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Backpass: Is it time to panic?

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A fourth loss in a row. A lot of fan frustration. Can this team turn it around before it’s too late?

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Orlando City SC
Kevin Doyle battles Scott Sutter amidst a sea of purple.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

All is not well in Commerce City.

Colorado’s fourth-straight loss seems to have ignited a degree of anger, frustration, and panic in the passionate Rapids fanbase that was dormant for a long time. The success of 2016 gave fans a sense of lightness and joy that was sorely needed. And the terrible seasons the team endured in 2014 and 2015 brought with them emotions closer to pity, desperation, and overall apathy at a Rapids organization that looked totally without direction or the will to win in the newer, shinier MLS.

But what we see from fans right now isn’t sorrow or resignation. It’s anger.

The team’s offensive ineptitude, coupled with a statement from manager Pablo Mastroeni on the website FourFourTwo that implied they were punting on 2017, has really ticked off the fans. Mastroeni was quoted as saying “We're definitely looking at 2018; there's a lot of great opportunities in 2018.”

How angry are folks? Pretty angry. It’s been a while since we saw something like this letter from Centennial 38:

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Rapids twitter is similarly incensed. The Colorado Rapids Discussion Group on Facebook? They’re suuuuuuper pissed. Also? This:

With full knowledge that I’m going against the grain, and that some folks are gonna think I’m a moron, I’m going to take an unpopular position.

It’s not time to give up. Yet.

The Rapids have been playing without three key players: Bismark Adjei-Boateng, Shkelzen Gashi, and Axel Sjoberg, all of whom will be back. Boateng is lost for a good chunk of the season and won’t be back until July. Gashi played the last 20 minutes against Orlando and seems ready to return to a full match after missing games due to ankle problems and illness.

And the most important of the three, Sjoberg, will be back very soon. Paired with either Jared Watts or Kortne Ford, the team looks a lot different in defense - capable of taking away direct long-ball play, but mobile enough to defend dribblers and passers in close too.

Mohammed Saeid is starting to gel in this lineup. Dillon Powers has been moved to the defensive mid position we’ve all been hoping to see him go to - but he’ll need some time to find the game in a new spot on the field. Marlon Hairston also hasn’t quite found his feet yet this year.

Even if all that is wrong; if our roster doesn’t currently have the answer on it right now; the summer transfer window is coming up and the Rapids have said they’re buying. Seattle brought on Nico Lodeiro last year, turned their season around, and won the Cup. The LA Galaxy are notorious for tanking the first half of the year, only to dial it in around August and September. They have five stars above their crest.

It takes about 47 points to make the post season.* We have just 4 points right now. At this point last year, Seattle had 7 points. LA Galaxy garnered only 9 points through their first 8 games in 2014 and won the Cup. Slow starts aren’t great, but they aren’t killers either.

Still, starting poorly can also be a sign that your team is really, really bad. DC United picked up only 4 points through their first 7 matches in 2013. They ended the year with only 3 wins and 16 total points. Strangely, they won the Lamar Hunt US Open that year though. Go figure.

You can’t declare the Rapids team dead; yet. In my guestimation, the bare minimum they would need is to pick up 20 points through 17 games - that’s 5 wins and 1 draw in their next 10 games - to stay in the hunt to go over the red line. If they can do that, the season is back on track. Anything less, and I’ll be joining the vast majority of you all in the ‘RIP Rapids 2017’ crowd. So the next 5 to 10 games have suddenly become mission critical for the burgundy boys.

Loss in Orlando

There are some micro-things I’ll mention. But in my estimation, this game was pretty simple to break down.

Without any effective offense, teams can defend comfortably and without risk, holding back their fullbacks and their defensive midfielder while you’ve got to push up more men. They can try things and take risks, knowing that your ineptitude will insulate them. Being bad at offense is like giving the opposing team an extra defender or two on the field.

The first 45 minutes, the Rapids were very Rapids-y: defending strongly and playing cautiously. It resulted in only 1 on-target shot for Orlando, 2 blocked shots, 3 long-range blasts that fell off target, and one great chance very early that Cyle Larin scuffed wide.

Offensively, the Rapids minimized risk by maximizing crosses. In a starting lineup that featured Alan Gordon up top, launching loads of crosses seems like a decent idea. But Gordon couldn’t get on the end of any of those crosses, save one, either due to errant passing, or his lack of pace, or solid defending. In the 43rd minute he launched the Rapids only shot of the half. Mekeil Williams crossed it to Gordon, who got smacked in the face by the swinging arm of Jonathan Spector just as he made contact.

Here’s a chart with the Rapids crosses in the first half:

1st half crosses 4-29-17. Red- Missed. Yellow- Key chances. #5- Williams. #3- Miller. #90- Saeid . #8- Powers.

The safe crosses from the wing came at the expense of any effort at dribbling at defenders. Here’s the total number of take-ons the Rapids attempted or completed in that first half:

Green- Successful dribble. #18- MacMath

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Yup. The Rapids only first-half take-on was this:

That cool moment (although I held my breath, waiting for a Nick Rimando-style disaster) was the result of Orlando’s aggressive defending. Which leads me to another interesting tactical point: Orlando high pressed the Rapids keeper and back-line all game. It meant that out of Zac MacMath’s 14 passes on the day, 9 were long and successful, 2 were long and out-of-bounds, and 3 were short, AKA ‘played out of the back’. It changes your tactics when you can’t play out of the back and build your attack on the ground, and instead have to launch it through the air. That creates mistake like this one:

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In the second half, the Rapids opened up and dribbled much more, and so did Orlando. It was one of the more exciting halves the Rapids have played this year, even if it was pretty clear that Orlando was the superior team. Here are the team’s second half dribbles:

Red- Unsuccessful dribble. Green- Successful dribble. #9- Doyle. #14- Badji. #90 Saeid .

Meanwhile the team attempted only 4 crosses in the second frame. Which was great, but it still only resulted in 2 second-half shots on goal.

That green triangle in the middle up above from Kevin Doyle was possibly Colorado’s best chance of the match:

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At the same time, Orlando was putting on a shooting and quick-passing clinic all day.

Before Kaka came on, there was this nifty run from Cristian Higuita:

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Shortly after Kaká got on the pitch, he dribbled through the defense and curled this one juuuust wide...

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Finally, Orlando’s constant offensive pressure and frequent shooting opportunities eventually yielded the critical goal.

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And that was really all she wrote. A late counter attack off a failed Rapids set piece would make it 2-0, but it was pretty clear that the more talented, more creative, more fluid team won, and the disjointed and cautious team lost. Orlando had 14 shots to the Rapids measly 3. When the Rapids had the chance with the ball off of a turnover, they often held it and recirculated rather than start a brisk counter. Or they just played it into the corners Mekeil Williams and Eric Miller to find a solution, allowing Orlando to redraw their lines.

The Rapids next match is at home at 8pm on Friday, which everyone I know think is an odd time, but whatever. Colorado will try to get out of this skid against a strong Vancouver side that looks dangerous. They’ll have Tim Howard back, but unless the Secretary can play in midfield, it’s hard to see how his reintroduction to the lineup will change this team’s luck.

Support Kort and Laurie Ford

The Ford family revealed this week that Laurie Ford, mother of Rapids defender Kort, is battling cancer again. There’s a gofundme set up to help the family with the costs, and if you can, give.

Here’s that link again.

If you’re not familiar with Kort’s story, well, it’s heartbreaking and inspiring and amazing all at the same time. Kort’s parents divorced, and during his visits with his dad he was hit; he was starved; he was locked in a closet. When his parents moved to Colorado, Kort’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the family was forced to spend every dime on treatment. After a successful academy career with the Rapids Youth team, Kort stayed nearby at the University of Denver to be close to his mom during her cancer treatments.

Here’s that link again.

Kort isn’t just some player for this team: he’s a Colorado Rapid, through and through. He’s been in the stands with us since he was just a kid. He was one of those bright-eyed youngsters, holding hands with a player on the march onto the field. He was one of the thousands of kids with grass-stained knees playing soccer through a late-spring Colorado snow and playing tournaments in Broomfield and Aurora and Boulder. He could just as easily be one of our sons or daughters or brothers or sisters. He is us. We are him.

Kort and Laurie are part of our Rapids family, and we should support them. So this Friday, at the match against Vancouver, I’ll be holding a two-pole in support of them. If you’ll be at the game, make a sign before you go with something supportive and/or clever: ‘We love you Kort and Laurie’, ‘Kick out Cancer’, or my personal choice ‘Built Ford Tough’.

We’ll stand and cheer at the 24th minute (Kort is number 24), and Centennial 38 is coordinating efforts along with Burgundy Wave.

I know fans are a little pre-occupied with the team’s struggles right now. But 10 years from now, you might not even remember the wins and losses from this season. But you will remember standing up for the Fords. Together, we can make a moment that will elevate the Fords, and the team, and each other. If the team is struggling to create memories on the field, then we can create a memory in the stands. A memory that shows our love for the Rapids family.

Soccer has to be bigger than 22 guys kicking a ball. It has to be a vessel for creating community and uplifting our brothers and sisters whenever possible. Then, even when we lose, we win.

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* I had a conversation with Padraig Smith once where he said that he estimates it takes about 47 points to make the post-season. I’m prone to idiocy, and somehow the number 37 was stuck in my head, so I said ‘Really? Isn’t that high? Doesn’t 37 points get you there?’ Padraig stuck to his guns because he was very right and I was having a dementia/Alzheimer’s moment and I was very wrong. I had 37 stuck in my head because that’s the number of points the Rapids earned in 2015, and the brain gets confused when in a fancy corporate office sometimes. Last year in the Western Conference 46 points qualified you for the playoffs. In the considerably weaker Eastern Conference, Philadelphia qualified with only 42 points.

If there was ever any chance the Rapids would see my tactical brilliance and ask me to become Assistant Technical Director right on the spot, I’m pretty sure I pissed it away right there.