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#RSLvCOL: Breakdown of Key Plays

The Rapids fail to show up against RSL in the first game of the MLS is Back Tournament

Real Salt Lake v Colorado Rapids - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Coming into the MLS is Back Tournament, fans of the Colorado Rapids were excited. We started the season with two wins and we got to play RSL in the opening match. Maybe this was going to finally be the game where we beat RSL!

Not only did the Rapids end up on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline, but they played about as poorly as I have seen them under Robin Fraser.

Let’s start with the goals:

RSL takes the 1-0 lead (27’)

While it’s a little unfortunate this shot goes in, it’s hard not to think that RSL deserved a goal at this point. They had been on the front foot the entire game up until then, and this was hardly their first dangerous chance.

As far as this goal goes, it starts with RSL getting the ball into a dangerous wide area. When the initial ball is hit, Sam Vines is way too narrow. The back line is still pushing up from its most recent clearance, so that is probably why he got stuck.

Either way, the ball is hit well into the open space and the Rapids find themselves in a precarious position. Douglas Martinez hits the ball into a dangerous area, but Clint Irwin is the first to it. It’s not an easy ball to handle, but Irwin will likely think he should have done better here. Parrying the ball right to the PK dot isn’t what you want to do here.

Finally, the midfield is also disappointing. From the second the ball is played wide up until Albert Rusnak gets on it, Jack Price and Kellyn Acosta are walking. As a result, the gap between the back line and the midfield is huge. It’s big enough to allow Rusnak all the time and space he could ever want to get on the rebound from Irwin. Could this be caused by a mix of the Orlando heat and humidity and lack of match fitness? Maybe. Either way, at least one of them has to get back.

Finally, the actual goal. Rusnak takes the shot, and Irwin and defender Drew Moor pretty much get in each others’ way. Moor has the save lined up until Irwin gets a hand on the shot, then it changed direction and slipped between his legs. You can’t blame either one because they were both doing everything they could to keep the ball out of the goal. It’s just a little unlucky.

RSL gets a second goal (76’)

This goal starts with a poor giveaway from the Rapids. RSL wins the ball and Price is caught out by the sideline. Once the camera switches to the aerial view, you’ll also see that Acosta is out of position too, though this is because of the unexpected turnover and not where he had decided to move to.

Because of all this, RSL is essentially left with almost a 3v2. Moor and Vines are the only two players really between the ball and the goal. Lalas Abubakar is working to get in position, and Acosta comes in on the back side after a few seconds, but the Rapids are already in trouble by then.

Corey Baird takes the ball across the top of the box, so Moor has to step toward him. When that happens, he lays it off to Damir Kreilach. Neither Vines nor Acosta steps, Moor can’t slide over fast enough to stop the shot, and the ball is well placed in the corner.

Other Notes

Irwin should keep the #1 job

Overall, Irwin had a solid game. He made a number of solid saves on top of this great double save:

After the Rapids signed William Yarbrough, there were questions about who should be the starter. Personally, I feel they are pretty equally talented at this point in their careers, so there is no need to change the starter unless Irwin’s form dips.

Editor’s Note: In the press conference this morning, Head Coach Robin Fraser said that Irwin took a knock to the head and may not be able to play on Friday. Sounds like Yarbrough might get his debut against Sporting Kansas City.

What is it about RSL?

I am not sure what it is about RSL, but the Rapids always seem to fall flat. From what I remember, every single game over the last few years between the two has left me disappointed, and not just because of the score. I always feel like it should be a good game, and something always makes the Burgundy Boys lose their heads. Whether it’s Howard or Niki Jackson getting red cards or just being a step slow, the Rapids haven’t brought their A game against their rivals for years. Maybe this is the greatest challenge Fraser will have going forward.

The Rapids should have subbed more

Everyone knows that every team is out of shape—and the heat and humidity don’t help anything. For that reason, teams are allowed to make up to five subs and there is a water break in each half. Regardless of this, Fraser didn’t make a single sub until the 74th minute, and even then he only made three overall.

The Rapids are proud of being two deep in every position, so why didn’t they use more of their subs? They have to play all three of the group stage games on short rest and were already not playing well, so why not rotate more? It would have been nice to see the likes of Braian Galvan and Cole Bassett to see if they could convince Fraser that they deserve a start.

Decision-making wasn’t good enough

Perhaps the biggest bit of rust the Rapids had was their decision-making. Throughout the whole night, they were stepping at weird times, making poor decisions in possession, or just thinking too slow. There was a time Nicolas Benezet was in on goal and decided to pass the ball off. There was the poor giveaway that lead to the second goal. Even the way that we couldn’t hang onto the ball the entire first half showed that the decision-making wasn’t there.

An example of this was Diego Rubio. After subbing into the game, Rubio did a good job getting onto the ball, but just couldn’t do anything with it. A few times he missed open teammates. A few times he just looked like he wasn’t thinking fast enough and got stuck on the ball. While I noticed it most with him, he was far from the only one on Sunday night.

The big problem is that Fraser’s system is based on decision-making. Fraser likes to manipulate the play so that the Rapids can end up with positive number advantages (5v4, 3v2, etc.). They do that through shifting their own players into pockets of space and/or dragging the defense out before hitting switch passes into space.

When the decision-making isn’t there, the system isn’t either, which is why RSL dominated the game so easily, especially in the beginning.

Other quick thoughts

  • Acosta played as well as he has in a while.
  • Jeremy Kelly struggled in his first game.
  • Jonathan Lewis brought good energy as a sub against tired legs.
  • Friday is a must-win game against an SKC team without their star goalie, but I don’t think Fraser will let this team come out poorly two games in a row.

What else did you notice about the game on Sunday?