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#RSLvCOL: Breakdown of Key Plays

The Rapids managed to bring home the Rocky Mountain Cup thanks to their first-ever win at Rio Tinto Stadium

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

For the last few years, Real Salt Lake has had the Colorado Rapids’ number. No matter how well we were playing, things seemed to always fall apart. That is why not many people had a whole lot of hope going to Rio Tinto down 4-1 in the 2020 Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry. Remarkably, the Rapids pulled off a 5-0 victory to not only put themselves back in the thick of the playoff race, but to secure the trophy as well. Here were the goals.

Rapids strike quickly (3’)

Growing up playing soccer, you are always taught that you cannot let the ball hit in the ground on a corner kick. By this, we mean that the defense needs to clear the ball as soon as it comes into the box. The more the ball bounces around in the danger area, the better it is for the offense.

Here, that gets taken to the extreme. Not only does the ball bounce, but a few deflections lead to it bouncing back into the most dangerous area in the box. From there, Diego Rubio gets on it, and the rest is history.

Rubio doubles the lead (10’)

RSL does some terrible defending on this goal, but credit to Rubio for taking advantage. When Younes Namli sends the ball into Rubio, it gets a little hung up in the air. At that point, Rubio has to come back for the ball. Right then and there, the RSL defender has a decision to make. He can either step and try to clear the ball out of the air or the defender can body up to Rubio so that he can’t turn with the ball. The defender does neither. He tries to step when he was never going to get there, and quickly finds himself behind Rubio and out of the play.

Though that was a mistake, it still shouldn’t be that big of a deal because there are two more RSL defenders in support. Rubio starts to go at the one to his right, and that defender attempts to escort him wide to the right side. His stance is fine. His feet and body are diagonal to his left so that there is clearly room for Rubio to dribble that way, but cutting the ball back against the defender would be hard. There is one fatal mistake to the defender’s setup, however—he is way too far in front of Rubio. As a result, there is still room behind him and he isn’t blocking the goal at all. Rubio takes advantage of that and slots the ball into the bottom corner.

Another quick strike to start the second half (49’)

You have to feel for the RSL left back here a little. If there is one thing that we have learned about Namli this season, it is that you don’t want to face him 1v1. Namli gets on the ball and square up to the RSL defender. At that point, it is clear that RSL wants to double-team him, but the supporting defense doesn’t get there in time for the original defender to slide a bit and bracket Namli. Instead, Namli flies right by him at the endline.

Once he gets to the endline, Namli slots the ball into the dangerous area that is inside the 6-yard box but also out of the goalie’s reach. Many of the Rapids players made runs within this area to move their defenders around and the ball happens to slide all the way through to the back side of the goal. From there, Sam Vines slams the ball home.

You can see how well Vines reads the play starting at 0:20 in the video. When Namli gets on the ball, Vines is still 40 yards from goal. As he watches Namli take on and beat his defender, he creeps up on the back side and eventually crashes in on the ball that Namli plays. Great positioning and reading of the play.

Rapids start to pile it on (55’)

This goal is pretty much a textbook finish by Braian Galvan on his first touch of the game. It begins with the Rapids getting the ball to Cole Bassett at the top of the box with space to turn. He does just that and then goes straight at goal. This forces the last defender to make a choice, who then slides over to cut Bassett off from getting to goal. This ends up leaving all the space for Galvan to run into.

Bassett sees this space and lays a soft ball into it. The speed of the ball keeps it easy to control and Galvan is able to run onto it instead of the ball coming in on him. The result is a shot that every player probably takes every day in practice and Galvan gets his first goal in MLS with his new team.

One more for good measure (88’)

First things first, what a run by Jeremy Kelly! Depending on how you want to count it, the rookie defender beats anywhere from four to seven defenders on this run. As a result, RSL is scrambling. Notice how they react when he gets into the box. They panic and crash, leaving six defenders within 10 yards of him.

When there are six defenders on one guy, odds are that there are a few guys without defenders. All you have to do it find them. Lucky for Kelly, there is actually an open man on both sides of him, so it all becomes a matter of getting his pass through one of the lanes left by his defenders. He is able to slide the ball over to Bassett similarly to how we saw Bassett set up Galvan. Bassett steps into the ball and sends it home. Game, set, and match.

Other thoughts

Rapids need to decide a midfield identity

In the past Breakdowns, I have talked about which way the midfield triangle sets up. Sometimes they have two CDMs as a double pivot, usually Kellyn Acosta and Jack Price, leaving one midfielder to play like a 10. Other times, they have one CDM sitting in front of the back like (usually Warner), and that leaves the other two are 8/10s that can roam forward more.

What I have noticed over the past month is that one midfield tends to control the game in the center of the park more. Whenever the upside-down triangle with Warner is deployed, the Rapids tend to dominate the center of the field. Warner covers the centerbacks well, and the two offensive midfielders are usually able to get into dangerous areas in and around the box. The drawback, however, is that the wingers have to drop more in this setup, so Namli isn’t able to get on the ball in the offensive third as often.

In the other setup, the defense doesn’t tend to feel quite as sturdy because Acosta and Price are not true ball-winning CDMs, and the attack tends to have to go down the wing a little more because there is only one offensive midfielder. This allows Namli to push up, get the ball more often, and make things happen.

Is one better than the other? Not really. It all comes down to where the Rapids want to attack and how involved they want Namli to be. My only real take on this is that they need to choose one and go with it. If they choose the second option, hopefully they can keep doing what they did against RSL. If they choose the first option, they just need to find a way to get Namli a little more involved.

Saturday showed what Robin Fraser wants to do

When he first came to the team, Fraser talked about how he wanted to manipulate defenses so that the Rapids could end up in situations where they had the numbers. On Saturday, they did that. If you were able to watch the game, you might have noticed how many times the Rapids switched the ball. They would take it up one side of the field draw the defense, and then quickly move the ball to the other side. Once the ball was on this weak side, the Rapids often found themselves 1v1 or 2v2 or 2v1. All of those are good scenarios for the offense and bad for the defense.

Moving the ball like this is what Fraser wants to do, but it just wasn’t happening lately. For it to happen, the team needs to be disciplined in their spacing, and they need to see the opportunities. With games few and far between this season, it makes sense that they might struggle to find their rhythm in that.