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Backpass: Finding new ways to lose

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Mostly, Colorado played away at Philadelphia quite well. But dumb mistakes and harsh referee calls doomed the team to its 8th loss in just 11 games.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Philadelphia Union Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Look, I got into this hobby of writing about the Colorado Rapids thinking I could spend a little bit of free time breaking down the X’s and O’s of soccer for a few ridiculous soccer addicts like myself. I’d be the only guy on the Front Range outside of the office in Commerce City that knew that xG was a statistic used to measure finishing, and not the latest BMW SUV. I’d crack some jokes about Star Wars or Star Trek or Pokemon and eventually I’d get to write a ‘we did it! we won the cup!’ type article someday. Or I’d just have a quiet corner to the internet all to myself where I could write what I think without anyone to tell me how to do my thing.

Then you go and watch a game like Saturday night and you think: really? I’m supposed to explain that?

Thanks Duane. This post was originally about the game on April 15, when we fell apart against RSL in under 10 minutes. But the sentiment ‘God help Burgundywave writers’ suited this match against the Union perfectly. Summing things up is more about ‘my God why did you do that’ than it is about soccer events. But I’ll try and summarize the game. Here goes:

We bunkered and countered. It worked, 1-0 Pids. We bunkered some more, conceding 66% possession to Philly. A young kid rolled on top of the ball and drew a PK. 1-1. Another young kid tried to delay the game, and then he said something out-of-turn to the ref and drew a yellow for dissent. Then he got a second for coming onto the pitch without permission. Red, down to 10 men. Then that first young kid forgot to jump when he was in the wall and a dude with a name that’s hard to spell got another goal. 2-1. Pids drop their 8th game of the season, out of 11 games, and sit dead last in the table.

There was some positivity from the supporters on twitter about the away goal, about how the team looked a little livelier, and about the use of some young and/or new guys in their first match who looked sharp, like Caleb Calvert, Joshua Gatt, Sam Hamilton and Mike da Fonte.

I’m not so enthusiastic because we lost this game due to dumb stuff that isn’t soccer. The team played good defense and took their chances and should have escaped with 3 points, or at worst 1 point. But because of a lack of focus in all of the above knucklehead occasions, the team left Commerce City for a two-game road trip and they came back with zero points. I’m happy the kids got some experience, but this team needs fight and passion and focus right now, or I might as well skip using my remaining season tickets and just enjoy an extended, soccer wine and cheese in any random parking lot with my friends, instead of driving to DSGP to watch this team, once again, collapse inexplicably. On a related note:

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Rivero was harsh and Calvert was dumb

This whole game turned on referee calls. The first was Kortne Ford rolling on top of the ball.

I think it’s the right call from PRO referee Jose Carlos Rivero. The first contact with the hand while he’s sliding in is incidental, and his hands are in a ‘natural position’. But really this is an odd and awkward slide tackle gone-wrong, which Ford compounds by rolling atop the ball. At first I saw this and thought - well, he’s just trying to get back up. But upon the next 50 views, it looks like his intent is to lie on the ball, and ya can’t do that. Pretty clear penalty kick.

The second call was Jose Carlos Rivero carding Caleb Calvert for dissent because Calvert got mouthy with Rivero.

Which is dumb. Kids, I’m 40. If I’m the ref and you’re Tim Howard and you get angry with me and say something snippy, I’ll show you deference because you are experienced and played in the EPL and you are, quite literally, a national hero. But if you’re Caleb effing Calvert - you don’t raise your voice, you don’t raise your hands, and you start and finish every comment to the ref with ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’.* Calvert screwed up here. I think he’s complaining to the Assistant Referee, and maybe he’s got a legitimate complaint about being rushed along while he’s got a legitimate injury. But in context, you and I both know the Rapids were delaying a little here and a little there, and Calvert lies there, inches from the end line, milking precious seconds off the clock. He gets no slack from me.

Then Caleb screwed up again by re-entering the field of play without permission.

The ref certainly doesn’t absolutely have to give a second yellow here. I think it perfectly reasonable for Rivero to point him to go off and walk around to the fourth official and wait, rather than pull the second card. But... he pulls the second card.

On the other hand, rules are rules, and the rules clearly state that if you aren’t authorized to be on the field, it’s a card. The whole point of two yellows equaling a red is so that the offender, who has played fast and loose with the rules enough to earn a yellow card, will tighten up and be on their best behavior. Calvert didn’t. And while I feel Rivero did the Rapids a slight injustice here by being exceedingly strict, I can’t say that in any of the three instances above he technically made any rule-book errors. And that leaves me feeling frustrated at the offending players for not being focused, because it cost us the game.

Bright Spots

Axel Sjoberg came back! And he looked good, especially on this long pass. Actually, everything about this Rapids goal in the 15th minute was great. For those of you who get mad at Pablo for playing long-ball early in the game, this was the contretemps. A lucky play like this is low risk, and if it pays off, you’re in the drivers seat, tactically, for the next 75 minutes.

Doyle’s flick on was great: I want to see him up top with Calvert or Badji in this 4-4-2 from now on. HE’S the guy that should be the support forward, dropping deep and working of a big man, not Alan Gordon.

And Calvert’s run and finish? Muuuahh! (Sound of an Italian opera fan kissing his fingers) Bellissimo! Calvert’s big and decently fast and can finish? Could he be a gawky country-boy** version of Romelu Lukaku or Olivier Giroud? Be still my beating heart. I need to get back to my more reasonable, low, deeply disappointed expectations again.

Also, before that goal, Josh Gatt did this:

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And this:

So I’m reasonably happy with the Rapids options along the right side. Whether the team’s best look on the wings is Gashi and Saeid, or Saeid and Gatt with Hairston as the right back, or Badji wide with Hairston in support and Gatt off the bench, there’s some promise there. Right now I think I’d like to see a midfield diamond or a midfield ‘Y’ with Azira deep , Saeid in front of him, and Gashi and Gatt playing wide and/or shuttling. At least until mid-summer.

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The next four games are all at home: we face Sporting Kansas City, Columbus Crew SC, Portland Timbers, and the LA Galaxy.

This is pretty much the determinant for the season. Anything less than 6 points from these four games and the final 19 games of the season become a massive, nearly impossible, uphill climb. It really is time to same that things are must-win in Commerce City, or all the hullaballoo about ‘building for 2018’ becomes very very real. Because 2017 is dead.

SKC has looked fantastic this year, with Matt Besler and Ike Opara looking like the second best 1-2 CB pairing in MLS, behind only Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman, and also sport the league’s most in-form goal keeper, Tim Melia. Columbus’ Justin Meram is the best winger in MLS. The Timbers are fast and physical and relentless. LA, despite under-performing to start the season, have seen buckets of goals and assists from Romain Alessandrini. Gyasi Zardes is back healthy. And Giovani Dos Santos did a thing last week that, uh, wow.

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We’ve found new ways to lose. It’s time this team found some new ways to win.

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* There are currently two female MLS referees. I haven’t seen either take first official duties this year. But here are both of them with their new babies (that link is dead here’s a new one)which OMG that’s adorable. But also can we please see them be the match official, PRO, because they have to be better than Jair Marruffo, Alan Kelly, or Fotis Bazakos. Yes, I’m a bit of a referee connoisseur.

** Calvert is from Phelan, CA, population 14,304. I was born and raised 100 miles away in Los Angeles and I’ve never heard of Phelan.