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Backpass: The Steve Cooke Era starts poorly

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This game had a bunch of things going on. But let’s be honest: it’ll only be remembered for that own goal.

MLS: D.C. United at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It was hard to watch Colorado play decent soccer at home on Saturday night, only to fumble around and ultimately blow it. There were several encouraging signs from the Rapids, like:

  • Badji got into dangerous scoring spots on several occasions.
  • The back line made no significant errors and contained Luciano Acosta and crew well.
  • Nana Boateng made a couple of nice plays on the ball.
  • Tim Howard made several good saves, especially early.
  • Steve Cooke, in his head coaching debut, rolled out a 4-3-3 and generally pushed between 5 and 7 players into the attack, generally leaving behind only Azira and two or three defenders.
  • Marlon Hairston played right back and did just fine once again.

But of course, the team blew it in three ways, and two of those were catastrophic.

  • Just atrocious finishing for the Rapids, who had shots that toinked off the post, off the crossbar, off Bill Hamid, and over the goal altogether.
  • The spacing was really far apart between the players, and it required long passes and led to turnovers in possession. I didn’t understand why the lines had to be so stretched on almost every possession.
  • A hide-your-head-oh-my-god-did-that-really-happen backpass from Jared Watts to Tim Howard that went for an own goal.

First, props to Bill Hamid, who did this:

First thing to notice here is Nana’s pass, which shows the kind of excellent vision we want from a midfield passer. And the shot is laudable too. Gashi coulda finished this low if not for the emergency slide of Nick DeLeon, so he smartly goes high and to the corner, and Bill Hamid makes a save that only the best keepers in MLS will make.

Here’s the part where I talk about finishing and xG. Again.

But the Rapids had lots of other chances. Long range lasers from Azira and Boateng. A headed corner from Kevin Doyle. A bevy of chances from Dominique Badji, including this one:

Richard Fleming and Marcelo Balboa commented at this point that perhaps we were cursed. Nah. We just didn’t finish. The numbers on Expected Goals by game come out late Tuesday from Ben Baer on mlssoccer.com , and I’d expect the Rapids xG was close to 2.0, meaning we should have scored twice with statistically average finishing.

Here’s a look at the overall xG numbers of our two starting strikers this season, care of americansocceranalytics.com . These numbers are updated to 8/15/17.

americansocceranalytics.com

Expected goals is the likelihood of goal being scored from a given position on the field, with 1.0 or higher telling you that the average soccer player puts that in the back of the net, and descending to lower numbers that indicate lower percentage chances.

G-xG tells you whether a player is finishing at expected levels, better, or worse. Above, you see both Kevin Doyle and Dom Badji are finishing within the range of expectation: Doyle has a slightly below average -0.42, and Badji an above-average +0.68*. However, together the two have only 11 goals, You see that they both either don’t get into position enough to score, or don’t get enough service to score. Gashi’s lack of minutes means that his sample size is small enough that it isn’t particularly instructive, but if you’re curious, he has two goals and a xG of 2.0 for a perfect +0.0. After Saturday’s game against DC United, these numbers should all decline slightly.

I’ve tried to use math and statistics to illustrate a point that you already know, and a point that I’ve been making over and over and over again since 2014: we don’t score enough and we don’t finish well.

David Villa’s G-xG is +6.73. Diego Valeri’s is +5.05. CJ Sapong’s is +2.06.

As a winger, Shkelzen Gashi had a 2.79 in 2016. But at forward, Kevin Doyle had a -1.6 in 2016 and +1.34 in 2015. Other than that, we’ve had pedestrian or worse numbers from Gabriel Torres, Edson Buddle, and Deshorn Brown, who had a -5.48 in 2014, which as far as I’ve seen, is the worst G-xG ratio.** Ever.

In other words, Rapids have not had a good finisher at striker on the team in a long, long time. The last time they had a forward in the top 10 of MLS in G-xG was Conor Casey in 2011, when he had a +2.87. And he only played 920 minutes before tearing his Achilles.

So, no, we didn’t lose because we were unlucky. We lost because we lack a quality finisher, just as we’ve lacked a quality finisher for the last six years. This must be fixed.

Note that I didn’t even talk about Gatt’s miss here. It’s terrible. Sure he’s fast and exciting. But he has zero goals in 11 shots, with G-xG of -0.89, which is terrible for a small sample size like that. I think we know what he is. Somebody else should be getting chances going forward.

Are we going to talk about that own goal?

No.

Really? Don’t we have to?

No fucking way. I’m not doing it. See? I’m so upset you made me swear, and I don’t like swearing. It’s un-rabbinic.

At all?

I’ll say something nice! Props to Jared Watts, who apologized on twitter to the fans. Props to Rapids fans, who wrote 40 messages of support for Wattsy. I included a smattering of those notes below.

...

It sounds like the Rapids locker room is pretty down right now, and understandably so, what with the loss, the rough season, and having played poorly enough to cost a guy his job. Marco Cummings wrote up a great piece for mlssoccer.com that covers it all. Kevin Doyle summed it up though:

“It is tough,” he said. “No one likes to see anyone get fired. Everyone here, myself especially, really wanted to play well for Pablo. It’s always a shock when you see changes are made. You just move on, it’s our job.”

Sure, it’s the players jobs to play soccer well. But nobody performs at their best with uncertainty, anxiety, or sadness clouding their thoughts. These guys are human, and I imagine losing their leader is going to take a toll, even if he wasn’t tactically putting the team in the best position to succeed. I really hope the players can find some motivation and some fire out of this less-than-ideal situation.

...

Listen, there isn’t much left to this season - 11 games to be exact. Fans need to band together and ride it out. The team is poor, and changes will be made, no doubt. Right now, let’s just hang together and try and take some scalps to wind down the season. Rocky Mountain Cup is still up for grabs, with two matches against RSL in the next six weeks. We play both LA and Seattle, and I think it’s in our collective DNAs as both Rapids fans and MLS fans to dislike both of those teams. And David Villa will be at DSGP on September 16 looking to lock up MVP and chase the Supporters’ Shield. Those are all worth paying some attention to - unless you really think throwball is fun and that the Broncos are going to go to the Super Bowl with Trevor Siemian. Then by all means, be the guy decked out in a vintage Terrell Davis jersey, ‘God loves the Broncos because sunsets are orange’ sticker on your car, cutting me off in traffic in your lifted Ford F-150.

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* You might like Badji. You might not. That’s fine. Sunday Minnesota Rookie Abu Danladi blew chance after chance after chance, so it could always be a lot worse.

** How bad is that? For comparison, the worst this year is Christian Bolanos, who has a -2.9 on 28 shots. Deshorn took 120 shots in 2014, and that’s why we shipped him to Norway.