I might be wrong about this, but my guess is, you’ve never fasted before. I say this because the two major religions in America that fast as part of their tradition, Judaism and Islam, make up only about 4% of the population of the United States. Statistically speaking, if 100 people read my article, only about four of you have ever fasted for religious purposes before (Hi mom!). Some of you may have skipped a few meals on a diet, or been told not to eat before a medical test, but not the full enchilada of a long fast.
We are in the thick of the month of Ramadan, when the obligation upon observant Muslims is to not eat or drink from sunup to sundown - there is no exemption for athletes. And so it goes that the Rapids’ newest midfielder, Mohammed Saeid, goes out to training and to games everyday without food or water and still gives 100% effort. He explained that this week to Richard Fleming on the Rapids podcast (#224).
As an observant Jew, I know what it feels like to fast. I find it very difficult - almost impossible - to not eat while pushing my body to the limit AND trying to focus intently. In my religion, I fast for 25 hours twice a year, and for 12 hours five times a year. Usually, by hour 12 of a fast, I’m walking slow, my brain is groggy, I’m unfocused and lethargic, and I have a headache and a dry throat. At that point, I like to take a nap if possible just to make it through the final stretch of the day functioning at 60% efficiency. I’ve been a working rabbi on Yom Kippur for 11 years, and on that day I’m in full work mode on that day and I need to stay focused. I’m moving around a lot on an empty stomach and in caffeine withdrawal, so I succeed at being focused and sharp in the later hours of the fast with a limited degree of success. It is difficult, but I make it through every year. I am not, however, running at full speed, for five miles, with no water, at altitude, in a professional soccer match.
I have no idea how Mohammed Saeid can go out and perform at an elite athletic level during Ramadan; to train at a high level all week on no daytime food, and come out at game time in the 14th hour of a fast and still give it his all for 90 minutes. On the podcast, Mohammed ascribes it to two things: that the Rapids training staff helping find the right combinations of protein and carbohydrates in some special smoothies, and that “God is Great.”
I’m a big fan of smoothies and God, but I’ll tell you what was great in this game: Mohammed Saeid. He’s been a spark plug for this team with a combination of vision, speed, and smarts. And the Rapids have won both games they’ve played since Ramadan began, so it certainly has been a Ramadan Mubarak (‘blessed Ramadan’) for Colorado.
It was @Msaeid8 that started this play that pulled the Rapids level in the 80th minute:
Saeid drops deep to receive the ball and plays a smart 1-2 to Gashi while getting right on into space. After he receives it, he rips through a tremendous space in the Columbus midfield, cutting out five Columbus defenders in one go. Mo adds a sixth and seventh to that list when he threads an incredible pass between Waylon Francis and Nicolai Naess to Marlon Hairston. Marly feeds it deftly to Kevin Doyle, and Colorado draws level at 1-1 with only 10 minutes to go.
It is a gorgeous pass and a gorgeous play. It is my platonic ideal of a moment in soccer: quick movement, precision passing, explosion of speed, and a picture perfect finish. The reason I won’t be meticulously slicing the statistics or tactics of this game much beyond this is because I’m too happy just rewatching that gif over and over and over again. This is my soccer nirvana. The pinnacle of my footy holiness. I will live in this moment. I will be coming back to this gif in good times and bad.
The Packing Stat
There’s a statistical name for this kind of gutting of an opposition defense: it’s called the packing stat. A player tallies a ‘pack’ when they make a dribble or a pass that bypasses a defender. The team that collectively gets the ball past defenders more often is statistically significantly more likely to win a soccer game than if they don’t. This stat is also more instructive than other, less nuanced stats that describe similar yet insignificant actions. For instance, a center back can record a 100% passing percentage on a game by doing nothing but passing back to the goalkeeper or across to the other defenders without advancing the ball or beating a defender. Meanwhile, a winger could pass below 70%, yet if they thread half-a-dozen filthy through balls to the strikers, they’re going to make a real impact.
In short, Mohammed Saeid changed the game on an empty stomach, low blood sugar, and no water in the 80th minute, while if I were asked to stand up quickly in the 14th hour of a fast, I’d probably faint. I’m truly, deeply, and incredibly impressed.
The goal also happened when Saeid began playing centrally alongside Micheal Azira after Dillon Powers was subbed off for Joshua Gatt in the 67th minute. I think Mo is good on the wing, as long as he can float inside, but he’s even better playing centrally from the get-go. A 4-4-1-1 lineup with a midfield of Gashi, Saeid, Azira, and Gatt is this team’s best look right now, in my humble opinion.
Anyhow: ever since I heard about the packing stat on the Total Soccer Show podcast, it has informed the way I watch a soccer game. I want to see my team cut out as many defenders as possible, and concede the dangerous run or the seeing-eye threaded pass almost never. Mo does a lot of the former, and Azira does a lot of the latter, and it is bearing fruit.
Alan Gordon does the thing
Ever since Alan Gordon was signed for the Rapids, I’ve waited for him to do the thing. You know, come in late and stick a dagger in his opponent, like this.
Also, what an amazing cross from Joshua Gatt. On the other hand, some would say this was entirely avoidable if Jonathan Mensah had been playing better defense...
Hey, I’ll take it.
Got to keep it going full steam
Both of the Rapids wins have been a little fluky. They beat an SKC team that had more shots, shots on target, possession, corners, etc. They beat a Columbus team that was better over most of the first 60 minutes by getting two late goals. Neither was a dominating performance, but at least the mojo is going in the right direction now.
Colorado needs to win their next two home games to have any hope of making the playoffs. So this international break is a major buzzkill. Still, the formula for winning seems to be working and the confidence and swagger at DSGP seems to be back, not to mention the crowd energy.
With some blessings, a little luck, and a timely devastating pass or three, maybe we’ll be able to say that the Rapids had their best record in the month of Ramadan in club history.