Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Weekend Roundup 4/25 - 4/26

Colorado Rapids - Giving away 2 points against LA has sent the Rapids further down the table. They are now 4th in the West and tied with New England for 8th overall in the league. They are 8th in goals scored and tied with KC and DC for 6th in goals against.

Queen of the South
- QoS hosted relegation candidates Cylde over the weekend and showed the difference between a solid 1st Division team and a soon-to-be-2nd Division team as they played them off the park. At halftime the score was a reasonable 3-1 in the Doonhamers favor, but the second half was all Queens as they went on a scoring rampage, ending the game with a 7-1 win. Stephen Dobbs had 4 of the 7 goals in a MOTM performance. With the win Queen of the South clinches their position in the 1st Division next year. With 2 games to play QoS is in 5th place, and they can finish anywhere from 3rd to 8th place.

Blackburn Rovers - Blackburn hosted Wigan in what was essentially a must win game for the Rovers if they are to stay in the EPL next season. After a first half where they had a majority of play they finally edged into the lead just before the halftime whistle as Benni McCarthy sent a no-look header into the back of the net. Wigan pushed back in the second half though, and it wasn't until former MLS'er Ryan Nelsen got his first ever Blackburn goal in the 60th minute that Rovers felt like they had a handle on the game. Nelsen was playing his 140th game for the club, and his first goal couldn't have come at a better time. With the 2-0 win Blackburn has established a 6 point cushion between them and the relegation zone with only 4 games to play. They can't lock up an EPL spot for next year this coming weekend, but two weeks from now, hosting Portsmouth, might see Rovers safe. Mathematically they can still finish anywhere form 7th to 20th.

CD Tenerife - It was derby day in the Canary Islands as Las Palmas came over from Gran Canaria to face CDT. The first half was tilted in favor of the visitors but the Tenerife defense stood firm and went to the locker rooms scoreless. The second half was all the home team as they scored early and late to take a 2-0 win. With the victory Tenerife stays on the heels of Xerez for the top spot in the division, just 1 point back. Other results went their way as well, and they have a 5 point cushion in their promotion spot with 8 games to play. Next week is a big road match against 3rd place Real Zaragoza, a win in that match would go a long ways towards clinching promotion. CDT could finish as low as 14th.

Kildare County - County was facing 11th placed Monaghan United on the road. A win in this match would get Kildare out of the relegation zone, even after their 22-0 5 game losing streak. For the first time in 6 games the Thoroughbreds scored! They lost the game 5-1 though, falling even further behind in the relegation race. Not surprisingly after 1 point in 8 games and a 6 game run where they were outscored 27-1 they've fired their manager. i think its already too little too late for this season, but we'll see.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sitting On One Goal Leads

Gary Smith has been in charge, officially, for 17 games going back to last season. He also ran the team (though reportedly did not pick the starting lineup) for Clavijo's final game "in charge" while Clavijo was in Uruguay tending to his family emergency. In those 18 games I've noticed a troubling trend of the Rapids being happy to sit on a 1 goal lead instead of trying to drive the nail in the coffin by extending our advantage. Its happened enough now that I don't think its bad luck, I think this is a strategic decision by Gary Smith, and its not working.

To test this hypothesis I went back through the 18 games the Gary Smith was running the team and looked a the numbers. Here's a list of what's happened:

The first thing that stands out is the fact that the Rapids have only had more than a 1 goal lead under Gary Smith once, against the Fire at home last year. Other than that the best the Rapids have done has been 1 goal leads, which they've held 18 times in 18 games (Including the Fire game). 11 times, or 61%, they've been unable to hold the lead and allowed the opposition to score the next goal. Out of the 6 times we've won one goal games only once did we score first and hang on for a 1-0 win, the other times we've either had to come from behind or we allowed the opposition to level the game and then we scored late to get the win.

The particularly striking number is how many minutes we've been able to hold the lead in our 1 goal wins. On average its only 15 minutes, with a high of 33 minutes against KC in Smith's first game running the team. We've also held the lead for 30, 8, 6, 5, and 0 minutes (stoppage time winner) in getting the win. The 30 minute lead was that 1-0 in Dallas, Smith's second win as coach. Meanwhile when we lose the 1 goal lead we only hold it for 24 minutes, and in only 4 cases did we hold the lead for less than 15 minutes.

For comparison's sake I looked at what we did under Clavijo for the first 19 games of 2008:

Anyone who's read this blog knows that I think Clavijo was outmatched in MLS and should have been fired before the 2008 season even started. That said, he had a better record in 1 goal games than Gary Smith does, with essentially the same team. Not only were Clavijo's Rapids more likely to hold the lead, they also increased the lead far more often than Smith's Rapids do. Don't take this as a call to bring back Clavijo or anything, but its an example of the weakness in Smith's strategy.

What this shows me is that Gary Smith wants the Rapids want to sit on a 1-goal lead but are unable to unless its in the final 15 minutes of the game. The Rapids best three stints when having a 1 goal lead were right after Smith took over, in his first three wins, and since then the team has been less and less successful. We've seen evidence of that this year against LA (twice), KC, and Chivas. In all these the Rapids took a one goal lead early but were unable to hold it. The two games they won they scored late to take the lead again and didn't give the opposition time to break down our defense to tie the game. We can see that the more that Gary Smith puts his stamp on the team, the more were trending towards not being able to hold 1 goal leads.

The Rapids and Gary Smith need to realize that their defense is not good enough to protect an 1 goal lead in the first half or early second half and they need to keep pressing for another goal. The offense can't take its foot off the gas until the final 15 minutes at the earliest. Anything less than that just allows teams to get back into the game, as we saw against LA on Saturday night.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rapids Take Foot Off Gas, Give Away 2 Points

The Rapids came home to a cold night, a large field, and die-hard fans, all factors that should have helped them to a win. Instead they settled for a 1-0 lead, PrimaDonnavan made them pay, and the Rapids ended the night snatch a draw from a game they should have won.

Terry Cooke got his first start of the season, but otherwise it was the same group that faced Houston. Unfortunately the team played much the same way as they did against Houston and Columbus. The team was disorganized in the back, non-existent for stretches in the midfield, and not dangerous enough up front. As you can expect, this led to some pretty ugly soccer for the home fans to watch.

Thins weren't as bad as the Houston game though. The combination of Cooke and Clark on the wings made for a more cohesive midfield that was able to maintain some possession and make some decent passes. After a first half where LA outshot the Rapids in the second half Colorado turned up the pressure and took control in the early going. In the 60th minute Cummings made a good run through the midfield and fed Clark at the top of the box. Colin took a couple of touches, pushed the ball to his left, and placed in inside the far post to give the Rapids the lead.

In the 72 minute Casey and Cummings played a nice 1-2 combination that had Cummings free on goal. LA defender Tood Dunivant made a desperate lunge to push the ball away from Omar and to the keeper. Center official Alex Prus called Dunivant for the foul and showed him the red card. LA's players pleaded with the official to consult with the Assistant Referee on that side of the field and Prus agreed. After a consultation he re-started play with a drop ball to the keeper and Dunivant was allowed to stay on the field.

LA took full advantage of the second chance. 8 minutes later A ball over the top was tapped back to the keeper by Ihemelu instead of clearing it. The kick wasn't strong enough and Ugo was shouldered off the ball by Edson Buddle, giving him a 1v1 on goal. Burpo came up with the big save but Klein collected the rebound and sent a shot towards goal. Ihemelu, compounding his mistake, allowed Donovan a free run at goal and he redirected Klein's shot into the net for LA's first ever goal at the Dick. After that LA sat back, defended the draw, and got out of town with one point.

My key to the game was home dominance, and we didn't have it. On a night where Colorado had every advantage favoring the type of game they should expect to play, they didn't capitalize. The Rapids should have run LA up and down the field with basic possession and passing, but instead they were happy to sit back and try to counter-attack for the win at home. LA is the worst team in MLS, and we weren't able to drop the hammer on them at home. This doesn't bode well for the rest of the home season.

Other Observations:
  • Watching the replay on the red card Prus got the call right, eventually. The way he did it was a debacle. Showing the red card first and then appearing to be influenced by the players means he had no ability to control the game after that point. I'm happy the right call was made, but I expect MLS refs to do better than that.
  • Kimura got knocked out, literally, in the first half as Burpo came out and punched a ball away. Reports are that he's doing much better today, but it was a scary moment.
  • LaBrocca was forced to play right back for the first time after the Kimura injury, and did a good job of it. Its good to know that possibility exists.
  • Once again under Gary Smith we got a 1-goal lead, sat on it, and paid for it. Look for more on this in a separate post tomorrow
  • Burpo is starting to make me a believer, he's been impressive in this stint in goal.
  • Harvey had a solid game on the left. He did leave Klein open on the LA goal, but that was such a botched play by the central defense that I can't blame him for pinching in to cover.
  • While Palguta wasn't directly to blame on the goal he was nowhere to be seen at the time. Again, he expected Ugo to clear it but he should have followed up Donovan until he knew Ugo was back in the play.
  • Cummings floated in and out of this game. When he was playing he looked good, but he was invisible for long stretches.
  • Black Hole Ballouchy again. Not only that but his free kicks sucked. His corner kicks meandered to nobody and his free kicks went nowhere.
  • Mascots suck! Marco van Bison decided to stand on the rail of 108 and block the view as the Rapids were pushing for a winning goal in stoppage time. Then Franz the Fox decided to steal a ball after it went out of play with 30 seconds left and the Rapids were trying to quickly get a ball to get it back into play.
  • The Rapids stoppage time play was horrible. They spend half the stoppage time kicking the ball around the back, and when they had one last chance nobody was moving to allow Clark to get a throw-in into play. No urgency at all.
Player of the Game: Colin Clark. Got the goal, and made Ricketts make another couple of big saves, including one late after the score was tied. I considered both Harvey and Burpo for this as well. The rest of the team? Not so much.

Friday, April 24, 2009

This Feels Like a Broken Record

The Rapids finally return home tomorrow night to take on, stop me if you've heard this before, the LA Galaxy. Yeah, our 3rd matchup in 5 games against the retirees from LA-LA land. At least after this we won;t have to think about them any more unless somehow they manage to make the playoffs and draw us. Kickoff at the Dick is at 7:30 MDT. Altitude will also be broadcasting the game for those who can't make it.

Injury Report:
DOUBTFUL: DF Ty Harden (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: MF Jacob Peterson (L groin), DF Cory Gibbs (R groin); PROBABLE: DF Ivan Guerrero (R ankle sprain), FW Omar Cummings (L ankle contusion)

Official Discipline Report:

We're still looking beat up on the back line so we have to hope Palguta has learned from his encounters with GBS and Ching. My prediction:

Kimura - Ihemelu - Palguta - Harvey
LaBrocca - Black Hole - Clark
Cummings - Casey

I'm betting that Smith doesn't rock the boat too much from the team that got some good results on the road trip. This means sticking with the keeper with the hot hands and the LaBrocca/Black Hole combo in midfield. Personally I'd like to see Pickens and Cooke in the starting 11, but I don't see that happening.

Key To Look For:

Home Dominance.
If we're ever going to be a contender in MLS we need to own our home field. We have the biggest natural advantage in the league with the altitude, but since we moved into the Dick we've been mediocre at best at home. There should be no reason for a team like LA to ever appear to be in this game while playing in Colorado. We should win this game and we should play like we expect to always win at home.

Prediction: 2-1 win, goals by Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. Our defense doesn't have a shut out yet this season, and I don't think they get it against a team with PrimaDonnavan on the field. Casey will keep up his scoring ways against LA, and while they're distracted trying to contain him Cummings will slip by to score as well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Weekend Roundup 4/18 - 4/19

Colorado Rapids - With 1 point over the last two weeks the Rapids have fallen back to the pack. They are 3rd in the West and 5th overall, 6 points behind Chivas USA. They have played more road games than any other team, and only New England joins Colorado with only 1 home game so far. The Rapids are tied with Toronto, Seattle, and San Jose for 4th in goals scored and tied with Chicago and KC for 9th in goals allowed.

Queen of the South
- QoS has put on a small run in the last two weeks, beating the top two teams in the division in successive weeks on the road. With these results the Doonhamers have almost guaranteed their safety in the first division for 2009/10, having a 7 point cushion with 3 games remaining. A win next week or Airdrie and Clyde both failing to win will see them safe. They are mathematically out of the promotion race but with the results of the last two weeks and the way the first quarter of the season went, us fans are left wondering what might have been if it weren't for the massive injuries before the holidays. Their best possible finish is 2nd.

Blackburn Rovers - Blackburn have come crashing down over the last two weeks. First they travelled to Liverpool and Sam Allardyce made the strategic decision to conserve the squad for more winnable games. Rovers looked like they were playing their reserves and lost 4-0. Last weekend they were at Stoke City to see if the gamble paid off. It didn't. After a forgetful game Stoke City scored late to take the 3 points and leave Blackburn teetering on the edge of the relegation zone. They have a 3 point cushion with 5 games to play. The good news is that they have 3 home games against teams in the bottom half of the table to go with 2 road games against top half teams. Win the home games and they should be safe. Stumble on familiar territory and they'll probably need an upset away from home. The best finish they can hope for is 7th.

CD Tenerife - CDT has had a good run in the last two weeks against a pair of promotion contenders. First they hosted Levante and played them of the park, winning 5-1. Then they travelled to Sociedad and Nino got a second half brace to take a 2-1 victory home. Promotion rivals Xerez and Hercules have kept pace though and the standings haven't changed. CDT is in 2nd, one point behind the leaders Xerez and with a 3 point cushion in the promotion race. With 9 games to play there's a 5 team race for the three promotion spots with 5 points separating Xerez and Real Zargoza in 5th (Rayo Vallecano is the 5th team in the race). There's a 6 point gap between 5th and 6th. Based on this weekend's results Tenerife is safe from relegation with their worst possible finish being 18th. CDT has road games against Hercules and Zargosa, and hosts Xerez with 3 games left to play.

Kildare County - The Thoroughbreds are on what appears to be a historically bad run of form. Over the last 5 weeks they have lost all 5 games by a combined total of 26-0. I have never seen a team play that badly over that long of a stretch. It doesn't matter if the team is at home or on the road, they can't score and they can't stop the opposition. Amazingly even with only 1 point in their first 7 games they are only 1 point from safety. Of course getting to safety would require County to score some goals.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Houston, We Have A Problem

I was going to recap this game like I do every week, even though I wasn't really looking forward to it. Then I read DavidJames recap and he said everything I was going to say, so I'll just give him the hits and wait here until you're done.

Back? OK, some added comments.

My key to the game was the field conditions. They weren't as bad as I feared since apparently the U. of Houston spring football game the day before was called off after 10 minutes due to a waterlogged field. Still the ball did not roll particularly smoothly out there and didn't make life any easier. I can't blame the pitch for the Rapids play though.

Other Observations:
  • We're now on the third straight week of a black hole midfield. The insertion of Terry Cooke near the end gave some shape but too little too late. Was Colin Clark even on the pitch?I understand saying with the hot hand at keeper, and Burpo certainly didn't do anything wrong this game, but I feel like sooner or later he's going to burn us. Better to get Pickens back in ASAP.
  • Palguta has played in two MLS games and been beaten by Schelotto and Ching. Welcome to the big leagues son, learn quickly or get out.
  • Beautiful run by Casey only to be beat a few seconds later by two beautiful saves by Onstad
  • Cummings was somewhat lucky not to see a red when he kicked Onstad. I don't think it was intentional and the ball was there to be played, but it wasn't pretty.
  • Of course that was the most notable thing Cummings did all day.
  • The team wasn't working for each other, outside of Casey. No movement off the ball, and no attempt to pick people out with passes, just crosses to nowhere.
  • At the end of our tough 5 game start to the season we have 4 points from 4 road games and 3 points from 1 home game. That's pretty good, I'd be very happy if we could keep that up. The way we're playing though, I don't see that happening.
Player of the Game: Conor Casey, for the second straight week. His run was 15 seconds of enjoyable soccer in 90 minutes of ugliness.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rapids Hoping to Crush the Orange

The Rapids are in Houston for their first Sunday game of the season. They have a 4 game undefeated streak on the line (If you count the USOC game) as they finish their longest road trip of the year. The game is at 1pm MDT and will be televised on Telefutura nationally and on Universal Sports in the Denver market (in English). AS always the supporter's groups will be gathering at the British Bulldog downtown.

Official Injury Report:
DOUBTFUL: MF Jacob Peterson (L groin); DF Ty Harden (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: DF Cory Gibbs (R groin); PROBABLE: MF Terry Cooke (L groin); DF Ivan Guerrero (R ankle sprain)

Official Discipline Report:

Houston is missing Eddie Robinson to injury and Mike Chabala to suspension. The Rapids are hurting and that makes the lineup a bit tricky. My guess:

Kimura - Ihemelu - Palguta - Harvey
LaBrocca - Ballouchy - Clark
Cummings - Casey

The odd thing is that Pickens isn't on the injury report but the official matchup page doesn't show him starting or on the bench. Historically the matchup page hasn't been real accurate though, so I'm going with the thought that they copy/pasted last week's guess into this week.

Key To Look For:

Field Condition. The U of Houston hasn't been doing a good job of taking care of the field for the Dynamo, apparently they aren't happy with some of the deals the Dynamo are making to get into their own SSS. On top of that its expected to rain tonight and tomorrow, and tomorrow is the U. of Houston's spring football game. Expect a pretty chewed up field on Sunday, which could cause a number of crazy bounces.

Prediction: 2-1 loss, goal by Omar Cummings. The Rapids have been historically bad in Houston, and the Dynamo have to turn things around eventually. I expect the teams to play pretty even but Houston will get a lucky home bounce off the torn up field to score the winner. This is one week I won't mind being wrong. ;)

Rapids Finalize TV Schedule

The Rapids announced a deal with KUSA, the local NBC affiliate, to broadcast the remaining Rapids games not being covered by Altitude. The games will be broadcast on Universal Sports in the Denver market, which is channel 9.3 over the air and channel 250 on Comcast. The deal also includes English-language broadcasts for the Rapids two Telefutura games this season (both against Houston) starting with this Sunday's game at the Dynamo. The 4 games covered by Universal Sports will be:
  • April 19th at Houston (also on Telefutura)
  • June 28th at Seattle
  • August 30th against Houston (also on Telefutura)
  • September 12th at Toronto
Good job by the Rapids FO getting a deal done!

Julian Baudet to the Rapids?

Sorry, work and a dentist appt. kept me from many updates this week. No Weekend Roundup (It was a bad week for Blackburn anyway), but a game preview will be up tonight.

Well it appears that the rumors from last month are true. The BBC is reporting that Crewe captain central defender Julian Baudet has signed with the Rapids. Since the transfer window closed on Wednesday I'm guessing that he won't join the team until the transfer window this summer. At the Supporter's Kick Off party Assistant Coach Steve Guppy mentioned that he had to get up early the next morning to call a player in England about a deal, I'm guessing that ti was Baudet.

We'll have to see how much he's getting paid and is we're using an allocation on him or not before I can really judge this move, but my first instinct is that this might be overkill for a position we're pretty deep at. Gibbs, Ihemelu, Harden, Palguta, Pablo, and Dalby can all play center back at an MLS level, so adding one more really doesn't help us much while other positions (like attacking midfielder) are still a black hole.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Call the Cops, Rapids Steal a Point from the Village People!

Much like last week, Conor Casey had the good moment in 90 minutes of bad soccer. this time though the Rapids had a decent excuse for playing poorly, and Casey only had one good moment instead of three.

Columbus out-played Colorado up and down the pitch for the first 45 to 60 minutes of the game. The Rapids were lucky to get any looks at goal, and had 1 shot on goal int eh first half. Meanwhile Columbus was dangerous on numerous occasions and Burpo was saved by the crossbar on one occasion. The defense wasn't helped by Harden picking up a hamstring injury in the 8th minute, necessitating Palguta seeing the first MLS play in his career in coming in to take his place. Eventually the defense broke though, as Ekpo beat Ihemelu and crossed the ball back for an unmarked Schelotto who had an open net and an easy goal. Palguta was in no-man's land on the play instead of marking up GBS.

Columbus would continue to attack the goal in the second half but couldn't convert their chances. Burpo came up big with a couple of saves and kept the game within reach. In the 82nd minute Pablo was able to chip a ball through the Crew defense and Casey ran onto it. He pushed it past a sliding O'Rourke and slotted it past an oncoming Hesmer to level the score. After that Casey was removed in favor of Dalby as Colorado battened down the hatches to try to preserve the point. Columbus wouldn't say die though and they had two great headers in the dying minutes, both of which went just over the crossbar. The Rapids were lucky to escape town with a stolen point, but after the long USOC game in mid-week and the extra travel, nobody is complaining.

My key to the game was Pablo vs. Schelotto and GBS won the battle. He was dangerous on numerous occasions, hitting the crossbar from a free kick and scoring the goal. Pablo wasn't responsible on the goal, but he wasn't his normal dominate self either. That said he did get the assist on the game tying goal, only his second since 2003, so he made up for it. ;)

Other Observations:
  • For the second week in a row the midfield was a black hole. Clark has the excuse of having already played 210 minutes this week, but everyone else just didn't show up. We have two more games before the bye week, and if Ballouchy hasn't improved by then it will be time for a change.
  • I was surprised to see Harden starting on the back line and Ihemelu pushed out to take Kimura's spot. While Kosuke hasn't had a great start to the season I though it was a bit early to make the change. I was even more surprised that when Harden was injured it wasn't Kosuke coming in, instead it was the MLS rookie Palguta.
  • Casey, 4 goals in 2 games and leading the league. Impressive, hopefully he can keep it up.
  • Conor is also second in fouls suffered in the league, but its not stopping him.
  • I'm concerned that a suspension might be forthcoming for Casey. There was an unintentional elbow to the face of a Crew back that wasn't called, but its the type of ply MLS likes to go back and review.
  • Gibbs has picked up 3 yellows in 4 games. You like aggression from your center backs but he might want to ease up a bit.
  • Full credit to Burpo. Its no secret that I'm not a fan but he's gotten the job done this week.
  • It would be nice to get a shutout in a league game eventually...
  • For the first time this season I predicted the result and the score correctly!
Player of the Game: Conor Casey. Nobody had a great game yesterday, and I considered both Burpo and Harvey, but Casey isn't out there to hold possession in the midfield or to shut down the Crew offense. He's out there to score goals and that's what he did.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Tomorrow night the Rapids take their 2 game win streak (3 if you include the USOC) into Columbus to take on the MLS Cup holders. Game time is 5:30pm MDT and the game is televised on Altitude 2 (Channel 5 on Comcast). The supporters groups, as always, will be gathering at the British Bulldog,

Official Injury Report:
PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens (back spasms); MF Terry Cooke (L thigh strain); DF Ivan Guerrero (R ankle sprain)

Its also been reported that Cooke is out with a groin injury and Ivan Guerrero is very unlikely to play. The Crew are going to be missing up to 5 starters due to injury, so the player availability favors the Rapids. Given that I' guessing our lineup will be:

Kimura - Ihemelu - Gibbs - Harvey
LaBrocca - Ballouchy - Clark
Cummings - Casey

In this group only Clark played more than 75 minutes in the USOC game Tuesday night, and Clark's backup is most likely Guerrero who along with being injured also played 20 minutes on Tuesday. Backups for the three players listed as Probable would probably be Burpo/Pickens, Harden/Gibbs, and Peterson/Casey.

Key To Look For:

Pablo vs. Schelotto. GBS is the reigning league MVP and the Crew are built around him. Shutting him down is going to be critical to stopping the undermanned Crew. Pablo is one of the best destroyers in the league and he'll need to step up and control this game. Luckily Pablo did not play at all Tuesday night so he should be rested from his National Team duties over the last weeks.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Omar Cummings. If it weren't for the midweek USOC game I'd actually favor the Rapids to win this one. The delayed travel from that game and the less rest the Rapids got from it makes me think that they'll probably be happy to settle for a draw. We have yet to have a clean sheet in a league game, and with a player like GBS on the other side I don't think that will change this week.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Weekend Roundup 4/4 - 4/5

Colorado Rapids - Back to back wins over LA have the Rapids on a 3 game win streak and into the next qualification round for the USOC. They are 3rd in the West and 5th overall in MLS. Colorado is second in goals scored but they are in a 6 way tie for the 8th spot in goals allowed. Everyone is still chasing Seattle who is first or tied for first in all categories.

Queen of the South
- A rough week for QoS as they hosted Ross County. The LA defense apparently watched the Doonhamers for inspiration as Queens allowed 2 goals in the first 30 minutes in what should have been a winnable game. QoS battled back with a goal but Ross County's lead was too much to overcome. With the loss Queens stays in 8th, just 4 points out of the relegation playoff spot and 6 points from the automatic relegation spot with only 5 games to play.

Blackburn Rovers - Rovers hosted Spurs (a team I particularly dislike) at Ewood Park this week. Much like LA and QoS the Blackburn defense was beat early. A controversial PK put Spurs up int he first half and Tottenham looked to have control of the game. 75 minutes in and Rovers looked to be headed to a sure defeat. The game changed in a two minute span as Spurs' Wilson Palacios picked up two quick yellow cards to put Blackburn up a man Rovers took full advantage, scoring twice in the last 10 minutes to steal a vital 3 points. With the win they valued to 14th in the table, a full 5 points from the relegation zone with 7 games to play. Its too soon to breath easy, but at least they have a bit of a cushion.

CD Tenerife - CDT was at promotion rivals Rayo Vallecano (former home of American Nats keeper Kasey Keller) over the weekend. While playing strong the game was uneventful and ended in a scoreless draw. While the draw slows down the title chase a bit, getting a point on the road against a top team was a big step forward for the team;s promotion hopes. With other results over the weekend Tenerife slipped to 3rd on goal differential, one point behind leaders Xerez and safely int he promotion zone by 2 points. There are still 11 games to play though so the race is tight but with two straight home games CDT should be able to build on their current standing.

Kildare County - County went on the road but got the same result as their last trip, a 4-0 loss. They've lost their last 3 games by a combined score of 16-0. I expect we'll see the Thoroughbreds relegated this season unless dramatic changes are made, and quickly.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Different Day, Same Result

After 72 hours off the Rapids and Galaxy faced off again at the HDC, with the same result. The game itself was a bit different though. Neither side fielded a full-strength lineup, and both teams seemed to sit back for a while. Then int he 36th minute Greg Dalby was sent off for a dangerous tackle and the Rapids were playing a man down. As you can expect it was all hands to the braces as the Rapids weathered onslaught after onslaught from the LA offense. Colorado's defense held firm though and stopped the Galaxy at every opportunity.

Meanwhile on offense, well, there was no offense. After the red card the Rapids didn't have a shot on target until deep into the extra time, where they had two in quick succession. Colorado decided very quickly that the only way they were going to win this game was through penalty kicks and they were successful. In the shootout Cummings, Clark, Ballouchy, and Ihemelu stepped up and slotted their shots home, while Burpo came up huge with not one but twos stops to win the game for Colorado.

The Rapids move on to the final round of qualifying where they will face the winner of the Seattle - FSL game on the 28th. The date and location of the final qualifying game has yet to be determined.

Monday, April 6, 2009

LA vs. Colorado, Part Deux

The Rapids and Galaxy get to do it all over again. Tonight the Rapids face the Galaxy again at the Toolbox, this time in a U.S. Open Cup play-in game. The loser is out of the USOC, the winner gets to play the winner of the Seattle-FSL matchup, with the winner of that match getting into the USOC proper.

I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on a game preview. For one, you can read my preview for Saturday's game, things haven't changed much in 72 hours. secondly a game like this is always hard to analyze. Nobody knows how seriously Arena or Smith are going to take the USOC this year, and with players like Pablo and PrimaDonnavan having played 2-3 full games in the last 10 days you have to assume that they won't be playing very much tonight.

What its really going to come down to is desire. Which team, coming off a tight game 3 days ago and looking at a big game this weekend, wants it more. We're probably going to see a number of young players in the lineups, which will lead to mistakes, but one team is going to have the drive to win this game.

I think that team will be the Rapids. They are a stronger team than LA right now, and have less older players. I predict a 1 goal win, either 1-0 or 2-1.

UPDATE: The Rapids have told me there will be a Matchtracker for the game and there may be live updates at the Undercurrent. Kickoff is at 9pm MDT.

1,2,3 Goals You're Out!

Conor Casey had 3 bright moments in 90 minutes of bad soccer from both teams as the Rapids defeated the Galaxy 3-2 in LA on Saturday. The game started with the field tilted towards the LA goal as Ihemelu, Cummings, and Casey hooked up for the second fastest goal in MLS history as Casey slotted the ball home only 17 seconds into the match. The LA defense apparently didn't hear the opening whistle. After that the game bogged down in bad passes and wayward shots. The next shot on goal wouldn't come until the 37th minute as LA's Omar Gonzalez got away from Casey on a PrimaDonnavan corner kick and had an unmarked header past Burpo to level the score. The teams would spend another 8 minutes doing nothing before heading to the locker rooms at half.

La didn't take long to grab the lead in the second half. 3 minutes in the Rapids defense fell apart, letting Sean Franklin wander through the top of the box before a series of passes to PrimaDonnavan and Gordon left Gordon unmarked in front of an open goal. The lead lasted for only a minute as Cummings and Casey re-created their first goal to level the game at 2. The game shifted in the 59th minute as Dema Kovalenko uncorked a trademark Dema tackle on Ballouchy and saw a straight red for it. Suddenly LA took over the game (no that's not a typo), but couldn't manage to get a shot on net. Eventually the Rapids regained their balance, and made LA pay. In the 83rd minute Clark stripped Franklin in the defensive third and went racing down the left side. he then hit a wide open Casey who rounded the keeper and finished off his hat-trick to give the Rapids their first road win of the season.

My key to the game was organization, and the Rapids didn't have it. Luckily for Colorado, LA was even worse. The Bruce Arena I Love the 90's Nats Reunion Tour doesn't seem to be working for LA. The Rapids are going to get burned when we play a real MLS team if we don't figure out our defense soon.

Other Observations:
  • The teams combined for 5 shots on goal, 5 goals, and 0 saves. Could have played without the keepers!
  • With the exception of Clark's game-winning assist the midfield was completely absent from this game. I can't remember Ballouchy, Clark, or LaBrocca doing anything other than Clark's assist. Pablo was obviously not at full speed after his midweek game and was subbed in the 68th minute.
  • Cummings now has 2 goals and 2 assists on the season. He's stepping up his game, and we needed it.
  • Casey's hat-trick was the 5th in team history, and his second for the Rapids. He's the first Rapid to have 2 hat-tricks for the team.
  • Ihemelu had another strong game, he wasn't particularly to blame on either goal and blocked a number of LA attacks.
  • Burpo still worries me in goal.
Player of the Game: Conor Casey, duh.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rapids Back In LA

Tomorrow night the Rapids take on the 1990's U.S. Men's National Team Reunion Tour starring Greg Vanney, Jovan Kirovski, Landon Donovan, Eddie Lewis, and it was just announced that making his debut will be Gregg Berhalter! The team is produced by Assistant Coach Cobi Jones and directed by Head Coach Bruce Arena.

Yeah, that sounds like a joke, but I'm serious. Arena has signed all those players to the 2009 Galaxy squad. There's no local TV for this one, so your options are to battle the snowstorm and join the supporters groups at the British Bulldog, or purchase Direct Kick or Kickoff is at 8:30 MDT.

Injury Report:
OUT: GK Matt Pickens (back spasms); PROBABLE: FW Conor Casey (R foot strain), DF Cory Gibbs (R calf strain)

So we see our first real injury issue of 2009. No Pickens means we'll be relying on Burpo in the back. Anyone who saw the Burgundy & Blue game knows this could be a problem. Here's my predicted lineup:

Kimura - Ihemelu - Gibbs - Harvey
Cooke - Ballouchy - Clark
Cummings - Casey

I'm assuming that Gibbs and Casey will be able to start and that Smith saw what Cookie brought to the game last week. I wouldn't be shocked to see LaBrocca in Cooke's place though. If Gibbs can't go I assume we'll see Harden playing his old team, while Richardson would probably step in for an injured Casey.

Key To Look For:

We're going to have a new GK and possibly a new central defender. If we have any hope of winning this game staying disciplined and organized is going to be a requirement. I expect the Rapids will play some bunker ball, conserve energy, and be satisfied with a draw and hope a counter attack can steal a win. Pablo and PrimaDonnavan are both coming off their mid-week game for the Nats, so seeing which one recovers faster may be a key to this game as well. Since these two teams play 3 days later in a USOC play-in game I'm guessing Smith will want to conserve some resources to try to win that game.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Colin Clark. With the injuries, playing on the road, and a must win game 3 days later I'm guessing that the Rapids aren't going to over-extend themselves to win this one. Our defense hasn't put up a clean sheet yet though, and I don't see Burpo as helping that cause. I think we have 1 goal in us though, even playing conservatively.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Weekend Roundup 3/28 - 3/29

Since the blizzard of 2009 kept me from getting a Weekend Roundup last week I'll cover the last two weeks of games. Luckily last week was a FIFA International date so Blackburn and Queen of the South didn't play.

Colorado Rapids
- With their 1-0-1 start the Rapids find themselves right in the middle of the pack in MLS. They are tied with San Jose for 3rd int he West and 6th overall in the league. They are tied for the 8th best offense and defense. Seattle currently leads all categories after handling both RBNY and FSL with ease in their first two games (How's that Rob?).

Queen of the South
- Two Saturdays ago QoS hosted Livingston at Palmerston Park. Queens controlled the game from end to end, opening up a 2 goal lead, then taking a 3-1 lead with only 5 minutes to play. Somehow Livingston managed to score twice after the 88th minute though, including the final goal on a PK to escape out of Dumfries with a point. 2 points given away by Queens at a time where they need every point. Queen of the South is in 8th place, 5 points above the relegation playoff line with 6 games to play.

Blackburn Rovers - Rovers hosted West Ham United (former home of Rapids keeper Ian Feuer) at Ewood Park a week and a half ago. Blackburn continues their trend of giving up the first goal, this time conceding in the 35th minute. The game was end to end but Blackburn could capitalize until shortly after the break when they equalized off a Keith Andrews goal. Rovers would continue to push for the winning goal, but couldn't break through the stingy Hammers defense and they had to settle for the home draw. The 2 missed points may become vital by the end of the season. With 8 games to play Blackburn sits in 17th place, 2 points from the relegation zone and 1 point behind 3 other teams. There are only 7 points separating 12th from 19th place, so nobody in the bottom half is truly safe yet.

CD Tenerife - 2 weeks ago CDT travelled to Salamanca on the mainland where Nino grabbed a brace, one in each half, to lead Tenerife to a 2-1 road victory and continue their challenge on the Segunda Division title. Last weekend Tenerife played at home on Sunday, and leaders Xerez lost on Saturday so CDT went into the game knowing a win over Cordoba would see them go top of the table. The first half saw some quality chances for both sides, but neither team could break through and the teams went to the locker rooms scoreless. That wouldn't last long though as Alfaro hit twice in the first 10 minutes of the second half to give CDT the 2-0 lead. That's all they needed as the fans partied and Tenerife took their place at the top of the table. With 12 games to play they have a 1 point lead, and they are 3 points from the 4th place team, which is outside the promotion zone. Might we be seeing the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid making the trek to the Canary Islands next season?

Kildare County - It has been a very, very bad pair of games for Kildare County over the last two weeks. First County travelled to Longford Town only to lose 4-0. Then Kildare hosted Sporting Fingal and lost 8-0 at home. No that's not a typo, they gave up 8 goals at home. That's the worst ever home defeat for the team. Not surprisingly after games like that, the Thoroughbreds are sitting on the bottom of the table with only 1 point from their first 4 games and a -14 goal differential. With results like this you have to wonder what the board was thinking trying to get the team back into the First Division this year. If things don't turn around quickly we can expect a more lasting relegation at the end of the season.