi-faceted striker than Gordon doing the work up top.

I’m willing to assign some blame to Saeid, too: it’s his job to find the game, even when he’s being smothered. This is his big chance to become a breakout player in MLS. The team is in his hands right now. He can become Miguel Almiron, or he can become Mix Diskerud.

It feels like the whole season might be in his hands right now.

The Rapids loss Wednesday was to a resurgent Chicago, and Saturday, they face a resurgent Philadelphia. The Union began the year poorly before picking up an impressive 11 points in their last 5 games, including 4 straight shutouts. If the Rapids hope to turn things around, the timing certainly isn’t ideal for it. I hate to say it, but at this point, even a 0-0 draw would be a welcome step forward for the Rapids.

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* As a spiritual person I find it a slight moral failing of mine to swear, and on Burgundy Wave, I use potty talk only in very rare occurrences. Like Zat Knight-level bad-defending situations. This is one of those instances.