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Breakdown: Rapids capitalize in the nation’s capital

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Colorado gets its first win of the season 12 games earlier than last year.

SOCCER: FEB 29 MLS - DC United v Colorado Rapids Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MLS is finally back and the Colorado Rapids come into 2020 with playoffs not as a goal but as an expectation. Through one game, the Burgundy Boys have shown that it may just be a reasonable expectation as they went on the road and came out with a 2-1 victory over D.C. United. Let’s start the first breakdown of the season the same way we always do—by looking at the goals.

D.C. takes the 1-0 lead off a corner (60’)

There aren’t many goals scored without the defense making a mistake and this is no exception. In this goal, there are two major ones.

Starting with the “smaller” mistake: the Rapids did a poor job of tracking Russell Canouse. When the corner is being taken, you can see that he starts close to the goalkeeper before fading to the back post.

When he starts to move, you can see that Sam Vines has a hand on Canouse so that he can feel the midfielder’s movement without having to take his eye off the ball. Sadly, it is way too easy for Canouse to get out of arms’ reach and at that point Vines is going to have a hard time finding him unless he stops looking at the ball. Vines decides to slide a bit in the direction that Canouse had started moving, but it turns out not to be far enough. Canouse is left wide open by the time the ball comes and that makes the header all the easier.

Now, the “bigger” mistake. If you are a goalie on a corner kick, you have to get the ball if you come out. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You come out, you get the ball. Unfortunately, Clint Irwin didn’t.

Once the ball is kicked, he comes out, misreads the ball, and it sails over his head giving Canouse a wide-open goal to aim for. If you watch the outcome of the header, it actually would have been an easy save had Irwin stayed, but hindsight is 20/20. The only reason I can imagine Irwin would have judged the ball so poorly is due to the high winds during the game that, from the direction the ball was kicked, would have carried the ball farther. Either way, Irwin probably expects better from himself. Luckily, it didn’t end up ruining the result.

Rapids tie it up at 1-1 (67’)

Before we go anywhere with this, we need to talk about this ball from Jack Price. The recycled corner kick comes back to Price and he decides to slice a half-volley back into the box. Oh, and it’s right on the money for the Rapids best aerial target, Kei Kamara. If you don’t watch the video above at least five times just to marvel at that ball, are you really a soccer fan?

Now, for the rest of the goal. First, there is not a single lazy player for the Rapids on this goal. The corner kick gets cleared, and when the Rapids collect, everyone in the box gets back in position to make a second run and be onside. It may be a little detail, but you would be surprised how many times one player will be lazy and walk back.

Next, Kamara goes up stronger. As the ball comes in, Kamara tracks it down and gets himself in front of the D.C. defender so that he can get to the ball first. On the flip side, the D.C. defender does a poor job of attacking the ball as he jumps backward, which allows Kamara to flash in front of him. From six yards out, Kamara isn’t going to miss, and Bill Hamid doesn’t have much of a chance.

Rapids grab the late 2-1 winner (92’)

The ball pinballs around so much on this one that it can be a little tricky to break down, but there are a few things worth noting. First, the Rapids had been dominating the last few minutes of the game up to this point. That means the D.C. defenders were probably tired of being pinned back and were to the point where they were desperate to just get it out.

The exhaustion of playing so much defense in the first game of the season leads to a poor clearance on the part of a D.C. defender. Diego Rubio tries to play a slick little one-two with Kellyn Acosta, but the defender beats Rubio to the ball. From there, he has to get it out no matter the direction. Instead, he chooses to go across the box with it and doesn’t get enough leg on it. Now everyone is out of position.

The ball goes to Nicolas Mezquida, who tries to take a shot at the open net and instead hits Jonathan Lewis. Luckily, a D.C. defender had tried to cover for the now out-of-position Hamid, thus keeping Lewis onside. From there, the ball pings around, lands at Lewis’s feet, and the rest is history.

The Rapids make the comeback and grab all three points.

Other Notes

Rapids attacked the spaces D.C. United gave them

Throughout the game, you may have noticed that D.C. was pushing their outside backs very high, which was forcing Sam Nicholson and Andre Shinyashiki to come back and help on defense.

If you want to see how high, check out their players’ average positioning throughout the game:

Who Scored

In turn, the Rapids were able to control the center of the pitch fairly well, allowing Younis Namli and Kamara to be the outlets that could push up a bit centrally. What proved to be most effective was the Kamara making J-shaped runs where he would start central and then loop a run toward the corner so that the Rapids could play a ball in behind the space vacated by the outside backs pushing forward. Kamara could then either try and beat his defender or hold the ball up and allow his midfield to transition up the field.

Kellyn Acosta needs to be more involved

As the box-to-box central midfielder, Kellyn Acosta should be one of the guys helping transition between defense and offense. In a game in which the Rapids are transitioning through the center of the park and controlling the midfield, our friend Richard Fleming should be tired of saying his name after 90 minutes.

However, Acosta’s 30 passes were vastly overshadowed by Price’s 80. Even Namli had 27, and he played half an hour less than Acosta did. In games where we are winning the midfield battle, Acosta needs to find a way to get on the ball and distribute more.

Enjoy Sam Vines while you can

Coming into the 2020 season, Sam Vines is full of confidence. After locking down the job last season, the young left back made his first USMNT appearance (and start) and had a very good preseason (from what those of us at home could see). That confidence is showing in his play.

Even though he is not known for his offensive abilities, he made a number of good, smart passes. Perhaps the best one came in the first half when he hit a beauty of a ball down the left side to Kamara who was making one of those J-runs I mentioned earlier.

We all know Vines is a great defender. If he can continue to show some offensive prowess like he did in preseason and on Saturday, the Rapids homegrown probably won’t be staying MLS for long.

Going for the win

In this week’s Rapids Recall, it was pointed out that every substitution made by Robin Fraser was an offensive one. While Mezquida for Namli was probably planned since Namli is still not 90 minutes fit, the other two came in the final minutes of a 1-1 game. It definitely shows an intent to win and it was the perfect move to get that win.

The fresh legs allowed the Rapids to step their press up another level and really pin D.C. into their own half. As a result, the Rapids spent the last 10 minutes of the game breathing down D.C.’s neck until they made a mistake, and a few lucky bounces later they took the lead.

It seemed a little risky at first for Fraser to make all the attacking subs and step the press up. I mean, what if our defense was tired and United had managed to get their own winner? But it was actually very calculated. Fraser knew the Rapids were controlling the midfield, so adding in the buzzing energy of Mezquida, Rubio, and Lewis would allow them to successfully pin D.C. back. Had they not been controlling the midfield, there would have been a greater risk that D.C. could break the pressure a bit and create an attack of their own. Instead, they ended up pinned with no way out, and it proved to be their downfall. Props to Fraser on this one.

What else did you notice during the game? Let us know in the comments section below!