Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I've Been A Wild Rover For Many A Year...

...And I've spent all my money on this seat right here
There's no point in saving for a rainy day
Cause I'll be a wild Rover till my dying day
And it's no nay never
No nay never no more
Cause I'll stay a wild Rover forever and more
(sung to Wild Rover)

Sorry for the silence but I've been out of the country for most  of the last two weeks.  On Saturday I was at Ewood Park in Blackburn to see Blackburn Rovers in person for the first time.  The opponent for this Championship match was another Lancashire team, Preston North End.  While not Rovers dreaded rival Burnley it was a local derby and the travelling fans were there in force as well.

Sadly Blackburn gave up the equalizer in the last minute of stoppage for a 2-2 draw (the same score the Rapids game would have later that day).  I'm really glad I made the trip to northwest England for this game.  Not only because I'm a Rovers fan but I enjoyed seeing what most people think of as the roots of the game.

Despite Rovers' historic success Ewood Park is no DSG Park and Blackburn is never going to be Arsenal or Chelsea.  Blackburn is a town of about 100K somewhat out of the way in England.  For the most part the supporters of Rovers are local fans or fans who have some ties to the local area (though the season ticket holder sitting next to me told me there was a Norwegian sitting in my seat a few weeks earlier).  I saw a very loud five to six thousand Preston fans filling up the Darwen end and I heard the Blackburn supporters overcome them after a rough start.

Ewood Park has one large video screen in the corner between the Riverside Stand and the Darwen End that showed the lineups and the score.  Occasionally it would show a replay but only on goals, close misses, and the very occasional foul.  Other than that the stadium has a small board on the Darwen End that showed the current score and minute (no seconds, just the minute).  That was it for displays.  Much different than the Dick that has the electronic board around the top of the whole stadium along with the video board on one end and the score/time board on the other.  Also my seat was literally an arm's length from the Preston subs.  I can't imagine ever getting that close to players in-game in the U.S.  Of course when the team has played home games on the same spot for 135 years like Blackburn has, some things are done because they've always been done that way.

I've included some more  pictures from the game below.  I'll get back to some commentary on the hot mess that is the Rapids right now in the next few days.  With the international break and the rescheduled Dallas match we have more than two weeks until our next game action so there's plenty of time to talk about what's working and what really isn't.

The River Darwen and the Riverside Stand

The Jack Walker statue, Blackburn's greatest supporter

The Blackburn End stand and the pregame festivities

Not exactly a C38 tailgate

 Panoramic from my seat

Preston's subs and assistant coaches

The Darwen End stand showing the two electronic boards in the stadium 

Both managers on the touchline

On Sunday we went to the National Football Museum in Manchester where I got my picture with the FA Cup and the EPL Trophy.  You're not allowed to lift the FA Cup but you can lift the EPL trophy.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Roster Status

MLS has posted a nice roster summary page that fills out the final details of our roster.  The main thing it answers is that we only have 6 international slots after our offseason trades.  This has led to the Rapids loaning Dennis Castillo out as he would be our seventh international player.  There's been no announcement beyond his status on that page as to where he's going, but I would assume Charlotte.  Apparently he hasn't left yet though, as Daniel Boniface tweeted that he was at practice yesterday.

Also over the weekend the Rapids announced they signed first round draft pick Sam Hamilton.  The only unsigned player at practice yesterday according to Boniface was draftee Jamie Siaj who's still recovering from his injury.  If/when he signs he would take one of the two remaining reserve roster spots.  There was also rumors late last week of defender Mike da Fonte of the Sacramento Republic moving to the Rapids.  He wasn't with the Republic this past weekend but he's not yet in Colorado.  If accurate he would presumably fill the other remaining reserve roster spot.

That leaves the two senior roster spots to fill.  With no international slot at the moment they would have to be filled with domestic players, but that could be changed with a trade (or if Sjoberg or Badji get their rumored green cards).  The most likely way of filling them right now then is a trade within the league.  There are no rumors of trades at the moment though.

Coverage will be a bit lighter for the next couple of weeks.  More details after that but I'll keep the blog updated as best I can with any news and results.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Rapids Start Ahead Of 2016 Pace

A very 2016 look brought a very 2016 result, a grinder kind of game for the 1-0 win and 3 points to start the season.  Last year Colorado opened the season in San Jose and lost by that same scoreline, so we're ahead of last year's pace at this point.

General Impressions:
  • This was a very 2016 game.  The starting 11 was straight out of 2016, the style was 2016, and the result was 2016.  But it was 3 points so I'm not going to complain (this week). :D
  • That said, there were a few tweaks.  Namely that the outside backs (Burch and Miller) were more involved in the attack than last year.  I'm not sure Miller particularly added much to the attack though.
  • Interesting goal by Badji.  After a Doyle shot off the post from a Powers free kick Watts tried(?) to put the ball back on net but ended up popping it straight up.  Badji was the first to rise and head it home.
  • Powers. is. not. a. #10.  He just isn't.  Quit putting him in a position he fails at.
  • Great to see Dillon Serna back already.  He got a deserved ovation from the crowd when he came in.
  • We've quietly got quite a youth movement going on.  5 of our starters were recent draftees plus MacMath, Miller, Serna, and Azira.  Add in Boateng, Ford, Perez, Hamilton, etc. and this team might be very good in a couple more seasons.
  • I'm a little surprised Boateng didn't get any time, just to get his first game out of the way.
  • It didn't feel like it but New England actually outshot us by one.  I think we were the more dangerous team though.
  • Other than on corners.  Those were...not good.
  • Couldn't ask for a better day for a home opener in March.  Of course we'll probably have another Mother's Day blizzard type game to make up for it.

Man of the Match: Axel Sjoberg.  I'm not going to disagree with MLS who put him on their Team of the Week today.  Any cross that came into the box from NE was cleared by Axel.  He completely removed their aerial game.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Starting With Jameson Night

If its Jameson it must be New England

Welcome back everyone, the 2017 season is here!  We start off with the New England Revolution, which means its Jameson Night (or Afternoon) at the tailgate.  Now in its 15th year (with a couple of gaps due to the unbalanced schedule) the Rapids are 7-4-1 all-time against the Revs when Jameson Night is held, but the one loss was the most recent edition in 2015.  We need to get back to our winning tradition tomorrow.  Kickoff is at 4pm so as always the tailgate starts 3 hours earlier at 1.  Same bat time, same bat place as last year.  Those who can't make it can watch it with Fleming and 'Celo on Altitude.

Player Availability:
Injury Report:
OUT: GK John Berner (wrist)
QUESTIONABLE: GK Tim Howard (right abductor); M Dillon Serna (knee)

No surprises here.  Because of the double GK injury the Independence's goalkeeper Cody Mizell has been loan to the Rapids for short-term cover.  While Howard and Serna are listed as questionable there's no chance we see them tomorrow.  Surprisingly Gashi is not on this list despite taking precautions with his Achilles this week.  NEw England is missing one midfielder due to injury.

Predicting the starting XI on opening day is always tricky, but here's my shot:

This seems to be pretty much what we were seeing in Arizona.  If Gashi can't go I expect we'll see Powers in his place.  The other question mark is Watts/Burling but Watts got more time with the "first team" in preseason so I'm going with him.  I think we'll see both Boateng and Gordon off the bench in this one.

Prediction: 1-0 win, goal by Gashi.  Season opener so I have to be positive but I wouldn't be shocked by a 0-0 draw.  I'm not concerned by New England's attack but I'm hopeful the home opener bounce and the power of Jameson will get us the three points.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Play It Again Sam - 2017 Season Preview

We're 72 hours from the first game being in the books so it much be season preview/prediction time.

The team hasn't changed much since 2016 and not at all since I wrote this a week and a half ago.  I won't repeat what I wrote there as far as our new additions.  It seems the plan this year is to repeat 2016 with an increased focus on attack.  The hope appears to be that Gashi, Doyle, Badji, Hairston, and company will step up another level and produce the missing goals from last year while the defense stays focused on repeating last year.

I think that's overly optimistic.  Last year we had a very good defense on the road and a historic defense at home.  That's hard to repeat even for a team with top players.  Our defense last year was greater than the sum of its parts.  We had career years from Burch, Azira, and Sjoberg (as short as his career has been so far) and one of Cronin's best seasons.  all that combined with GK of the year play from the combination of MacMath and Howard.  Add to that surprise early int eh year where I think a lot of teams overlooked us and momentum later in the year where we were flying high.  Those aren't pieces that come together in back to back years.

So I expect our defense to take a step back this season.  Not greatly, it should still be one of the tougher defenses in the league, but I don't expect to be setting records.  I don't expect an equal improvement form the offense to compensate though.  There's still nobody with that spark of creativity we can cont on game after game to generate opportunities.  I feel we're in for another season of low-scoring games but I fear that a number of those 1-0 wins will be 1-1 draws this year

With that, on to the annual predictions!

  • The Rapids will finish about 4th in the West with a point total around 50
  • We'll win the one-off playoff game at home but lose in the conference semifinals
  • Gashi will win the team Golden Boot with double-digit goals (barely)
  • We win the Rocky Mountain Cup
  • The Rapids make a move in the early season to add some offense, either a trade or a low-key signing
  • In the summer transfer window the team makes a bigger splash with a signing, possibly DP level
  • The Open Cup goes like the last couple of years where we beat a lower-league team (probably the Switchbacks) but lose when we face MLS competition
  • We're going to have one lousy stretch during the year.  Nothing like the end of 2014 but 4-5 games where the season appears to go south.  We recover in time to save our playoff spot though