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Backpass: Nowheres-ville

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A blah 1-0 loss, a non-DP acquisition, and a decision not to replace the president. We’re nowhere, fans.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado’s 1-0 loss to San Jose ran the team’s record to fully a dozen losses in 20 games. Making the playoffs is pretty much impossible at this stage. And so the team drifts into the dead zone of not quite being out of the playoff picture officially, but not really having any specific hopes or goals for the rest of the season - aimlessly adrift in a lower table tussle for relevance.

Other teams in the same predicament... aren’t in the same predicament. By that I mean, everybody’s got something to look forward to, except Colorado. Take, for example, Minnesota, who are still building their soccer culture and preparing to move into a new building in 2019. The LA Galaxy just signed Jonathan Dos Santos and hired Sigi Schmidt to coach the team. Real Salt Lake have scads of talented young players like Bofo Saucedo, Albert Rusnak, Brooks Lennon, Justin Glad, and Danny Acosta - their future is next year.

There’s less excitement in Commerce City for what looks like a third bottom table finish in the last four years. Sure, some contracts come off the books in December and there are things to keep us occupied while we wait for 2018. But really, there isn’t much that grabs you about this team right now - somehow trapped in an identity crisis between the stalwart defenders they were in 2016 and a retooled and more aggressive 4-4-2 attack that, well, isn’t really that aggressive and also is leaking goals. The Rapids have 20 goals for, 29 goals against right now. At this point last season, the team had 23 goals for, and 14 goals against. So really, nothing is going to plan. Welcome to Nowheres-ville. Population: us.

Possession without Purpose

A team gets roughly 45-60 possessions per game, if you strip the ping-ponging of headed balls and other brief, chaotic maelstroms between the combating teams. There are some basic principles for possession in professional football. Take care of the ball in your own third, and if need be, push the ball out wide in order to to safely work the ball to midfield. It’s fine to take a few opportunities for low percentage, low risk plays like long balls, and slightly better chanced tries like attacks down the wings resulting in crosses. But otherwise, make possessions count. You are working towards the middle of the field, and working to find players in space, ideally facing forward, and in movement. If you don’t have the ball, get someplace where you might.

Colorado didn’t much do that. There were 8 recorded shots for Colorado, but I don’t recall any of them. None were in dangerous spots. And that’s because the team had fewer rich and threatening possessions that created good changes. Below is a snippet of some of those possessions, all from the second half, because I found the first half too dreary to subject myself to watching again.

Micheal Azira starts with the ball at midfield, and plays a trickling ball all the way out to the right wing. Which is infuriating on two levels. First, Mohammed Saeid is much more dangerous in attack, and in previous weeks have been coming back to the ball in order to pick it up, but here he stays high and behind two San Jose defenders, which totally takes him out of this possession altogether. Second, Alan Gordon on Azira’s left is doing the ‘give me the ball!’ jazz hands, and although I don’t prefer to see Gordo dribble too much, he’s wide open. So is Dillon Serna, just beyond him.

So then the ball goes out to Dominique Badji. Badji’s pass to Doyle is solid, but Doyle wastes it. He has a lot choices - the best of which were to either hang on a little longer till something develops or to go out wide to Marlon Hairston. Overall, this is actually not a terrible possession, but as you can see from my breakdown, there were a lot of ‘better choices’ that Colorado didn’t make. In isolation, this might sound like nitpicking. But taken in context, this is perfect - one of the best possessions of the half, and it isn’t even that good.

Azira with the ball, which, we’ve already talked about why that’s not great. And when he gets it... nobody is within 25 yards of him. That’s because the Rapids have Gordon, Badji, and Serna pressed against the backline - this tactic of pushing players forward works fine if they’re creating space underneath for one or two or more players. And they do! Serna comes back, and Doyle takes his defender. Azira’s got to make a long pass, and he does, to Serna. But... nobody else moves, and Doyle has taken himself out of the play, and Serna ... WHO HAS DRAWN VICTOR BERNARDEZ OUT INTO A ONE-ON-ONE and should blow by him, but doesn’t. And, turnover. But again, we’re in a good spot, so I’m only 20% irritated.

This is Boateng’s first play upon entering the game for Serna. Arrrgggghhh.

Also, why is Pablo substituting an attacking wide midfielder for a defensive midfielder 10 minutes after the Rapids have gone done a goal? Also, at some point, will I see Boateng do something on the field that will help me to suddenly understand why we got Boateng? Because right now if I were to make out a depth chart at midfield, I’m not sure anybody on the squad would be below him. If Chicago offered to trade us Nick LaBrocca back for Boateng right now, I’d consider the deal. I’ll be patient and wait for him to acclimate to the league a little more. But only a little.

Doyle is coming on the counter. He has zero support with him. Boateng and Saeid are pushing high, and so is Gordon. Gordon, who is not great with his feet, drops into midfield to receive the ball. That should be Saeid - Gordon doesn’t do brilliant long passes or devastating runs. The day Gordon takes the ball, makes a tricky turn, and dribbles three defenders over 40 yards to score a wonder goal, I’ll eat a ham sandwich topped with lobster. It’s not his thing.

Anyhow. Gordon IS SURROUNDED BY FOUR DEFENDERS. Doyle passes it to him anyways. Nine minutes later, the Rapids lose.

Very few attacking players can say they made good decisions, or worked really hard, or played well. I liked Marly’s game at fullback, and Azira’s as a defender. Otherwise, some guys need a pep talk, some tactics need drilling, and some guys need to sit down before next week.

Stefan Aigner

The Rapids acquired winger Stefan Aigner off the nearly-scuttled remains of 2. Bundesliga club 1860 Munich.

Pluses:

  • He’s an experienced player from the top levels of world football - he played in the Bundesliga for Eintract Frankfurt and was brought in this year by Munich with eyes toward promotion.
  • He doesn’t come at a DP cost.

Minuses:

  • He’s 30 years old.
  • His contract is for 3 12 years, which is easily a year too long.
  • He is a TAM-level player, sucking up cash that might have been spent elsewhere.
  • He’s a winger, and on the wings we already have Dillon Serna, Mohammed Saeid, Shkelzen Gashi, Marlon Hairston, and Josh Gatt. Not a big minus - just an observation that it wasn’t a position of need, and someone is likely to get dropped.
  • He’s not a young Argentinian number 10 that can make this offense go. Which is what we need.*

So on balance, how do I feel about this move right now?

That all said, I’ve been playing five seasons with 1860 Munich on FIFA 17 in Career mode, and the first three, Aigner was my starting right wing. I like playing with him. He’s not blazingly fast, but he can serve a tasty cross. So, I’m not miserable that the Rapids signed him, I’m just underwhelmed. Maybe I’m just impatient.

Who’s driving this train?

The departure of Tim Hinchey as team president looked like an opportunity to revitalize the club’s leadership with someone with soccer ideas. Or business ideas. Or inspiring leadership. Or... something.**

According to the Rapids, it looks like Hinchey isn’t going to be replaced. Instead, Wayne Brant was named COO and the Rapids are saying that the team’s leader is KSE Governor and CEO Jim Martin.

As KSE CEO, Martin already overseas the Nuggets, the Avalanche, and the Mammoth. I’m gonna say his focus won’t be primarily on soccer, and that can’t be good for the club.

In short, I hate this move. Hate it, hate it, hate it. The team looks rudderless. There aren’t any soccer people that I know of on the business side. That makes me feel (accurately or not) that KSE does not give a whit about understanding soccer culture and what makes soccer fans tick in this country. There’s no grand strategy for expanding the fan base, improving DSGP, or building the kind of excitement you get in pretty much every MLS city except New England and DC. Also, the move looks simply like a cost-saving deal - don’t replace Hinchey, save a couple hundred-thou off the bottom line.

Tim Hinchey was fine. Didn’t love him, didn’t hate him. Not replacing him strikes me as a mistake that will hurt the club in the long run.

Tommy Thompson can drive that train

Right over the Rapids. Choo Choo!

See you at the Dick on Saturday, Kids.

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* Somewhere I read that the Rapids FO is talking about the big DP attacker signing coming in winter. That makes no sense to me - now, before the European and South American seasons start, is the time to get a player on transfer, not in the winter when everybody’s desperate and a buyer and the prices all go up and the supply is limited. If I were really being pessimistic, I’d say this was the front office dangling the possibility of a big move, forever out of reach, like an imaginary destination just over the horizon. But I’m not that cynical. *wink*