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#PORvCOL: A Breakdown of the Key Plays

Your weekly breakdown of what went wrong (or right) this time.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The rough 2018 season continued for the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night as they fell to the Portland Timbers 2-0. What’s the good news you say? Well, there were only two goals, so we can actually break down every goal unlike my last article against The-Team-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Let’s take a look at what went wrong.

Portland goes up 1-0 (45’)

On this one, you can chalk the goal up to three major errors. First, Edgar Castillo hesitates (skip ahead to around 20 seconds to see the entire build-up). He starts to go for the ball, pulls off a bit, and then goes for it once more. By then, he lost his chance to beat Sebastian Blanco to the ball. General rule of thumb in sports: you hesitate, you lose.

Next, Castillo makes the mistake of going in soft. Castillo should know that if Blanco beat him he will be running into the box with a head of steam. Therefore, the tackle has got to be stronger. A clearance or strong slide would probably be best since he didn’t have any clear passing options (you can see there is another Timbers player blocking any pass upfield).

The defensive side of the ball is the thing that has always kept Castillo from becoming a European-level left back and becoming more of a mainstay with the national team, but there is still no denying that he is a top player on the Rapids. We can accept these mistakes from time to time considering the positives he has brought us throughout the year.

Finally, the plague of ball watching continues. In the background of the replay, you can see Jeremy Ebobisse start to make his run. Right behind him, you see Danny Wilson assume Castillo will win the ball as he stops and watches Ebobisse run right him. In the end, he is never able to catch back up and Ebobisse scores.

Portland goes up 2-0 (65’)

Here, I would point out two mistakes. First, Wilson loses the ball. When you are a center back and start taking the ball upfield, it can’t come back at you. You have to either dribble far enough forward that you put plenty of teammates behind you, pass it to a teammate and get back in position, or hit it upfield so the other team can’t counter. When the ball gets stolen, you let the other team come right back down your throat while your team is left defensively unorganized.

The other fault is on Johan Blomberg. When Sebastian Blanco is sprinting down the wing, you have to keep him on the wing. Blomberg needed to angle his recovery run so that he would keep Blanco out wide. Instead, he runs straight back and allows Blanco to get into the box. At that point, Blomberg can’t make a tackle for risk of a PK, and Blanco gets to hit his cross from 8 yards instead of 25.

At this point, Blanco is so close players don’t really get to react to the ball. They have to predict. Howard goes low to stop any sort of slotted ball, which is what a goalie is trained to do. Smith had made a recovery run to the middle of the goal, ensuring that Diego Valeri wouldn’t cut in front of him.

This basically says, “if you can hit it over Howard, goal-side of Smith, and Valeri happens to be there, well, congrats.” Blanco nails the perfect ball and we see proof that a good offense can beat a good defense in this situation.

Quick Thoughts

Just some other things I noticed tactically.

Niki Jackson is gonna be important for the last seven games.

Niki Jackson is the only forward currently on the roster that shows he wants to be a scorer. Every other forward seems to be what I would call a “support forward.” They will run themselves into the ground and work for 90 minutes to try and set up their striker partner to bag some goals. They drop to get the ball, will work out wide, and basically do whatever it takes to help out. Sam Nicholson is the best example of this type of player for the Rapids, but Jack McBean and Giles Barnes fall into this category too.

In the 4-4-2 the Rapids are playing, they can’t have two players like this up front. When they do, we are left with what we say in the first 10 minutes. A ball was chipped over the back line to McBean, and he took it down maybe 7 yards from goal. What followed was not a shot or an attempted turn, it was a pass. If a goal scorer isn’t going to try and get a shot off from 7 yards, it would only be because someone was wide open back post or something, and even then they still might shoot.

The only player like that on this team is Niki Jackson. If he is partnered with one of the support forwards, his partner is dropping off and he is getting in behind. Picturing Jackson getting that ball instead of McBean definitely makes me more excited. Hopefully, he’ll take advantage of his opportunities as the season comes to a close.

Gashi doesn’t fit this system

One of the main pieces of the Rapids’ 4-4-2 is the fluidity of it. Midfielders might push wide. Jack Price might go forward. The number 10 might drop deep. The forwards might go wide or drop deep. At any given moment, people are always switching with each other.

Watching Saturday night, this seemed to be happening without Gashi. Players would be moving all around him, and he would stay in his little pockets. That’s what some teams want in their players, but it isn’t what Hudson is asking of his guys. Add in that Gashi doesn’t seem to have the legs to press like Hudson wants (he subbed out at 55 minutes) and you get a player that has all the talent but doesn’t seem to fit.

Is this Gashi’s fault? No. He signed with this team when they had a system that fit him better. Questions can be asked about not utilizing one of your two DPs as a coach, but this is a tactical column so what do I know?

Serna and the number 10 role

From what I saw Saturday, Serna should stay in the number 8 role next to Acosta. Neither Blomberg nor Boateng have done anything to lock it up, and I didn’t think Serna was bad in it. Seeing as he likes to drift wide and does more to keep possession than find the killer pass, the side of the diamond seems to suit him better than the top of it anyway.

Who does this leave as options? It seems like a natural Gashi position, but if we assume he doesn’t fit the system that leaves us with Barnes or Enzo Martinez.

The position fits Barnes’ play-style pretty well. He likes to drop into the midfield to get the ball and create. When he played there for a little bit Saturday, I didn’t see anything that made me think he shouldn’t get a shot at the 10, but I also never saw anything to make me want to hand it to him either.

As far as Martinez goes, he looked good Saturday. When he had the ball, he drove forward and he was dangerous. This is what we need in a 10. I’m not convinced he can do it for 90 min and not against tired legs, though.

In the end, I don’t think the 10 we need is on our roster right now, but we might as well give these two a shot to surprise us since we aren’t making the playoffs and have seven games to play. While we are at it, let’s see Cole Bassett a little more, because why not?

If you have any other thoughts on all this or the game in general, let us know in the comments section! Also, I am still figuring out how I want this column to work/be laid out, so if you have an idea for that throw it in the comments too!