Friday, October 31, 2008

Season Review

So now that the season is over, where do we stand? Earlier this week I took a look at the roster and the coaching search, but what worked and didn't work team-wide this season?

I've gone back and looked at the 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. Since in 2005 and 2006 MLS played a 32 game season I've added columns for points, goals, and goals against per game.

The Rapids finished right in the middle of the pack in the Clavijo era in points. They had a better offense than ever before, but the second worst defense. Overall the Rapids had their 5th worst season, ahead of 1997, 2007, 1996, and 2001 at .88 points/game being the worst. Out of those 5 years only in 1997 did the Rapids make the playoffs.

Looking at the team position by position:

Goalkeepers: Bouna finished the season as the #1 keeper, a position he never should have lost. Burpo was a serviceable backup for a mid-season pickup that was forced on us when Justin Hughes went down with a season ending injury right before Bouna left for Senegal. He should have never been named the starter though, and our defense suffered in the last third of the season because of it.

If Hughes can come back from injury we should cut Burpo loose. Bouna is out of contract and is rumored to be heading to Europe. The Rapids should do everything they can to re-sign him, and if they are unsuccessful they'll need to find a new keeper either to start or to back up Hughes if the coaches have enough faith in him.

Defenders: The back line was constantly shuffled under Clavijo, but came together under Smith. The back 4 of Kimura, Petke, Gibbs, and Harvey did fairly well with the exception of a run of 3 games where 10 goals were conceded. I think Kimura and Harvey are locks to start out wide next season, but the Rapids need to look for help int he center of defense. Petke implied to fans after the last game that this was it for him as a player, plus he's out of contract. Gibbs was inconsistent at times, and will head for Europe if any team gives him a chance. Ihemelu and Erpen are good for at least one mistake a game each, and while that might be OK if you have strong veteran presence in your back line, counting on them to be the veterans will just lead to disaster.

In a best case scenario the Rapids keep Gibbs and pick of a solid central defender with Ugo as a back up. If Gibbs leaves we'll have to do some serious scouting for defenders or consider switching to a 3-man backline.

Midfield: The big question mark in midfield is Christian Gomez. The Rapids can't afford to not play their highest priced player that cost them a DP slot, but Smith didn't seem particularly interested in using him. Gomez has expressed his displeasure in interviews as well, so there's some work to be done there if Gomez is going to play for the Rapids again. Pablo is also expected to leave for Europe after possibly his best season as a Rapid. Losing him will be a blow to the team. A good season from Nick LaBrocca softens the blow somewhat, but LaBrocca is at best a decent MLS player, he's not a top level National Team player like Pablo is. Cooke and Clark seem locked in on the wings, Clark will need to work on being more consistent next season, at times he seemed to disappear from games this season.

If Gomez works out his issues with Smith and/or a new coach and Pablo doesn't move to Europe our midfield is set. If we lose both of them LaBrocca will slide in to Pablo's spot and we'll have to go looking for another playmaker. The Rapids currently have nobody on the roster that can run the offense from the center other than Gomez. The Rapids did so well in the late half of the season by using the wings but with no real threat in the center that won't sustain the Rapids for a whole season.

Forwards: Conor Casey exploded over the last 5 games of the season, notching 6 goals. He's clearly become the best forward on the team, but I think he's actually over-rated after his late season run. That's not to say he couldn't be the centerpoint of our offense in 2009, but I think the Rapids should try to strike while the iron is hot and see if we can get a steal in a trade. If we can't though, the offense in 2009 should be geared towards Casey. McManus and Cummings spend the season trying to claim the starting spot next to Casey. They both bring different skills to the table. McManus brings the grit and passion, along with being a threat from anywhere within 35 yards. Cummings brings speed and determination, but needs to work on his finishing.

I think that either Cummings or McManus could start next season, with the other being a super sub off the bench. It just depends on what kind of style the coach wants to play. Casey would be the other starter if not traded. The Rapids need to look for depth at striker, the only other forward on the roster is Jacob Peterson. They would do best by finding somebody that has a good chance of being a MLS starter to put pressure on McManus and Cummings to step up to the next level. If Casey is traded they'll need another guaranteed starting striker as well.

Bench/Reserves: The Rapids have a very experienced set of bench players and reserves to draw from. Jacob Peterson, Ugo Ihemelu, Facundo Erpen, Stephen Keel, John DiRaimondo, Mehdi Ballouchy, and Jose Burciaga all got significant playing time this season. While I think some of those players are best to let go, it still gives the Rapids some maneuvering room.

Ihemelu, Keel, and DiRaimondo all look like they are ready to take the next step and become starters/regular subs either for the Rapids or another MLS team through a trade. The Rapids need to look for depth at keeper and forward in the offseason. Midfield and defensive depth appears to be covered.

Coaching: Well, Clavijo is gone and the team played better under Smith. Then again I'm pretty sure a pet rock could have gotten the team to play better than they did under Clavijo. Most of the decisions the Rapids have to make that I've discussed already hinge on who the coach will be and what kind of soccer he wants the team to play. If its Smith then the Rapids should probably plan on not having Bouna or Gomez and focus on playing a defensive game to rack up 1 goal wins. If its John Spencer the Rapids will probably open up more and try to dominate other teams (Based on Spencer's attitude and Houston's style of play). Until a decision is made though, the rest of the offseason is just a big mystery.

Overall the Rapids had another mediocre year where they finished no better than 3rd, just like every other season in their history. When the Rapids replaced Mooch Myrick with Tim Hankinson after the 1999 season the reason given was that AEG didn't think Mooch could take the team to the next level and win a championship. As history as shown, only Mooch Myrick has been able to get the Rapids to a championship game, and nobody has been able to finish in the top 2 in the conference. Picking the right coach is the biggest decision the Rapids organization has had to make since KSE took over. They failed the first time with Clavijo, if they fail again they may not recover for years.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who's In Charge Here?!?!

Obviously the biggest decision the Rapids have in this offseason is who's going to run the team. Clavijo left the cupboard pretty bare and while the team picked up under Smith there's still a lot of work to be done to turn the Rapids into contenders. No new names have surfaced since the last time we reviewed the candidates, so its still the same group of 4 that are likely to get the job.

1. Gary Smith - Interim Head Coach

Smith was given the reins for the last third of the season and led the team to a 4-2-4 record(5-2-4 if you count the last game of the Clavijo era that he managed). The team showed more skill under his control, but his tactical decisions were somewhat lacking. There were also questions about his decision to change goalkeepers, and his complete non-use of Christian Gomez.

The team looked better under Smith, but to be honest just about anyone could have gotten the team looking better once Clavijo left. There's a number of the players who have said that they think he's the right choice, but again, how much of that is just "He's not Clavijo"? His decisions to bench Gomez and to go with Burpo over Bouna are inexcusable in my opinion. He also seems to favor defending 1 goal leads instead of trying to break the back of the opponents by scoring more. I think those tactics cost us the playoffs as in our last 3 home games we only got 2 points, and they were both on 1 goal leads we allowed to end in 1-1 draws. When you only miss the playoffs by 1 point those results hurt.

I think Smith is by far the most likely person to get the job. He's been with the team a year, he's Plush's hire originally, and he's be cheap compared to the other options. I don't think he's the man for the job though. He may be able to get better results just by being "not Clavijo" but I don;t think you'll see a Rapids organization that's any better run under his care.

3. John Spencer - Assistant Coach, Houston Dynamo

In my opinion Spencer is the only other realistic choice for the Rapids. Her has once again helped coach the Dynamo to another top finish in the West and probably another MLS Cup appearance. He's gotten 3 years of study under one of the best MLS coaches in league history, Dominic Kinnear, and is reported to be ready to take control of a team of his own. Reportedly one of the reasons he turned down the Fire job was because he was interested in the Rapids job.

The problems with Spencer are going to be money and control. Another factor in passing on the Fire job was reported to be the money they offered. We know that KSE isn't willing to spend big money on a coach, so getting Spencer to fit into the budget. The flip-side is that a name like Spencer would probably sell a few more season tickets than Smith, so there may be some wiggle room. The otehr problem is how much control the FO likes to exert on player decisions. Under Clavijo we heard rumors of Plush making the calls on trades, Plush hired Smith without Clavijo's input, etc. Is Spencer going to want to step into that kind of role? Another drawback is that with Houston in the playoffs he won't be free to talk to the Rapids until after they're eliminated. With Plush wanting to put a coach in place before the expansion draft the week after MLS Cup the rapids may not be able to wait.

4. John Murphy - Director of Player Development

Muphy's a long shot at this point. While he knows the organization and the league, he was brought in by Clavijo, not by Plush. He seems to be happy in his role as Director of Player Development, which allows him more freedom to continue his progress towards his UEFA Coaching Badge. I think its more likely that Murphy moves up into the Technical Director role that Plush wants to hire than the head coaching role. Still if Smith doesn't want the job and they pass on Spencer, Murphy is the next logical choice.

6. Paul Mariner - Assistant Head Coach, New England Revolution

Mariner is really only on this list because, along with Spencer, he's the next assistant expected to step up to a head coaching job somewhere in the league. Coming out of a successful organization like the Revs, where the coaching staff is allowed free reign within the budget to make decisions there's not a lot of incentive to move into the mess in the Rapids FO. Maybe if the Rapids get desperate and Mariner isn't approached about any other job this offseason he might end up here, but I highly doubt it.

At this point I figure the odds are 75% on Smith, 22.5% on Spencer, and 2.5% on anyone else. Plush wants to make a decision soon, which really makes me thing its likely to be Smith. While not a horrible choice, I think the Rapids can do better.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Weekend Roundup 10/25 - 10/26

OK I lied, it was 2 days

Colorado Rapids - No recap after the Epic Fail on Saturday night. With the draw the Rapids finished in 4th place in the West, missing the playoffs by 1 point. The Rapids tied Chicago for the 4th best offense and they had the 11th best defense.

Queen of the South - QoS travelled to Dingwall to face Ross County in a windstorm. Each team had plenty of chances as the keepers had to adjust for the wind. It was the Doonhamers who found the back of the net though, on a Stephen Dobbie free kick from 25 yards out midway through the first half. Things went back and forth for the rest of the game until stoppage time when Qos scored another 25 yard goal to seal the 3 points. With the win they move into sole possession of first place with a 1 point lead over St. Johnstone.

Blackburn Rovers - Blackburn hosted Middlesbrough in a wet match at Ewood Park. The game was pretty dull with only a handful of shots on target. 'Brough took the lead in the 74th minute on a long counter-attack ball out of the back that was put past Paul Robinson from the edge of the box. Rovers looked to be headed to a disappointing defeat when Benni McCarthy scored on the last possession of the game. Rovers should have gotten more than a draw from this match, but based on their play it was all they deserved. They are now 11th, 9 points behind leaders Liverpool.

CD Tenerife - CDT dominated their road trip in Cordoba but came away empty handed as Cordoba took advantage of their few opportunities to win 2-0. After two road wins Tenerife returned to their form of last season. With the loss CDT drops to 8th in the table after 9 games, 7 points behind the leaders Salamanca.

Kildare County FC - Kildare's woes continued against Sporting Fingal, suffering yet another loss on the season. The big news is that after the match both the manager and his assistant resigned, in order to allow their replacements enough time to familiarize themselves with the teams before the probable playoff matches. With only 4 games left County is 6 points from safety and is all but assured of facing a playoff to stay in the lowest division of league football.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Roster Decisions

Weekend Roundup is coming tonight/tomorrow but I wanted to get my annual roster review up first.

As I've done each of the last few years, here's my rundown of what I think the Rapids should do with their roster in the offseason. This year I've added the salary numbers for those players that are listed on the MLSPU guide. I believe that the Rapids are no longer on the hook for any salary outside the team (Kirovski's contract should be up) and they don't have anyone picking up any salaries of Rapids players. This does not take into account any guaranteed contracts or anything, just if I had the freedom to cut or re-sign players as I wished.

Out of Contract:
Jose Burciaga,80K - Enjoy Seattle Jose! There's no reason to re-sign him.
Bouna Coundoul,33K - I expect that unless the new coach makes a guarantee that he's the #1 next season he'll head to France. If the Rapids can convince him to re-sign they should, with a salary increase of about 50K.
Pablo Mastroeni,300K - Almost certainly going to Europe. If possible the team should re-sign him, maybe with a slight reduction in salary to account for his age by the end of the contract
Mike Petke,133K - If what he said to the fans Saturday night is true he's retiring. If not I'd re-sign him at about 100-120K

Keep for the first team:
Colin Clark,33K - He needs consistency in his play to make it past next season, but I'm hopeful
Terry Cooke,167.5K - 3rd in the league in assists despite only starting 60% of the games
Omar Cummings,33K - He's earned another year to try to show he can claim a starting spot
John DiRaimondo,17.7K - Looked good early this season, and we'll need the help filling in our defensive holes
Cory Gibbs,96K - If he doesn't make the jump to Europe
Jordan Harvey,17.7K - Our best option at left back
Kosuke Kimura,17,7K - Solidifying his hold on the right back spot
Nick LaBrocca,12.9K - Pablos replacement at d-mid
Tom McManus,134.4K - Got to see what he could do after some rest and a full preseason of training with the team

WTF do we do about this mess:
Christian Gomez,385K - By all rights he should be in the group above, but after being benched for the last third of the season, does he even want to be here, and if so, does the new coach want him? There's no way we get value for him as everyone will know we want to unload him, but having him sit on the bench for a long spell again isn't going to help the team.

Keep as backups/possible first teamers if an upgrade for a better price can't be found:
Preston Burpo,55.1K - No better than a backup keeper
Greg Dalby,33K - Europeboy hasn't impressed yet
Ugo Ihemelu,60.5K - If he could stay mentally in the game for 90 minutes he might have the skills to make it in MLS. Until then...
Stephen Keel,33K - Hasn't shown he's ready for full time yet, but another year might get him there

Cut/Hope Seattle takes them in the expansion draft:
Facundo Erpen,125K - Awful

Attempt to trdae, keep otherwise:
Mehdi Ballouchy,75K - Has no ability to actually lead the attack
Conor Casey,190K - He's only in this list because after his late season run he may be perceived as more valuable than he really is. That makes it a good time to try to trade him. If there are no takers that benefit us, he moves up to the first category.
Jacob Peterson,75K - His time is up, time to try elsewhere.

Reserve players I have not seen enough to evaluate:
Nico Colaluca,70K
Brian Grazier,12.9K
Justin Hughes,12.9K
Ciaran O'Brien,45K
Kwame Sardokie
Chris Sharpe
Tim Ward,44.6K
Cesar Zambrano,12.9k

As you can see from my list, we'll be thin up the middle. We need a starting GK, strong central defenders, an attacking mid if we can't get Gomez back in that slot, and probably another solid forward. Our flanks are solid and we have some decent depth.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Epic Fail

No game review this week. Not being able to get a win against FSL means there's nothing to review. Complete failure from top to bottom.

Later this week I'll have a season review and some thoughts on where we go from here, both in coaching and players.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Win Or Stay Home

The whole season comes down to 90 minutes at The Dick tomorrow night. Win and the Rapids host Chivas USA in the first round of the playoffs next weekend and lift the Rocky Mountain Cup. Lose or draw and watch FSL celebrate their first ever playoff berth on our field and they take the Cup back home with them.

Here's the injury report:

OUT: GK Justin Hughes (R shoulder); MF Christian Gomez (R ankle); DOUBTFUL: MF Pablo Mastroeni (L knee)

Suspended after 1 more yellow card: Pablo Mastroeni, Colin Clark,
Suspended after 2 more yellow cards: Conor Casey, Cory Gibbs, Nick LaBrocca

My lineup prediction:

Bouna Time!
Kimura - Ihemelu - Petke - Harvey
Cooke - Pablo - LaBrocca - Clark
McManus - Casey

Wewantrapidman reports that Gibbs and Gomez are unlikely to be fit for the game, and McManus is still fighting injury. I think Ihemelu slots in to Gibbs' spot on the back line and McManus lines up next to Casey if healthy, otherwise we'll see Cummings. That's probably our best 11 given our injury status.

Critical Matchup: Casey and McManus/Cummings vs. Borchers & Joy

FSL only needs a draw out of this game. They are one of the worst road teams in the league and they lost 2-0 in their first trip to the Dick this season. They aren't going to be real aggressive given that they get everything they need from a 0-0 draw. The Rapids forwards need to break down the FSL defense and stake Colorado to an early lead. Force FSL to have to attack and that will open up the back for speedy players like Clark and Cummings.

Keys To Look For:

  • Does every player leave it all on the field? This is the best circumstance for a final-must win game. Your rival at home. There's no excuse for any Rapids player not to run themselves into the ground tomorrow night.

  • How much does Ihemelu's mental breakdown cost us? Ugo makes one boneheaded move a game, sometimes the rest of the back line covers for him and sometimes they can't.

  • Can the Rapids use the emotion without losing control? Everyone who's seen the Rocky Mountain Cup before knows that the games get heated. We can't afford to pick up stupid cards because somebody loses their head.

  • It needs to be clear that if the Rapids get another PK, Casey takes it. Cooke has missed and McManus was saved in recent weeks. Go with the guy who has gotten the job done.

  • No excuses. Its not the officiating, its not injuries, its not bad luck. We win this game or we lose this game.

Prediction: 2-1 win. The Rapids remember what happened last season, watching their playoff hopes slip away at home at the hands of FSL. Clavijo's gone, Smith has the team believing, and the Rapids won't accept anything but a win. TOGETHER WE RISE!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Weekend Roundup 10/18-10/19

Colorado Rapids - My game review is here. With the win the Rapids move up to 4th place in the West, out of a playoff spot. They can finish at best 3rd, and they are 2 points out of that spot. The Rapids are tied with DC and Dallas for the 4th best offense and they have the 12th best defense.

Queen of the South - QoS travelled to Airdrie for this matchup but came home empty handed. In a first half that was fairly even in play United scored early and late to take a 2-0 lead before the half. Queens couldn't figure out how to break down the Airdrie defense and left empty-handed. The good news is that their rivals for the top spot also lost, so they still stay at the top of the table over Dunfermline and Livingston on goal differential.

Blackburn Rovers - Rovers travelled to the Reebok Stadium to take on Bolton. Neither side really could find their game though, mounting a combined total of 5 shots on target (only 1 by Blackburn) and coming away with a bore 0-0 draw. Blackburn still stay in the top half in 9th place, 9 points behind Liverpool and Chelsea on top.

CD Tenerife - CDT hosted Salamanca, the league leaders, in Santa Cruz. El Tete allowed an early goal but struck back quickly to take a 2-1 lead. Right before half Salamanca tied it up at 2. The second half was fairly even until Hector was called for a hand ball in the box and shown a red card. The penalty kick was slotted home and Salamanca became the first visiting team to win in Santa Cruz this season. The loss pushed Tenerife down to 5th in the table, 4 points off the lead after 8 games.

Kildare County FC - County started off ht, forcing the Longford Town keeper to make 3 big saves in the first 3 minutes. That was the highlight for the Thoroughbreds though and it was all downhill from there. 2 goals later Kildare is still on the bottom of the table and its increasingly looking like they'll be forced into a playoff against a lower league team to keep their spot int he 1st Division. They are 6 points from safety with only 5 games remaining.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The 4 C's; Cooke, Cummings, Clark, and Casey

Image Credt: Scott Varley

The 4 C's combined for 2 goals and a win that kept the Rapids playoff hopes alive yesterday. The first half was a snooze fest with only 3 shots on goal (2 by Colorado) and nothing that was really threatening. The second half started off almost as slow, but the Rapids slowly took control of the game. This control culminated in a penalty kick that should never have been given. In the 57th minute Jordan Harvey went down in the box because a Chivas player looked at him wrong but got the call. McManus stepped up and decided he was taking the kick even after Casey wanted it. He should have passed as hick kick was weak and right down the middle, easily stopped by Dan Kennedy. That was Tom's last touch as he was subbed out right after that for Omar Cummings. He retreated to the bench with a towel over his face hoping that he hadn't just cost the Rapids the playoffs.

Tom didn't have to worry for long. Terry Cooke entered the game int he 65th minute and two minutes later, on his first touch of the game, he sprung Cummings down the right side. Omar took the ball, crossed it back, and hit a perfect cross to a completely unmarked Colin Clark in the box. Clark took his time, timed his jump, and headed a laser past the keeper for the 1-0 lead. After his flying drop-kick of the corner flag (see above) the first person their to congratulate him was Tom McManus.

The lead would only hold up for 5 minutes though. 4 minutes after the goal Gary Smith put Facundo Erpen in for Mike Petke, and it didn't take long for Erpen's every game mental mistake to cost us. In the 72 minute Bornstein was left unmarked by Erpen while Ihemelu had been taken to the ground in the box. Bornstein's shot deflected off of Ihemelu and Bouna was going the wrong way after the deflection. Things were looking bad until the 85th minute. Omar Cummings nutmegged a Goat in the box, and rather than trying to play the ball he stepped into Cummings path as he was rounding him and Cummings took the chance to go down. A second PK, this one soft but absolutely a foul. Casey decided to take this one and hit the post, but it rebounded into the goal for the 2-1 lead. After that the Rapids ran out the clock and set up a winner take all match with FSL next Saturday at The Dick.

Keys to the Game review:

  • There's only one this week. In a must-win game do the Rapids show up? It doesn't matter who wins what battle, all that matters is the score at the end of the game.
    We got the win, but the Rapids never looked like they were really trying hard. I expected more from a team in a must-win situation.

Critical Matchup: The Rapids vs. the pressure - The Rapids did not crumble under the pressure. With the exception of another Erpen mental mistake they played solid, if uninspired, soccer.

Fact of the Match: The Rapids currently have the most road goals in the league.

Random Observations:

  • Welcome back Bouna! Not much for him to do this game, and no chance on the goal, but a good game to knock the rust off.

  • Erpen seems to cost us one goal a game.

  • Cooke proves that he needs to start and play 90. He's had 5 assists in the last 7 games. You have to go back a ways to find a Rapids player with that kind of record.

  • Ballouchy had no impact on this game, again.

  • Its all on the line next week against FSL. Win and we're in the playoffs. Win and we reclaim the Rocky Mountain Cup. Anything less and FSL keeps the RMC and goes to the playoffs for their first time ever.

  • Man of the Match: Omar Cummings - Had the assist on the first goal and drew the foul for the PK that got the second goal.

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    Just Win Baby

    The Rapids are out in LA-LA land for their second leg of a 2-game stand against the LA teams. Sunday they play Chivas USA at 1pm MDT, and the fans will be at the British Bulldog like normal.

    Here's the injury report:

    OUT: GK Justin Hughes (R shoulder); MF Christian Gomez (R ankle); DOUBTFUL: MF Pablo Mastroeni (L knee)

    Suspended after 1 more yellow card: Pablo Mastroeni, Colin Clark, Nick LaBrocca
    Suspended after 2 more yellow cards: Conor Casey

    My lineup prediction:

    Bouna Time!
    Kimura - Ihemelu - Petke - Harvey
    Ballouchy - DiRaimondo - LaBrocca - Clark
    Casey - Cummings

    In yesterday's Post Smith was quoted saying that Bouna will start for Burpo and Ballouchy will start for Cooke. The GK switch is a much needed change, but benching Cooke in a must-win game is Clavijo-esque. I realize our defense has been awful over the last 3 games, but pulling our assist leader isn't, to steal a political phrase, change we can believe in. With Pablo out I'm guessing DiRaimondo slips into the defensive midfield. Now that Casey and Cummings are available again I think they'll start on top.

    Critical Matchup: The Rapids vs. the pressure

    After tonight's results this is now a must win game. Can the Rapids handle the pressure of having to win on the road against a better team, or do they collapse?

    Keys To Look For:

    • There's only one this week. In a must-win game do the Rapids show up? It doesn't matter who wins what battle, all that matters is the score at the end of the game.

    Prediction: 2-1 win. The Rapids always manage to hang on until the end of the season. I think they find a way to win tomorrow and force a final showdown vs. FSL next week.

    Playoff Update

    OK our playoff chances just got significantly simplified with tonight's results. There are now 8 teams at 39 points or more. That means that nothing short of 2 wins in our 2 final games will get us into the playoffs.

    The good news is that 2 wins is all we need. We control our own destiny again. If we beat Chivas and FSL we'll pass Dallas and FSL for the third automatic playoff spot in the West. If we lose or draw either game we'll be eliminated.

    Win 2 and we're in.

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    Playoffs? Playoffs?!?!

    So here's the rundown of what we need to have happen to make the playoffs, based on all of our possible remaining results. This is not a comprehensive list, this just shows the most likely option at each point value. The list is up to date as of the result of tonight's game.

    2 losses - We're out

    1 draw, 1 loss - We're out

    2 draws - FSL beats Dallas, SJ beats KC and draws TFC, LA beats Dallas and loses to Houston, NY, and KC lose all their games, TFC draws SJ and loses their other game

    1 win - We beat Chivas, FSL beats us, Dallas wins both games, SJ beats KC and TFC, LA beats Houston, KC, DC, and NY lose all of their games.

    1 win, 1 draw - We beat Chivas, FSL beats Dallas, we draw FSL, Dallas beats LA, LA draws Houston, SJ beats KC, draws Toronto, DC loses, KC doesn't beat NE, NY doesn't win either game

    2 wins - Dallas wins both games, KC and NY don't win more than 1 game, DC doesn't beat Columbus OR FSL doesn't lose to Dallas

    Even though there are three scenarios where we can make the playoffs with a draw or loss this week, we can also be eliminated with just a draw or loss this week. We can't be eliminated if we win this week.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Weekend Roundup 10/11-10/12

    Short Roundup this week. Blackburn and Queen of the South had the weekend off since the National Teams were playing World Cup Qualifiers and Kildare County's game was called off due to a waterlogged pitch.

    Colorado Rapids - My game review is here. With the loss the Rapids fall to 5th place in the West, out of a playoff spot. They can finish at best 3rd, and they are 2 points out of that spot. The Rapids are tied with DC for the 4th best offense and they have the 12th best defense.

    Queen of the South - Off for World Cup Qualifiers

    Blackburn Rovers - Off for World Cup Qualifiers

    CD Tenerife - Tenerife got their second away win in 4 games, which doubles last year's total of 1 in 21 games. They left it late though, with the only goal coming from CDT's Marrero with only 15 minutes left. With the win the Canary Island boys maintain their spot at 3rd int he table, the final promotion place, on a tiebreaker with Rayo Vallecano (the former home of Kasey Keller, now with the Seattle Sounders). Its early of course, with only 1/6th of the season having been played, but CDT is off to a good start, only 1 point off the top of the table.

    Kildare County FC - Cancelled due to waterlogged pitch

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Rapids run swamped by Galaxy

    The Rapids apparently left their playoff chances in Colorado when they left for LA, because the team played like they had no interest in continuing the season past the FSL game. A Galaxy offense devoid of stars managed 3 goals against a Colorado defense that was solid until the last 3 games. Meanwhile our incomplete offense could only manage 2 goals, and one of those came off a PK at the end of the game.

    The Rapids came out in a 4-5-1 with Cooke and Clark playing way up to help out McManus, who was returning from injury. After a couple of offensive thrusts by the rapids the game settled into a back and forth affair of bad soccer. In the 36th minute Franklin found an unmarked Edson Buddle in the box and Buddle coolly slotted a shot inside the near post, beating Burpo. Gibbs made a poor choice on the play, coming out to pressure Franklin instead of staying with Buddle. Gibbs quickly made up for his error though. 7 minutes later he got his head on a Terry Cooke corner kick and levelled the score at 1. Cookie's assist gave him 11 for the year, good for 3rd in the league. The teams went to the locker rooms tied at 1.

    The second half was all LA. The Rapids had no real control of the game and the introduction of PrimaDonnavan in the 63rd minute only increased the pressure on the defense until finally it broke. Ihemelu, starting in place of Petke, committed an unnecessary foul outside the side of the 18, giving former U.S. National Team free-kick taker Eddie Lewis a chance to tee up a great cross. In response to this the defense decided not to place a man on the near post and it cost them. With no defender there Indecisive Burpo Time struck and the ball got by him, hitting Ihemelu in the chest and deflecting into the back of the net for an own goal. There was very little Ihemelu could do though, if he wasn't making the run Buddle was ready to receive the ball for the easy goal.

    The Rapids still had a chance, bit that was snuffed out 10 minutes later. In one of the stranger subs of the season (and that's saying something) Jose Burciaga was brought in for Terry Cooke in the 78th minute. 2 minutes late, on Burciaga's first touch, he played a weak backpass as the Rapids were transitioning to the attack that had no chance of reaching Gibbs and was easily intercepted. With the Rapids caught upfield there was nobody to mark Brandon McDonald and he unleashed a shot of the week from 40 yards out that swerved just outside if Burpo's reach to give the Galaxy a 3-1 lead. The Rapids would claw one back late on a weak penalty call. unlike last week a Brit, in this case McManus, stepped up and put it away but it was too little to late as the Rapds had no significant attack in stoppage time. They lost the game and control of their playoff destiny.

    Keys to the Game review:

    • Absolute 100% must-win game for the Rapids. Our playoff hopes are shot if we don't get 3 points on Sunday. Does the team play like they know that?
      Nope, not really. There wasn't any sort of desire out there.
    • LA's a bad team when they have Old Spice and PrimaDonnavan. With them both gone on National Team duties the only offensive threat is Edson Buddle. Our defense should be able to shut down anything LA throws at the by keeping Pablo and/or a central defender on Buddle all night.
      Had they done that, we might have won the game. Instead they left Buddle unmarked on the first goal, and if Ihemelu hadn't been in Buddle's way on the own goal he would have had an easy second.
    • Rookie untested goalkeeper means the Rapids should shoot early and often. We shouldn't need the "perfect shot" to beat him.
      Full credit to Saunders, he came up big on a couple of shots. As one BigSoccer poster put it, "Their USL keeper is outplaying our USL keeper".
    • Burpo needs to pitch a shutout and make no stupid mistakes. With LA's offensive woes the most likely way for them to score is another assist by Burpo, like he had last week.
      Burpo had another bad game. He was beat near post on the first goal and his indecisiveness cost us on the second. There was nothing he could do about the third goal.
    • Christian Gomez really should be starting this game, but since he's not we have to assume he won't play unless injuries force Smith's hand.
      After I posted my game preview we found out Gomez had turned an ankle in practice this week. He didn't even travel to LA.

    Critical Matchup: McManus and Peterson vs. LA's d-line - Well Peterson didn't play. McManus did all you could expect for a lone forward who is coming off of injury, and got the PK for his efforts. It wasn't enough though due to the play of our defense.

    Fact of the Match: The last time the Rapids have given up 10 goals in three competitive matches were the last 3 games of 2001.

    Random Observations:

  • Burpo is awful. Bouna has to start the next two games if we have any hope.

  • Pitiful performance from our defense, especially our two center backs. Gibbs needs to figure out what's gone wrong, he looked great in his first 4-5 games and poor in the last 3.

  • Why sub Burciaga for Cooke? What could that possibly gain us down a goal? Cooke didn't have the best night, but he's still the best option we have for corners and crosses into the box.

  • Once again the Rapids will finish no better than 3rd, for the 13th time in their 13 year history.

  • We've lost control of our playoff destiny. The "easiest" way to the playoffs now is to win our remaining games and have FSL not lose to Dallas next week.

  • Man of the Match: Tom McManus - Coming off of injury he said he was good for 70-80 minutes, maybe. He went the full game and was still fighting all the way to the end.

      Friday, October 10, 2008

      Rapids hope to leave Galaxy seeing stars

      The Rapids are out in LA-LA land for their first leg of a 2-game stand against the LA teams. Sunday night they play the Galaxy at 6pm MDT, and the fans will be at the British Bulldog like normal.

      Here's the injury report:

      OUT: GK Justin Hughes (R shoulder); PROBABLE: FW Tom McManus (L knee)

      Suspended: Conor Casey
      Suspended after 1 more yellow card: Pablo Mastroeni, Colin Clark, Nick LaBrocca
      Suspended after 2 more yellow cards: Conor Casey

      My lineup prediction:

      Kimura - Ihemelu - Petke - Harvey
      Cooke - Pablo - LaBrocca - Clark
      McManus - Peterson

      In today's Post Smith says that Petereson and McManus will start for the missing Casey and Cummings. LaBrocca will also reclaim his starting spot from Ballouchy, which means no Gomez again. The defensive line is a bit of a question mark with Smith saying that he'll make changes, but that Gibbs is questionable due to the flu. I think he'll just swap in Ihemelu for Gibbs or Petke, depending on Gibbs' condition but he may have bigger changes than that planned.

      Critical Matchup: McManus and Peterson vs. LA's d-line

      LA has the worst defense in MLS, but the rapids are without their two big strikers and McManus is reportedly only expecting to be able to go for about 70-80 minutes. Peterson and McManus will have to find a way to make their new partnership work quickly and get the Rapids on top before McManus' injury forces a more defensive lineup.

      Keys To Look For:

      • Absolute 100% must-win game for the Rapids. Our playoff hopes are shot if we don't get 3 points on Sunday. Does the team play like they know that?

      • LA's a bad team when they have Old Spice and PrimaDonnavan. With them both gone on National Team duties the only offensive threat is Edson Buddle. Our defense should be able to shut down anything LA throws at the by keeping Pablo and/or a central defender on Buddle all night.

      • Rookie untested goalkeeper means the Rapids should shoot early and often. We shouldn't need the "perfect shot" to beat him.

      • Burpo needs to pitch a shutout and make no stupid mistakes. With LA's offensive woes the most likely way for them to score is another assist by Burpo, like he had last week.

      • Christian Gomez really should be starting this game, but since he's not we have to assume he won't play unless injuries force Smith's hand.

      Prediction: 1-0 win. With our offensive firepower missing I don't expect a lot of scoring, but we should be able to do enough to get the win. LA is the worst team in the league, there's no excuse for not getting 3 points.

      Monday, October 6, 2008

      Weekend Roundup 10/4-10/5

      Yeah, I know I missed next week. I promise that I won't miss another Weekend Roundup as long as I'm being paid to do this. ;)

      Colorado Rapids - My game review is here. With the loss the Rapids fall into a tie with Dallas for 4rd in the West, the last playoff spot. Based on the head-to-head results with Dallas the Rapids would be the final playoff team. They can finish at best 2nd, and they are 5 points out of that spot. The Rapids are tied with Houston for the 5th best offense and they have the 11th best defense.

      Queen of the South - QoS was riding high coming into this match at home facing one of the top teams in the division. It was a real test of how good Queens really is this year and the team responded better than anyone expected. After 12 minutes the Doonhamers had a 2 goal lead, and went into the break up 3-1. In the second half QoS just poured on the gas and were up 4-1 when Livingston was reduced to 10 men. After that the Dumfries gang didn't let up and finished with an astounding 6-1 win. With the result Queen of the South has risen to the top of the table after the first trip (of four) through the league. They are tied with Livingston but claim the top spot on goal differential.

      Blackburn Rovers - The Rovers hosted every one's favorite team to hate, Manchester United. In one of the wetter days I've seen Blackburn couldn't stand up to the Red Devils. ManU got another one of those "lucky" non-calls on the first goal, as Brown was clearly impeded in making a save by Vidic, but there was no foul called. The second ManU goal was a class strike by Wayne Rooney, probably a goal of the week nominee. Not much you can do when great players make great plays. With the loss Blackburn falls back to 10th in the table, 7 points behind Chelsea and Liverpool sitting on top.

      CD Tenerife - CDT continued their good run of form at home, remaining undefeated in the Estadio Heliodoro Rodriguez Lopez. Even going down a man they were able to play defense and preserve their 3-1 lead. The win put Tenerife in the promotion zone after 6 games, 2 points off the lead.

      Kildare County FC - Unfortunately its more of the same for County as they dropped another game at home. Kidare found themselves down 2 after only 21 minutes and things really never improved from there. They pulled one back in the 79th minute but it was too little too late as they lost to the team above them in the table. With the loss the Thoroughbreds are 3 points adrift at the bottom of the table with 6 games to play.

      Sunday, October 5, 2008

      Rapids Burp(o) up all over the Dick

      Image Credit: Mike Murphy, ASN

      Yuck. The worst combination of poor Rapids play and poor officiating that I can remember. Just a disaster of a game on all fronts. Instead of a blow-by-blow review of that junk, I'll just hit the highlights.

      Houston Goal #1: Journeyman keeper Preston Burpo apparently thought he was playing for yet another MLS team and played a perfect pass to Dynamo Brian Ching, who took the assist gladly for a 1-0 lead inside 2 minutes.

      Rapids Goal: One significant improvement under Smith has been the Rapids on corner kicks. In this case Cookie's kick bounced around in the box and fell to Casey who finished it for his 4th goal in 2 games.

      Houston Goal #2: Gibbs committed a needless foul right outside the box. On the ensuing free kick Brian Ching (Brian Ching!!!) was left unmarked and Burpo came out to get the ball and didn't get there. Ching made an easy goal hard, heading it off the crossbar and the rebound bounced off of him a second time before entering the goal.

      Houston Goal #3: A defensive breakdown allowed Brian Ching to play a ball back to Ricard Clark, who fired it low from outside the area and beat Burpo near post.

      Casey's yellow cards: The first was legit, the second was weak at best. Both were for going up for headers and leading with the elbows, but on the second Robinson came flying into Casey's elbow on a ball he had no shot of getting. There should have been no call, much less no foul, but since elbows are a focus of the USSF this year everything close is going to go against the elbower.

      Penalty Kicks: The Houston one was weak, but a PK. The Dynamo player embellished to get the call but there was contact that affected his ability to get to the ball. Burpo did a great job making the save, about the only solid thing he did all night. The Rapids PK was a clear handball, but I have no idea how Cooke completely missed on it.

      Keys to the Game review:

      • Houston likes to play through balls to get Ching back behind the defense. How quick is Burpo in coming off his line to stop those type of opportunities?
        Nope, not really. Of course by the time it became an issue the Rapids were already down 3-1 and Houston had stopped attacking.
      • Maybe its just me, but I'd almost like to see a couple of Pablo, LaBrocca, and Clark pick up a yellow. They're all sitting one yellow from suspension, and out of the 3 games after this one the easiest is probably next week in LA. I'd hate to see them all gone for the Chivas or FSL game.
        What I did not want to see was Casey picking up 2 cards. Now we're looking at an LA game with neither Casey (suspension) or Cummings (Nats) so its probably good the other three didn't get yellows this week.
      • Casey and Cummings teamed up very well last week, the best partnership of the season. Can they continue to feed off of each other?.
        No connection at all. Cummings regressed from his high last week..
      • Can Gibbs bounce back from a poor showing last week?
        Well he didn't make the disastrous backpass he did last week, but he didn't play particularly well either.
      • [benstein]Gomez? Anyone, anyone?[/benstein]
        Nope (More below).

      Critical Matchup: Casey and Cummings vs. Houston's d-line
      - One pinball style goal and one PK very very late is all the Houston defense really allowed us.

      Fact of the Match: The last time the Rapids have given up 7 goals in back-to-back competitive matches was Sept. 18th and 25th, 2004. 6 goals to New England and 1 to Kansas City.

      Random Observations:

    • Burpo will start next week because Bouna will be playing for Senegal, but there's no excuse for Bouna not getting the start for the final two games. Burpo is awful.

    • Christian Gomez is done as a Rapid. If this isn't the game to use him is, there is no game to use him in.

    • The officiating was haphazard, at best, all night. A crunching tackle would go uncalled, but the whiff of a touch would draw a whistle. Eddie Robinson was about to get beat by Omar and fell down to play the ball with his arm. Happened right in front of Class VI, no call.

    • Down 3-1 Cooke played the same kind of backpass that Gibbs played last week. Apparently Burpo was expecting it this time and managed to prevent a goal, barely. Then Cooke whiffed on the PK.

    • First sub down 3-1 and a man in the second half is Ihemelu for Petke. Really? That's the best you could do Smith?

    • The team is going to have to figure out what went wrong quickly, because they can't afford any more losses.

    • Man of the Match: Colin Clark - The only player out there not to do something completely stupid at some point.

      Friday, October 3, 2008

      Rapids Hoping to Crush Houston

      The Rapids host the Dynamo in their next-to-last home game of the season tomorrow night at the Dick. Kickoff is at 7pm, tailgating starts at 5.

      Here's the injury report:

      OUT: GK Justin Hughes (R shoulder); DOUBTFUL: FW Tom McManus (L knee)

      DISCIPLINE: Suspended after 1 more yellow card - Pablo Mastroeni, Colin Clark, Nick LaBrocca

      My lineup prediction:

      Kimura - Gibbs - Petke - Harvey
      Cooke - Pablo - Ballouchy - Clark
      Casey - Cummings

      Smith has been pretty consistent about his lineups and its been working, so I see no reason to expect saignificant changes. The Denver Post mentions that Cooke will return to the starting lineup in place of LaBrocca, so I'm guessing Ballouchy gets rewarded for his play last week with a start at attacking mid. I'd still prefer to see Bouna Time! over Burpo though. ;)

      Critical Matchup: Casey and Cummings vs. Houston's d-line

      Houston has one of the better goalkeepers and stronger defenses in the league. They are second in goals against. While the Rapids have been showing some offensive firepower lately this will be a real test for the forwards.

      Keys To Look For:

      • Houston likes to play through balls to get Ching back behind the defense. How quick is Burpo in coming off his line to stop those type of opportunities?

      • Maybe its just me, but I'd almost like to see a couple of Pablo, LaBrocca, and Clark pick up a yellow. They're all sitting one yellow from suspension, and out of the 3 games after this one the easiest is probably next week in LA. I'd hate to see them all gone for the Chivas or FSL game.

      • Casey and Cummings teamed up very well last week, the best partnership of the season. Can they continue to feed off of each other?.

      • Can Gibbs bounce back from a poor showing last week?

      • [benstein]Gomez? Anyone, anyone?[/benstein]

      Prediction: 1-1 draw. Between Ching and DeRo I think Houston has one goal in them, and their defense is good enough to keep us from racking up goals. This one feels like a solid draw.

      Thursday, October 2, 2008

      Why Kildare County?

      Another, and for now the last, in my occasional series of posts about why I follow the teams I do. I've done previous posts about the Colorado Rapids, Queen of the South, Blackburn Rovers, Ebbsfleet United, and CD Tenerife. This time around we'll look at Kildare County FC of the Irish First Division.

      So a random team from the second-tier of Irish football located in south-central Ireland is probably an odd choice for an American living in Denver. In this case though its the closest thing I have to rooting for a "local" European team.

      My family tree, through the Maxwell name, stretches back from Seattle (where I was born) to the Dakotas, Midwestern Canada, and finally back to Port Laoise, Ireland. My great, great, great, great grandfather, Col. John Maxwell, was born there to Dr. John and Penelope Maxwell in 1775 or 1776. He joined the British Marines and served in the Caribbean before emigrating to Canada after leaving the service. Our genealogy research on the Maxwell line stops with Dr. John Maxwell.

      Once I determined where in Europe I came from I naturally started looking for the closest professional football team and I found Kildare County. Station Road is about 45 kilometers from Port Laoise and is the closest club in either the Irish Premier or First Divisions. Thus they became another one of the teams I follow.

      Honestly in my list of teams they are the squad I'm least passionate about. That's mainly because the Irish First Division is barely a full-time league and the coverage reflects that. That makes it hard to really get excited about the team. I'm still rooting for them to avoid relegation, not only because I root for them to do well, but also because if they drop down into the lower levels of Irish football following them from here will be pretty much impossible.

      Wednesday, October 1, 2008

      Rapids 2009

      The credit for this topic goes to Dan, who suggested I take a look at what kind of salary room the Rapids are likely to have next year

      While not dismissing our playoff chances I wanted to take a look at the rapids salary situation next year. Colorado looks like it will have some real room to play with, given the likelihood of players leaving or being moved. This all has to be taken with a caveat though, namely the coaching situation. What Gary Smith is doing now may not be what he, or another coach, wants to do in the long-term. Right now Smith is the leading candidate for the job though, so let's assume he's going to continue using the team as he's currently using them.

      Minutes under Smith in the 6 games since he was officially named interim coach:

      As you can see, a pretty established starting 11 has appeared:
      Kimura - Petke - Gibbs - Harvey
      Cooke - LaBrocca - Clark
      Casey - Cummings

      McManus and Ballouchy have been the super subs off the bench, while Erpen and DiRaimondo have gotten some limited playing time as subs. Everyone else on the list has either gotten limited playing time, or had run outs as starters and lost their starting places.

      That gives us a pretty good core of players to start analyzing our salary cap for 2009, If we use the 2008 Salary Cap info we can figure out how much is likely to free up. Herculez Gomez is still on that list, but Cory Gibbs is not. Odds are Gibbs is making more than Herculez, but we'll call it a wash for now.

      Here's a list of the unused "first-teamers" and their salaries:
      Burciaga Jose D $ 80,000.00
      Coundoul Bouna GK $ 33,000.00
      Erpen Facundo D $ 125,000.00
      Gomez Christian M $ 385,000.00
      Ihemelu Ugo D $ 60,500.00
      Peterson Jacob F $ 75,000.00

      That's a bit over $750,000 in first-team salary that we aren't using. I expect Burciaga, Erpen, Peterson, and maybe Ihemelu will be exposed in the expansion draft and then cut or traded. I could see keeping Ihemelu and/or Peterson for depth, but they'll really have to work to earn their spot under the new coach. Bouna Time! is out of contract I think, and unless Smith is really :riding the hot hand" in Burpo it seems like he's going to look elsewhere for keeping. We may trade his rights to another MLS team or he may go to another league. Christian Gomez is the big question mark. Smith isn't using him, at times subbing in Ballouchy or Dalby into the central midfield instead of Gomez. To me that says that Gomez isn't in his plans. However we just signed him to a new contract that's going to make him hard to trade. We probably will either keep him and not use him, or trade him and eat part of his salary.

      Who else might we see gone next year?

      Pablo is out of contract and has repeatedly talked about going to Europe. Rumors are that he already has offers from Spain but he's holding out for a team in Serie A. One way or another, there's a good chance he's gone.

      Mastroeni Pablo M-D $ 300,000.00

      Most players who come to MLS get 2 year contracts with option years held by the team/league. If that was the case with Conor Casey, his guaranteed contract is up this year. I expect the Rapids will keep him, but try to re-sign him at a lower rate instead of picking up the option. As good as his play has been the last couple of games, he has yet to produce like a 200K forward.

      Casey Conor F $ 190,008.00

      Everyone else is pretty much either established themselves as a regular player, or is making under 50K. We'll see some churn in the reserves and fringe first-teamers, but nothing to really free up salary cap. That leaves us with a best/worst case scenario

      Worst Case - We keep Gomez, we keep Casey at current salary, and we can't find a taker for Burciaga

      600K freed up

      Best Case - We trade Gomez and only have to eat about 100K of salary, we sign Casey for 140K, and the extra odds and ends are all traded or cut

      Little over 1 million freed up

      So we're looking at somewhere between 25% and 40% of the current cap number being freed up for use next year. Not only that, but the only regular starter we have to replace with that money would be Pablo. That gives us a good deal of room to look for improvements instead of filling holes.