Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fifth of the way there, where are we?

We're 20% of the way through the season, so I thought it would be a good time to take an early look at where the team is, how it compares to previous seasons, and what we can expect (or hope for) down the road.

I've gone back and looked at the first 6 games for the last 3 seasons. I chose 2005 as a starting point because it was the first year of the Clavijo era and because the only player remaining with the team from prior to that is Pablo Mastroeni. It should be noted that in 2005 and 2006 MLS played a 32 game season, so these numbers aren't quite at the 20% mark, but I didn't think that adding in the stats for the first 36 minutes of game 7 made much sense. ;)

As you can see, in every category the Rapids are off to their best start under Clavijo, and are doing so with only 3 home games compared to 4 the last two years. Goal differential is positive for the first time, we have double digit goals for the first time, and we're at .500 for only the second time. The Rapids are actually off to their second best start in their history (They had 10 points after 6 games in 2002).

Looking at the team position by position:

Goalkeepers: Bouna Time! is back this season, and in good form. He had a bad day in Kansas City, but other than that he's been on his game, and saved us from losing some games, while making some of the losses better than they were. This all comes at a price though, as his play has gotten the attention of the Senegal National Team, and he'll be missing games in May and June as he joins the team for their World Cup Qualifying campaign. The Rapids will go with either Justin Hughes, if he's recovered from his groin strain, or Chris Sharpe, one of the MLS 'pool' keepers who's rights the Rapids own. Both are untested in MLS, and Bouna's absence will be a big loss for the team.

Defenders: We've used 7 different defenders on our 4 man back line so far this season, and its been a bit of Jekyll and Hyde at times. There have been some games, like the most recent game against DC, where you wonder if DC would ever get a goal, and then there's games like the Chicago game where attackers were unmarked all over the box and Bouna had to come up big on multiple occasions. Some of this is due to inexperience, as Keel and Kimura have gotten significant time in place of other injured players, and some of it is the tactics that Clavijo likes to use, pushing the wingbacks forward into the attack. Now that everyone but Petke is healthy we can start to determine our best back 4. I think it will be Kimura, Ihemelu, and Erpen, with a platoon of Burciaga and Harvey on the left. Burciaga gives the team more of an attacking presence, with the loss of some defensive cover, while Harvey is more defensively oriented. Based on who is playing left mid and the tendencies of the opposition to attack down the right side will lead Clavijo to start one or the other.

Midfield: Midfield has been the strength of the team so far this season. Our youth movement is in strong effect in the center of the park, as Clark, LaBrocca, and DiRaimondo have all gotten significant playing time this year, and have shown that they deserve to be in the mix of the starting 11. Cristian Gomez had a breakout game against Dc last week, and hopefully that will be the jump start he needs to be the dominant #10 he was expected to be when he was brought in this past offseason. Terry Cooke is still Terry Cooke. He's going to get the ball, find some space, and cross the ball in. He's probably still the best crosser of the ball in MLS, outside of Old Spice. Clavijo switched from a 5 to a 4-man midfield against DC, and it worked well. I expect we'll see some experimenting over the next few games as to which mixture works the best.

Forwards: Here's the real enigma on this team, who can stake a claim to being a MLS-caliber starting forward? Omar Cummings and Tam McManus have been the starters so far this season, and both of them have shown some good things, but haven't claimed the spot as their own. Herculez Gomez has gotten a lot of play off the bench, but hasn't done much with that time. Conor Casey is coming back from injury this week, and a starting spot is his for the taking. I think its notable that of the 10 goals the team has scored, no player has more than 1 goal.

Bench/Reserves: A real positive with all the injuries we started the season with is that our bench/reserves got a lot of experience. Now we have capable backups at most positions that have gotten some playing time. The big concern is goalkeeper, but that will be a trial by fire when Bouna leaves. The reserve side has picked up where they left off last season and remains undefeated since 2006.

Coaching: I've long been critical of Fernando Clavijo, but I have to give him credit this season. He's avoided his rotating roster compulsion, and for the first time in his 3+ years he started the same lineup for 3 games in a row, and then extended it to 4 games. He made a few changes in game 5, which didn't pay off as well as he would of liked, then made a complete formation change before the DC game last week, and it resulted in complete control of the game and a 2-0 win. Hopefully he can see he has a solid core of starters, and keeps them together as much as possible going forward.

Overall the Rapids are on pace for 45 points this season, which for the last 3 years would be good enough for 3rd place in the West. At the moment though they are tied with Dallas for first place in the West. The East has been hammering the West in their matchups, which has allowed the Rapids to stay in front with only a .500 record, helped along by being one of the only teams in the West to be able to stand up to the East, going 2-0-1 against them.

We now start a set of 4 games against Western Conference opponents, 3 of the at home. That stretch will go along way in determining where we end up at the end of the season.

1 comment:

Jayd8888 said...

I’ve only been a fan since 06 but I’m FINALLY starting to get excited. The west seems ripe for the picking this season. Our midfield is great, Especially with Pablo not as far back feeding it up to Gomez. Plus we feel deep, like we can get can get over a couple injuries if they happen. I never thought I bet happy with a C. (3-3-0) But there was no hype/hope coming into this season.