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.

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