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#COLvRSL: Breakdown of Key Plays

The Rapids lose the first leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup. Here is where it went wrong

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rapids lost the first game of the 2019 Rocky Mountain Cup on Saturday night by a score of 3-2. While it may have been a loss, the Rapids certainly had plenty of opportunities to pull out at least a draw. Let’s take a look at the goals.

RSL takes an early lead 1-0 (25’)

The first goal for RSL was a pretty well-taken PK, so there really isn’t much to break down with that. Instead, let’s look at the foul, keeping in mind that this was originally not called a PK until it went to VAR.

Looking at the replay, it looks like a good shoulder-to-shoulder challenge by Sebastian Anderson. Ultimately, the RSL player ends up on the ground, but it initially looks like nothing was wrong with the challenge.

Knowing the call got reviewed and changed to a PK, I looked closer. The only place where I can maybe see a foul is when Anderson takes a little too wide of a step and his leg gets caught up in the legs of the RSL player. The player ultimately goes down, and I guess the referee called a trip.

While this tangling of the legs may have caused the RSL player to fall, I don’t think this warrants a foul because it was a good shoulder-to-shoulder challenge where the two players’ legs got tangled. They were both going for the ball and it just kind of is what it is at that point. Even more so, to call this a PK by using VAR (which is for clear and obvious errors) is a shame. In no way is this a clear and obvious foul worthy of overturning a call on the field.

Basically, the Rapids got robbed and RSL was given a soft PK.

RSL grabs another one right away 2-0 (27’)

It sucks to give up two goals in a matter of minutes, but we still have to give credit where it is due. This is one heck of a ball into Corey Baird. Nick Besler is able to hit it perfectly so that Anderson has no chance and it lands right on Baird’s foot.

From here, Baird has a perfect first touch that doesn’t get too far out in front of him, but it is still able to seal off Anderson. On the shot, Tim Howard gets a hand up, but he can’t keep it out of the net. If you gave RSL 50 chances to try to make this play again, I doubt they could do it, but they did the one time it counted.

Colorado gets one back 2-1 (45’)

This goal starts with a great give-and-go by newcomer Jonathan Lewis. He plays the ball to Kei Kamara before finding another gear down the flank to get into space. His man doesn’t even try to keep up and Kamara plays the ball back to him in all kinds of space.

Now, Lewis picks his head up and tried to work the ball into Sam Nicholson in the box. The ball isn’t great, but it is played into a dangerous area. A failed clearance sends the ball to the oncoming Kellyn Acosta who is doing a good job of making the secondary run. From there it is a solid finish through the goalkeeper’s legs, and we have ourselves a ball game again.

Rapids tie it up 2-2 (47’)

The Rapids came into the second half needing a goal, and they managed to get an early corner. On the corner, RSL decides to go with a zone defense, and the Rapids exposed the weakness. They brought two guys to the front post and played the ball right between the post and the man at the top of the 6-yard-box. Neither RSL player tries to go for the ball since it was between zones, and the Rapids get a free header.

The ball ends up being cleared off the line at the near post, but it falls straight to Wilson. Wilson finishes well, and we have a tie game.

RSL takes the lead back 3-2 (53’)

This goal was crushing. The Rapids worked hard to battle back, and then this happens just six minutes after the tying goal.

RSL is able to break the defensive line of the Rapids and Deklan Wynne has to track the man with the ball to the endline. Sadly, the entire defense, including Danny Wilson covering for Wynne, drops instead of marking up. This leaves DP Sam Johnson wide open, and the cutback pass ends up being on target. Johnson takes a touch, and he is able to get the shot past Lalas Abubakar and Howard for the winning goal.

The Rapids could have tied it up on a PK that they missed. Also, the referee made a questionable VAR decision on what appeared to be an RSL handball, but it was ruled not to be a PK.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

Other Notes

Having wingers helped

The Rapids managed to trade for Jonathan Lewis during the week so that they could play a wider formation with Lewis and Nicholson on the wings. Ultimately, their speed and width showed. Both players were able to get the ball of field and looked pretty good on the day. Lewis was able to create the first Rapids goal, and Nicholson drew the PK that Kamara missed. Overall, I hope we continue to see these two on the field.

Wilson at defensive mid did not work

When I saw that Wilson was lined up as a holding mid, I had some hesitation. I think playing the holding mid could be something he can be good at, especially when we play with two of them. It would allow him to stay at home and defend/play simple balls while the other holding mid would be able to be more of a deep-lying playmaker. On paper, this would mean that a Wilson/Price or Wilson/Acosta partnership could work.

What happened didn’t look as good as that thought experiment. Wilson did not look great in the role, and the tactics of it did not help him out. Since neither Acosta nor Price are natural 10s, the system was basically a three-man midfield where two stayed home and the other would push up. For a player of Wilson’s skillset, this is too fluid. The result was Wilson having to push up from time to time when Acosta and Jack Price were both back, and he just doesn’t have the offensive skills to do that (but it makes sense because he is a CB). If you are going to try to force Wilson into a midfield role, it needs to be as a stay at home holding mid.

The Rapids played down one side, and it worked

During the middle section of the game, Lewis and Nicholson converged onto one side of the field. One would play the wing while the other played something like a number 10 role. This would make the other offensive mid (rotating between Acosta, Price, and Wilson) take up the other wing. While they were doing this, the Rapids would do everything they could to take the ball down the side with Lewis/Nicholson.

Honestly, it worked pretty well, and I wouldn’t hate it if the Rapids did it again. They just have to be careful about how long they do it because it would quickly become predictable and the other team would just pack that side of the field. If done right and only for 10-minute bursts, it could play out as a good offensive tactic.

The Rapids had their chances

Yes, the Rapids lost. Yes, they let up three goals again. On the flip side, however, they created a number of chances. Had they made the PK, put together a couple of good crosses, or not been offside on Abubakar’s goal (which was a good call), they could have easily pulled out a draw or even a win. At least it is something positive we can look at in a season of misery. Plus, imagine the chances the Rapids could have made if Justin Glad had actually gotten the red card he probably deserved...

Have any other thoughts on Saturday’s loss? Let us know in the comments section.