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#COLvVAN Takeaway: Live by the Cross, Die by the Counter

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A plan needs to come with the right pieces to execute that plan. Tactics need to change to fit the pieces.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rapids’ losing streak extended to seven as they lost 2-1 to the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps on a rare Friday evening match. It was the second start for striker Yannick Boli, and the first time on the bench in a number of games for Nana Boateng, being replaced by Sam Nicholson on the wing. Plus, Johan Blomberg returned, and showed an interesting partnership between him and Nicholson.

Coach Anthony Hudson stayed with his tried but not-so-true 3-5-2. This strategy works if you have the players to make it happen. But right now the Rapids do not have those players, which makes one wonder if another tactic is in the offing.

What’s not working

The Rapids struggle creating chances in the box. Thus, when the Rapids go on offense, they go toward the wings as their first and only resort. Boateng struggled mightily against Portland on May 26th and was by all accounts out of position in the games he filled in for Marlon Hairston. Nicholson and Blomberg, as mentioned previously, brought an energy with his partnership on the right side to provide some symmetry opposite Edgar Castillo and Enzo Martinez on the left.

Going wide in and of itself is not the problem. The problem arises (pardon the potential pun) when the Rapids cannot arise in the box to get on the other end of the cross, and haven’t had this asset in their arsenal since Drew Moor departed for Toronto FC. Vancouver had the height and athleticism to rise up higher on most every contested ball. The only time the Rapids fared well on the cross is if the cross was low and the forwards could out-pace the defenders to the ball. On Friday night, the only hope the Rapids had was to find someone who wasn’t marked (rare) or to have a teammate chase the ball down and try from distance, which is what happened with Edgar Castillo with his 41st-minute goal to pull one back before the half.

With the Rapids wingmen up, there was another issue: the opponent clearing the ball and starting the inevitable counter. The wings are so far up front that the opposition has acres of space in which to make a decision as to how to score. Has Anthony Hudson entertained a 4-4-2 given this repeated breakdown?

After practice on Monday, Abbie asked Hudson if he’s considered changing the formation, and this was his response:

“I look at things every week and even before this run, we can’t just be wedded to one formation. There’s one or two different formations that eventually we want to be able to adapt to. It’s not always straightforward because it’s a personnel things as well—we’ve had injuries and there’s different situations—there’s also a case of just wanted to get a bit of continuity as well. There’s nothing worse than to keep chopping and changing and it’s also important to identify what the actual issues are. But certainly I look at every game and I consider everything in terms in what can make us better in terms of the shape so potentially, yes, but one thing’s for sure—the actual style will stay the same... we want to be a pressing team. The style will stay the same, the shape may be tweaked here and there.”

The Rapids are living by the cross right now due, again, to the inability to break down the defense in the central 18 and, thus, needing to move to the wings in the hope of creating aerial chances to put the ball on frame. But more times than not they lose those battles, allowing the defense to clear and counter.

The Rapids travel to Nashville for their first US Open Cup match against Nashville SC, followed by a Saturday game in Houston and then a Wednesday night match at home against the Chicago Fire. I do hope that the Rapids are not taking this USL team for granted—nor do I expect them to. But they need a win however they can.

Short Corner

The Rapids had a Meet the Team Party on Saturday, June 2nd, where the season ticket holders present heard from VP/General Manager Padraig Smith and Coach Anthony Hudson. The primary takeaway from this was a question posed to Smith about Stefan Aigner. In essence, Smith indicated that (1) they are working to create a culture of winning and accountability and (2) no one player is bigger than the club or the crest.

After saying this, Hudson acknowledged that, yes, this is just talk at this point. Results are the only metric that matter. Yet, anyone who has tried to not simply win but to change a culture realizes what they are up against. Peter Drucker rightly said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So, everyone who is paying attention can tell that the Rapids have struggled since Oscar Pareja left in 2013—and a case could be made they’ve struggled since 2010, post-MLS Cup.

It’s not just the players who need to get the ball in the back of the net and get that ‘taste’ of success. The Front Office needs this as well, finding that formula and developing that culture in which strategies could be implemented and succeed.

And, sadly for Rapids fans, this can only happen by trial and error. For most of us, trial and error happens in our offices or cubicles in front of a few people. For the FO, coaches, and players, this is happening in front of 14,000 people and whoever else is watching on Altitude or ESPN+—each of whom takes to social media with their particular pontifications.

But make no mistake from us at the Burgundy Wave—it’s bad in Burgundy Nation. Seven- game losing streak, eight points after twelve games, a struggle to find the best lineup and tactics, and on and on and on. Time will tell if the cultural changes will take hold.

Back to Aigner—the principle of no one being bigger than the club is absolutely right. But the culture that’s been in place for numerous seasons automatically brings the FO’s MO and IQ into question. Fans want results in the short-term. Culture changes are long-term and need buy-in. Losing doesn’t allow for much buy-in. When the wins come, so also will come the vindication of the changes.

In principle, Smith and Hudson are right: no one person is bigger than the club. And when one person or a club sacrifices their principles, you’ve sacrificed too much. Let’s pray (1) those principles are correct, and (2) the execution of those principles are above board.

In the meantime... oh, in the meantime...