What we said at the end of 2016:
The Rapids don’t have a number 9 who can score a bunch of goals, and they don’t have a number 10 with creativity and vision to distribute the ball.
We need Dominique Badji and Kevin Doyle step it up in the 9 role (both had just six goals last year), but that doesn’t solve the issue of no #10. Kevin Doyle can play the position, and is actually decent at it, so that’s one option.
2017 Counting Stats:
25 GP, 23 GS, 5 G, 4 A, 1966 min, 5 YC
2017 Games: 25 Goals: 5 ; Expected Goals: 6.56
2016 Games: 26 Goals: 6 ; Expected Goals: 7.60
2015 Games: 20 Goals: 5 ; Expected Goals: 3.66
Cumulative 3 year G-xG: -1.82
Cumulative 3 year Goals per 90 minutes: 0.23
Doyle’s second goal of the 2017 season came in the just the Rapids fifth game of the year and gave the Rapids a 1-0 lead at home in the first leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup. Nana Boateng laid in a gorgeous 40 yard ground pass, Marlon Hairston laid in a good cross, but perhaps it was over-eager and a few feet too far from the oncoming rush of the Rapids lone striker. The only possible play for Doyle was to make like Superman and do a two-footed flying leap to head it into the back of the net.
The Rapids would cough up the lead late and blow it altogether in the final minute to lose 2-1. But this goal was named by Rapids fans as ‘Goal of the Year’, and most deservedly so.
This pass made me scream my head off when it happened. Upon re-watching it yesterday, I literally teared up. It’s that good.
Badji’s finish isn’t bad either.
We’ve all had these days. They just weren’t on national television or in front of 40,000 people.
Doyle got his head on the end of this cross. It’s not the easiest chance, but also, it’s three yards from the goal and the Rapids were down 1-0, so Doyle needed to hit this one. And he didn’t. And we lost. Which was too often the case in 2017 for Doyle.
When Kevin Doyle joined the Colorado Rapids in late May of 2015, I imagine both he and the club envisioned that his experience here would be something greater than it ended up being. Doyle, who twice scored 18 goals for Reading in the English Championship, and had a total of 37 goals in the English Premier League, likely believed that he could recapture his glory days in the somewhat lesser league of MLS. He likely thought ‘If Bradley Wright-Phillips can dominate these Yanks, then so can I.’ The Colorado Rapids likely thought the same. That March, they dispensed with their speedy but trigger-happy striker, Deshorn Brown, to free up the striker spot for Doyle.
I was skeptical of Doyle from the beginning, for the simple reason that he hadn’t scored a lot of goals in a season since 2009-2010, which is a long time ago. His first season in 2015 was OK, if a bit underwhelming, as he produced 5 goals in 20 games. Surely, it was thought, he just needed a full season to adjust to MLS and he would produce. But in 2016, Doyle scored ... 6 goals in 26 games. And in 2017, Doyle scored 5 goals in 25 games.
Doyle always had a motor—he ran around tirelessly for the full 90 minutes. He also had athleticism and bravery in buckets: he never backed down from an aerial duel, even against the biggest foes, and he could truly elevate for a header in the box like a man far larger than his 5’11” would indicate.* He was tough to knock down, with good balance. And his hold up play was always good. Balance that against the things he didn’t have. He wasn’t blazingly fast. He wasn’t physically imposing. He wasn’t an ankle-breaking dribbler that could kill a defender in a 1 v 1 in a Phillip Coutinho/Lee Nguyen/Ronaldinho moment. But most importantly, he wasn’t an elite-level finisher.
I did a very, very deep dive on this back in August, 2016, when I did the math to note that Doyle wasn’t scoring in the chances he was presented with. He scored 16 goals over his three years when he should have scored 18 goals.
That’s not a huge difference, so it’s not Doyle’s finishing that accounts for why he was a low-scoring striker in his time with MLS. It’s really just the simple fact that he had fewer goals per game than other MLS strikers in 2017 and 2016. The top 30 MLS goal scorers in 2017 almost all scored between 0.33 goals per 90 minutes and 0.77 goals per 90 minutes (with one insane outlier, Josef Martinez of Atlanta, who score 1.12 goals per 90 minutes. Doyle, with 0.23 goals per 90, was significantly off the pace of the top flight scorers. It was the same story in 2016.
There is the eternal question of whether he was set up to fail: Did Doyle ever have the proper service or complementary pieces to rack up the goals? Was he isolated as a lone striker in the 4-2-3-1 without any help? Did his physical and technical makeup make him an ideal striker in a 4-4-2? These were eternal questions of Rapids fans over the last three years: if only X, then Kevin Doyle would have been great.
It is all well and good, but at the end of the day, Doyle walked out of the tunnel and down the stairs** 71 times in a Rapids kit, and he had many, many chances to impose his will on the game or find his exactly right place in the team as the guy that got goals, and he never did to the degree we needed him to.
And yet. Even though Doyle was underwhelming as a striker, even though he did not lead the team to a trophy in his three years here, he was still a striker that earned the fans love and respect, and rightly so.
He was known throughout his career for his tenacity, grit, and determination. I reached out to Wolverhampton Wanderers expert Daryl Grove of the podcast the Total Soccer Show, and he had this memory of Doyle from his earlier days to relay to me:
My abiding memory of Doyle is his first season at Wolves, where he played alone up front and chased, jumped, fought for and won endless clearances. We stayed up, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that that season caused injuries.— Daryl Grove (@darylgrove) December 29, 2017
As a Rapid, he had moments of glory that brought the fans to their feet. The dribble-dive and score against two defenders in July 2015. That time he got on the end of Vincente Sanchez’ service to down SKC in the final minutes in August 2015. The flying ninja-kick goal to stick a dagger in Seattle in April 2016. The diving header-golazo from October 2016. Those two highlights posted above from this season are also two of the best Rapids moments from 2017 overall. When I close my eyes and try to envision the most perfectly weighted pass I can imagine, it would look like that pass to Badji up above. Kevin Doyle at his best could win the game and send 16,000 people home happy.
Doyle was fearless on the pitch and gave his absolute all in every match, and every fan could see it. He physically sacrificed his body and his own well-being in the service of football multiple times for club and country over the past three years. He got a nasty gash in his leg in an international match for Ireland in March 2016. If you’re squeamish, don’t worry, the link takes you to an article about the knock, not the gory picture itself. Doyle played in the 2017 season opener with a concussion; he later admitted he probably should have sat the game out. And it was, of course, another concussion suffered on September 2nd that would ultimately lead Doyle to his decision to retire from football at the age of 34.
Kevin Doyle was universally regarded by fans, the media, and club staff as a wonderful person, an excellent interview, an eloquent spokesman for the game, and a great bloke. He gave his all for the Rapids, and even if his numbers won’t put him in the record books or result in his name being entered into the clubs ‘Gallery of Honor’, he will forever earn the respect of the loyal fans of the burgundy and blue.
Abbie’s 2017 Grade: C-
Rabbi’s 2017 Grade: C-
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* Doyle is listed in his MLS profile as 6’0”. I’m 5’10”. I’ve stood next to him. Doyle is not 6’0”.
** Why did they not burrow down the training facility at DSGP one level deeper and build a proper tunnel for players to emerge onto the pitch from? Someday, somebody is gonna biff it down the stairs marching out during the procession.