Wednesday, September 17, 2008

80% Of The Way There, Where Are We?

We're 80% of the way through the season, so time for another update to my last review. We're entering the homestretch with the playoffs still within reach.

I've gone back and looked at the first 24 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 60% mark.

Over the last 6 games the Rapids have settled in right in the middle of the pack overall. We're tied with 2000 for the 8th best season. We're still right around the average in the Clavijo/Smith era for goals against at this point, and still ahead on goals scored. This is largely due to our two big 4-0 wins.

Looking at the team position by position:

Goalkeepers: Bouna Time! has gone AWOL over the last few games. His last start was 6 games ago against Toronto where Chad Barrett hit a perfect free kick that would have taken a world-class stop to save for the only goal in the game. Since then Burpo has been the keeper of choice, not only when Bouna went to Senegal but also when he's been available. Reports are that Burpo has played better in practice, but given some of Preston's questionable decisions during games I still find it surprising that Bouna Time! hasn't gotten his starting spot back. This is a concern for the Rapids as I don't think Burpo is a keeper that can lead a team through the playoffs, and with Bouna's contract ending this season he may decide to try his luck elsewhere, leaving us without an experienced keeper for 2009.

Defenders: The saving grace for Burpo has been a revamped back line. The Rapids made a strong move signing Cory Gibbs right before the transfer deadline and the addition of him, along side a healthy Mike Petke, has significantly strengthened the defense. The switch in coaching (more on that later) has brought in a coach that favors a 4-man back line which has also helped. Smith also saw what liabilities Erpen and Burciaga were on defense. Combined with an injury to Ihemelu its given Kimura a chance to regain his starting job and given Harvey much needed experience on the left side. The defense is probably the strongest part of the Rapids team.

Midfield: Along with the Bouna benching, Christian Gomez has found himself out of favor, playing only 137 minutes over the last 6 games. This is a major issue for the Rapids, who make Gomez the centerpiece in their offseason moves, trading their DP slot and their first round draft pick next season for MLS's most expensive bench warmer. While the midfield has been adequate recently, there hasn't been much creativity coming from central midfield, which has been manned by a combination of LaBrocca, Ballouchy, and Dalby. Outside of the central midfield issue the rest of the middle has solidified around Pablo, Cooke, and Clark. Nothing spectacular out of those 3, but they're getting the job done.

Forwards: After a long stretch of futility from the forwards things seem to be turning around. Casey is still somewhat ineffective and his feet of stone are getting worse, but McManus is quickly becoming the soul of this team. He and Cummings made a good pairing last week and I think there is some hope for that combination going forward. With the trade of Herculez Gomez the team is somewhat light upfront, so injuries would be a concern.

Bench/Reserves: With Bouna and Gomez relegated to sub status we have one of the stronger benches in the league. Add to that the likes of Ihemelu and Burciaga and we certainly have some options in defense. Things get a bit thin up front though with Peterson along side whichever of our 3 forwards that doesn't start being our only realistic options. Hopefully that will be enough to get us through this season but we'll have to look for some reinforcements in the offseason.

Coaching: The major change in the last 6 games has been Fernando Clavijo leaving the team and Assistant Coach Gary Smith being put in charge. While there hasn't been a huge improvement, over the last couple of games the team has come around after hitting rock bottom in SLC. Smith has settled down the lineup, switched to a standard 4-4-2 system, and made some good personnel choices. The only questionable moves have been Bouna Time! and C.Gomez, but if he can continue the winning he won't be questioned too much about those. It remains to be seen if he will get the interim tag removed, but so far things are looking better.

Overall the Rapids are on pace for 37-38 points this season, which for the last 3 years would be good enough for between 4th and last place in the West. 38 points would not have made the playoffs in any of those seasons though it would have been close last season.

Right now the Rapids have a real chance at making the playoffs. They control their own destiny, winning out would put them in 2nd place in the West. With a rough home schedule (New England and Houston, ending the season at home against FSL) they'll need to get some points on the road in some winnable games (NY and both LA team) if they're going to claim a playoff spot.


Allen said...

If we had 12 draws and 3 loses right now, we'd be closing in on winning the Supporters Shield.

Jester said...

With a win, we will be in a guarateed playoff spot, regardless of any other results! A month ago, I thought we were dead and buried.
Our schedule the rest of the season isn't as tough as some of the others in the conference either, so we still have a good shot at the playoffs! And, as everyone knows, getting there is the important thing. Once your there anything can happen!