Friday, May 29, 2009

Rapids Try to Water Down Red Bulls

The Rapids are on the road yet again, this time all the way to the East Coast to face New York. This will be the last trip for the Rapids to the concrete pad that is the field at Giants Stadium. By the time of their trip to NY in 2010 the new Red Bull Arena will be open. Game time for this one is at 5:30 pm and the supporters groups will be gathering at the British Bulldog downtown.

Official Injury Report:
OUT: GK Steward Ceus (R meniscus tear/surgery); DOUBTFUL: MF Ivan Guerrero (L ankle strain)

Official Discipline Report:

The Red Bulls are missing two defenders to injury and midfielder Jorge Rojas is suspended. My guess at the Rapids lineup is:

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

Gary Smith talked after the USOC game about how Cooke is likely to still be his guy to bring a spark off the bench, so I'm guessing that the LaBrocca - Ballouchy combo will start in midfield. The defensive line is hard to figure as there's 5 or 6 players playing for the 4 spots, but I think we'll see the Kimura - Ihemelu combo this week.

Key To Look For:

The turf. Giants Stadium is easily the worst surface in the league (especially now that FSL has left Rice-Eccles) and everyone hates playing on it. Strange bounces and unusual speed make balls hard to predict and everyone will need to be on their toes.

Prediction: 1-0 win, goal by Conor Casey. I feel like my Rapids bias is showing on this one, but New York looks pretty bad right now. With the consistent production from Conor Casey I think we can find a way to score, and its about time Pickens puts up a shutout.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Weekend Roundup 5/23 - 5/24

Colorado Rapids - The disappointing draw against Seattle moves Seattle to 4th in the West and 8th overall in MLS. The disappointing loss against Seattle leaves Colorado out of the U.S. Open Cup. Chivas is still leading the pack by 6 points but still with 1-2 more games played than a number of teams. Colorado is 9th in goals scored, but is tied with Chicago for 4th in goals allowed.

Blackburn Rovers - In the finale of the season Blackburn hosted West Bromwich Albion. WBA was already guaranteed to be relegated in last place, while Blackburn was save from relegation. Both teams played like nothing was on the line and the game ended in a 0-0 draw. Rovers finish the season 15th, 7 points from the relegation zone and 12 points from the last European spot. A big drop from last year's 7th place finish but things could be worse, we could be Newcastle.

CD Tenerife - CDT had to bounce back from the disappointing loss at Hercules and bounce back they did. They were hosting Alaves in Santa Cruz and the support of the home fans seemed to be just what they were looking for. Tenerife took an early 1 goal lead, and then killed the game with 2 goals in a 5 minute span around the 60th minute. The 3-0 win combined with other results re-establishes CDT's hold on a promotion spot and gets them within striking distance of the league championship. With 4 games to play Tenerife is only 3 points back of Xerez (who they face at home in two weeks) and they have a 4 point cushion on their promotion spot, though they would lose the tiebreaker with 4th placed Hercules. They're guaranteed a top 6 spot, but at this point anything outside the top 3 promotion spots would be a failure of a season. Next weekend they travel to already relegated Sevilla Athletico, so there are 3 points for the taking. With the exception of the home game against Xerez the remaining games are against teams currently in the bottom half of the table.

Kildare County - County scored! Unfortunately it was in the 81st minute and they were down 2-0 on the road to Finn Harps. Needless to say they lost, again, making it a 11 game losing streak where they've been outscored 40-3. Hard to believe that blowing a 1-0 lead in the first game to get a draw at home is the highlight of the season so far.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rapids "Seriously" Bow Out of the Cup, Again

The Rapids lost 1-0 to the Sounders last night, knocking them out of the U.S. Open Cup for the 14th straight year, and for the second straight year we fail to even make the USOC proper. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, even including qualifiers the Rapids have only made it past the second game twice. Once in their run to the Cup Final in 1999 and in 2007 when they beat FSL in a qualifier, beat the California Victory in the last USOC game we hosted, then lost that wonderful 5-0 game in Seattle.

I'm not going to say much about the match. With an audiocast you can't really tell much about how the game went. What I will say is this, Gary Smith, Paul bravo, and Jeff Plush all talked about how Smith was going to take this competition "seriously" this year and how the chance to win any Cup was important to the new coaching staff. When push came to shove though the Rapids rolled out a lineup of young guys while Seattle put out Kasey Keller in net and 3 other starters from the Saturday match. Then when the team was down 1-0 in the 70th minute Smith pulled attacking midfielder Ciaran O'Brien and forward Ross Schunk and replaced them with defenders Scott Palguta and Jordan Harvey. Meanwhile he dragged Omar Cummings and Colin Clark to Seattle, dressed them for the game, but apparently figured a 1-0 deficit with 20 minutes left wasn't the time to use them.

Somehow I don't see this as evidence that they took the USOC "seriously". If the Rapids don't want to focus on the USOC that's fine, but don't tell us you're going to take it "seriously". I had high hopes for the Rapids to go deep in the competition this year. I figured a coaching staff like Gary Smith and Steve Guppy saw the value in our version of the FA Cup. They said all the right things about wanting to focus on any chance of winning a competition. Turns out its the same old same old from the Rapids in the USOC. Next time Rapids, if you think the league is more important just say so. We may not agree with you, but at least we won't get our hopes up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Second Verse, Same As The First

Much like our last USOC Play-In Game, the Rapids and Sounders get to do it all over again. Tonight the Rapids face the Sounders at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, WA. This was one of the Sounders home in prior USL-1 years when they weren't playing in Qwest. The loser is out of the USOC, the winner gets put into the MLS pot with the 7 other MLS teams for the USOC proper.

The good news for us fans stuck in Colorado is that there will be an audio broadcast of the game at Kickoff is at 8pm MDT.

Like the first time around with the 2 LA games in 3 days, I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on a game preview. You can read my preview for Saturday's game, things haven't changed much in 72 hours. This is also a hard game to predict, as the Sounders are quite injured but have players like Freddie Ljungberg coming aback from injury. If he plays its a whole different team than if he doesn't. How seriously does either coach take it? How tired are the teams after a game on Saturday and a flight to Seattle?

I bet we see a young lineup from the Rapids. Of our 24 man roster Dalby is suspended due to the red card in the last pay-in game, and Ceus is injured. That leaves 11 players that didn't start Saturday night and I bet we see most of them in tonight's starting lineup. With Seattle's injury problems we're going to see a mix of young players and starters from Saturday's game, which will make them the more tired team. They're going to be at home, and on a turf field they are somewhat used to though.

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a 1 goal Rapids win. They are healthier and probably more rested. We were clearly the better team on Saturday night and without Kasey Keller (who I'm guessing won't play tonight) we would have won that game by 2 or 3 goals. The home advantage and turf will work against us, but I think we have enough to take the USOC spot.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sounders Slip Away Like Greased Pigs

The Rapids again tried to sit on a one goal lead and again failed to do so. For the first time this season the Rapids trailed at home after giving up the first goal to Freddy Montero. Ihemelu botched the play (again) and Gibbs ball watched as Montero's first shot rebounded off the post right back to him and he headed back into the net. The never say die (while losing) attitude of the 2009 Rapids continued though, and 8 minutes later Cummings got free on the right and sent a cross along the grass into the box which Colin Clark neatly back-heeled into the net to level the score.

The Rapids continued to control the game, and should have been rewarded with another goal before halftime. However Kasey Keller lived up to his reputation with two huge saves in the last minutes of the half. first denying Conor Casey's header (a ball that no other keeper who's ever played in MLS would have gotten to) and then stonewalling LaBrocca on a 1v1. It didn't take long after the break for the Rapids to take the lead though. In the 48th minute Casey made a run with the ball into the box and tried to beat Keller on the far post. As Keller dove to try to make the save the ball deflected off a Sounder and looped up over Keller into the net. Casey may have had Kasey beat without the deflection anyway, but either way the Rapids were leading 2-1.

Then the Rapids patented "Sit on a 1 goal lead" strategy kicked in, and Seattle slowly started to regain control of the game. The momentum shifted towards Seattle, and they made it count. In the 76th minute Palguta went down with cramps, leaving Kimura to guard 2 players on an incoming cross. Riley found the open man (Montero) who nodded the ball down past Gibbs to Jaqua, who buried the chance. After that both teams had a couple of chances, including one huge save from Pickens, but neither team could find the game winner.

My key to the game was the Rapids offense vs. Kasey Keller. As I predicted Keller was hard to beat, but we did get two by him. After not allowing 2 goals at home yet this season I thought that would be enough, but the defense continued its badly timed bran farts.

Other Observations:
  • Casey's 6th goal of the year puts him in a 5 way tie for the league lead.
  • Ballouchy had some good moments this week, but still some bad ones. He is showing some improvement, but he's still not starter quality yet.
  • For a National Team defender as recently as last November, Gibbs looked pretty bad on both goals. I'm not sure he could have stopped either one, but he didn't make a decent attempt at either one..
  • Ihemelu, ugh (for the second week in a row). His 'defense" on the first goal consisted of him going to ground on a chest high-ball. Even if he makes a play all he'll do is take Montero's legs out from under him, leading to a PL and probably a red card. The last 10-15 minutes of his game was horrible and I was not at all surprised by him being subbed out.
  • Strong game from Pablo. He's not as noticeable this season, in a good way.
  • LaBrocca kept pinching in all night. I don't know if that was intentional or just his habit but he's a clear central starter and clearly not a wing starter.
  • I'm wondering if its time to give Cummings a chance on the right when Cookie isn't available. He's been solid with the crosses this year, but not great with the shooting.
  • End the Jacob Peterson experiment. He doesn't have the game for MLS. I know he's a great guy, but after a decent rookie year he's never scored more than 1 goal a year or had an assist. Its obvious that he can't play striker at this level.
  • All in all this was two points lost. Its also the second year in a row we've failed to beat the expansion team at home. We have to do better when we control the game like we have against LA and Seattle at home.
Player of the Game: Conor Casey. Continued his hot start to the season and seemed to be the only player who cared about getting the winning goal late in the game.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Colorado looking to roast the Pigs

Sounder (disambiguation)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sounder may refer to:

* Sounder, a group of domestic pigs foraging in woodland

The Rapids host the expansion Seattle Sounders tomorrow night at the Dick. This is the first time the Rapids have faced the Sounders as a MLS team, the last time the teams played (in a very forgettable USOC game) the Sounders were in USL-1. Game time is at 7:30 pm and its Asia-Pacific Heritage Night. To celebrate Chef Nate will be making up some Asian dishes at the pre-game tailgate.

Official Injury Report:
OUT: GK Steward Ceus (R meniscus tear/surgery)

Official Discipline Report:

The Sounders are missing 5 players, plus a 6th is probable. This includes their Designated Player Freddie Ljundberg who is missing his second game to due migraines. My guess on the Rapids starting 11:

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

Terry Cooke has returned to the team after flying to England to visit his 10-year old son who was in a serious car accident. Assuming that Cookie is fully recovered from the ordeal I expect they'll return to the starting lineup and LaBrocca will move back inside and displace Ballouchy. I'm not sure if Ihemelu will start int he middle or if he'll shift outside to Kimura's spot and Palguta will get the start. Since its Asia-Pacific Heritage Night I'm going to go with Kimura starting. ;)

Key To Look For:

The Rapids offense vs. Kasey Keller. The Rapids have to find a way to score against the best goalkeeper in American history (sorry Brad), who's proven that he can still play and is leading the league in Goals Against Average. The only way that's going to happen is getting numerous opportunities and making Keller finally concede. The good news is that the Sounders defense is beat up, and Casey has been hot so the Rapids should get their chances.

Prediction: 2-0 win, goals by Conor Casey and Terry Cooke. I'm going out on a limb on this one, but I think this is the game where the Rapids show that they aren't the same old Rapids. Seattle is beat and is coming back to earth off their hot start, while the Rapids will take advantage of being at home. Casey continues his hot streak, and Cookie is in the right spot to clean up a loose ball.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Improved Front Office in 2009

As I mentioned in my Midseason Review last week the Rapids Front Office has been greatly improved this year. First and foremost they have made solid player decisions since the end of the 2008 season such as:
  • Offering Bouna a 6-figure contract, then when he turned it down making a good move to get Matt Pickens
  • Getting out of the Christian Gomez mess, and getting our DP slot + a player back
  • Signing young players LaBrocca, Cummings, Clark, Harvey, Kimura, and Ihemelu to new 4 year contracts
  • Trading a draft pick for Ty Harden
  • Signing captain Pablo Mastroeni to a new long term deal
The only bad player move the Front Office has made is not making enough good moves. We still need some forward depth and possibly a string central midfielder.

On top of the good player dealings the Front Offices has come a long way in its dealings with the supporters groups. This started almost as soon as last season ended with an open supporters meeting before the U.S. National Team game. That was the first time in years the Rapids GM has met with the supporters in an open meeting. The team allowed the supporters the use of the Cantina the weekend before the home opener for a kickoff party. General Manager Jeff Plush and Director of Marketing Keiran Cain attended and were happy to answer any questions the fans might have had, and they arranged for coach Gary Smith to speak to the group. He brought along assistant coach Steve Guppy as well which was an added bonus. I can't remember Clavijo or Hankinson ever being "happy" to talk to supporters like Smith and Guppy were.

The relationship improvement has led to our new tailgate spot right in front of the stadium in one of the VIP lots. While parking is a little harder the location gives the groups great visibility instead of being pushed off to the far end of one of the lots. The FO has also put a Tuff Shed in that lot for the supporters to store the tailgating gear in, which saves the volunteers a ton of work.

The Front Office has also been making an effort to be visible to the fans. Technical Director Paul Bravo and Keiran have stopped by each of the first 3 tailgates to talk with the fans, answer questions, and get some of whatever Chef Nate has been cooking. Jeff Plush joined them for the first 2 tailgates as well. Kieran has also been out trying to help with some of the challenges of our new location as the interaction with the DSG Park staff and the Commerce City representatives has had some rough spots.

While I've only be in Denver for a year, I've followed the trials and tribulations of the relationship between the Rapids fans and the Front Office for years. The last few months has seen an improvement to a point that I'm not sure the relationship has ever been. There is still some work to do, but the issues seem to be getting less challenging.

I think that the big problems now aren't with the Rapids Front Office, but with the parent company Kroenke Sports Enterprises(KSE). It seems like there's a lack of solid communication between the Rapids and the other parts of KSE they have to interact with. When things like the Rapids handing out a TV schedule, only for Altitude to change it 2 days later or the Rapids handing out season parking passes that the DSG Park staff rip up after one use happen, it makes me think that there's nobody coordinating KSE corporate groups. I would assume that's not a job for the Rapids FO, but somebody higher up that should be overseeing the connection points between the Rapids, DSG Park, Altitude, etc.

Overall though I think the fans are starting to rethink their opinion of the Rapids Front Office. There's been an antagonistic relationship for a long time, so a few months of good results isn't enough to completely change their minds, but at least the instinct to automatically think the worst seems to be fading somewhat. Hopefully this New And Improved Rapids FO will continue.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Weekend Roundup 5/16 - 5/17

Queen of the South drops out this week until the new season in the fall

Colorado Rapids
- With their draw against New England the Rapids moved into a tie with Houston for the 3rd spot in the West and 7th overall in MLS. Everyone is chasing Chivas who is 8 points clear of the nearest competitor, albeit having played 1-2 more games than everyone else. Colorado is tied with LA for 9th in goals scored, but is 4th in goals allowed so our defense is getting the job done (usually).

Blackburn Rovers - The big news for Blackburn happened the day before their match this week as both Hull and Newcastle failed to win their games. Either result was enough to assure Blackburn of avoiding relegation. Going into the match against Chelsea there wasn't much on the line for either team, and both teams played like it. The match was a drab affair and Chelsea's skill won out with a goal in each half. With the season finale against WBA at Ewood Park on Sunday Blackburn can finish no worse than their current 15th, but could move up as high as 12th depending on other results.

CD Tenerife - CDT faced their toughest game left on their schedule, away to 4th placed Hercules. Both teams are in the thick of the promotion race and 3 points in this game would go a long way. Unfortunately for Tenerife it appears the pressure got to them as they controlled most of the play but let some costly mistakes ruin the game as the home side took the 3 points with a 3-1 win. This was CDT's first loss in 18 games. To add insult to injury all the other top teams won as well, closing up what was looking like a expanding promotion race. Now with 5 games to play Tenerife only has a 2 point cushion in their promotion spot, and they lose the tiebreaker with the 4th placed team Hercules. CDT is guaranteed a top 8 finish but is 6 points behind the leaders Xerez. Right now all their focus is staying in 2nd or 3rd, I think the title is a long shot.

Kildare County - Another week, another shut out loss. This time it was 3-0 at home to Shelbourne. This raises the total to 38-2 over the last 10 games. The gap to safety is now 4 points, and essentially 5 since the Thoroughbreds have no chance of winning the goal differential tiebreaker, their GD being 4.5 times as bad as the next closest. At this point the only question is how long until County gets a win, if ever?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rapids Fight Revolution to Draw

The Rapids started hot, again, and gave up the tying goal instead of going for a second, again. The game started well, with Conor Casey putting a looping header into the back of the net off a Jordan Harvey cross in the 3rd minute. As is typical with the Gary Smith-led Rapids, the team could not hold the 1 goal lead for more than 20 minutes. Kimura left his man open to lift a cross into the box, which Ihemelu successfully cleared from Ralston, only to follow through with his second foiit and trip Ralston while Pickens was grabbing the ball to end the Revolution attack. A clear penalty and the ref spotted it, giving Ralston a second chance, this time from the spot, and he made it count.

Unfortunately those were really the only two highlights of this game. The rest of the 90 minutes the Rapids pretty much had control of the game, but couldn't convert the possession into any dangerous chances. The Revs had one good chance at a winner, buck Pickens came all the way across his goal to punch the ball away. The Rapids outshot New England 15-6, 8-2 on target, but other than Casey's header none of the 8 shots were a challenge for the Revs keeper. The only other incident of note was that the Revolution did a good job of getting into Casey's head, leading to Gary Smith pulling him for Jacob Peterson in the 77th minute as Casey was about one foul or outburst away from a second yellow card. The ref did let a number of hard fouls on Casey go, but Conor needs to keep his head better than he did this game.

My key to the game was Mastroeni vs. Joseph. Surprisingly Steve Nicol started Shalrie Joseph as a lone striker up top instead of in the midfield as I expected. Joseph was unsuccessful at that position, never a threat in the game and his absence opened the midfield up for the Rapids. Unfortunately they weren't able to take advantage. Pablo played possibly his best game of the season, which is one of the main reasons the Revs only had 2 shots on goal (and one of those was a PK).

Other Observations:
  • Nice goal by Casey to get back on the board after a couple of games where he'd been shut out. That's his 5th already this year.
  • Ballouchy has some better passes this week, but he also had more head-scratchers. One in particular in the second half where the Rapids stole the ball and started the counter up-field, only for Ballouchy to play it all the way across the field and halfway to Pickens and Harvey had to track back for it.
  • I'm not sure pulling Kimura for Gibbs was the b est move, I think (other than the cross that led to the PK) Kimura was having a decent game.
  • Ihemelu, ugh. On top of the stupid, stupid foul that earned the Revs a PK he just had a bad night. I think Palguta is playing him out of a job.
  • I want to point out Jordan Harvey, not for the assist, but because other than that he didn't do anything notable and that's exactly what you want from a defender. He's been solid all season.
  • Somebody light a fire under Omar Cummings. This is 3-4 weeks now where he's been pretty invisible.
  • LaBrocca isn't cut out to play wide. It was forced on the team due to Cooke's unexpected family issues, but we really need to push Nick back outside.
  • I correctly predicted the 1-1 draw but looking at the game the win was there for the taking. Still after 5 road games the Rapids have 5 points, so I can't complain too much.
  • KSE, please spend the money to send the announcers to the games. Their attempt to call the game from the studio was embarrassing, mainly because they couldn't see the game any better than we could. Oh, and after complaining that John Harkes couldn't pronounce Mastroeni during a National Team game you shouldn't let your own announcers get away with butchering it.
Player of the Game: Colin Clark. Honestly nobody really stood out this game. The team played well enough on the road but they needed somebody to step up and carry the team, and nobody did. Clark was dangerous the whole game though, and with a little more help from the rest of the attacking squad he might have been able to make the difference.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

The words of Paul Revere the night before Lexington and Concord or the words of the Revolution the night before they face the British-led Rapids? Gary Smith will hope his orders are more successful than Thomas Gage's (pictured) were as Colorado takes the field in New England tomorrow. The game is at 5:30pm MDT and will be televised on Altitude. AS always the supporter's groups will be gathering at the British Bulldog downtown.

Official Injury Report:
DOUBTFUL: GK Steward Ceus (R knee strain

Official Discipline Report:

The Revolution are missing 5 players, plus a 6th is probable. This includes start striker Taylor Twellman and sometime National Team goalkeeper Matt Reis. Massage Therapist Glenn O'Connor somehow got dismissed in last week;s game so the Revs will be without his services as well. My guess on the Rapids starting 11:

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

With the exception of Gibbs this is the same lineup that dominated FSL 2 weeks ago. I expect that Smith will have seen the effect LaBrocca instead of Ballouchy had, and will stick with it. I assume Gibbs will return to try to bring some focus to a back line that has had its share of slip ups, but I wouldn't be surprised to see any two of Palguta, Ihemelu, and Gibbs start. The right side is a bit of a question mark, Kimura has looked good in the last two home games but Smith has talked about not starting him on the road, and Cookie's starting status has been a question mark all season.

UPDATE: The Revs beat writer has just tweeted that Cookie won't be available due to having to deal with a personal matter. This makes the midfield somewhat unpredictable, but I'm going t guess:

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

There's also the chance that LaBrocca stays in the middle and Peterson takes over Cookie's position, but I'm guessing that Smith falls back on the lineup he used earlier this season.

Key To Look For:

Pablo Mastroeni vs. Shalrie Joseph. These are the two best defensive midfielders in MLS without question. Joseph is currently the only player who could knock Mastroeni from his spot on the U.S. National Team, unfortunately he got impatient and played for Grenada before his opportunity came for the U.S. The player who best puts his stamp on this game will go a long way in determining which team wins. Joseph could shut down the service to Conor Casey, while Pablo could break up the ball control midfield of the Revs. Either way, it should be a fun duel to watch.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Omar Cummings. I've gone back and forth from a loss to a win, and finally settled on a draw. This game is a hard one to predict. Working against the Rapids is an extra week of down time and the long cross-country travel. Working for the Rapids is the extra week of down time ;) and the numerous Revolution injuries. I won't be shocked by anything tomorrow night except for a 3 goal win by either team.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Midseason Review

We're approximately 25% of the way into the season. Lets do a recap of how we're looking so far.

Goalkeeping: Matt Pickens has been a solid pick-up for the Rapids, slotting in to replace Bouna Coundoul very well. The big surprise of the season has been the play of Preston Burpo. His play late last season led many people, including myself, to question even keeping him on the roster. He's filled in well for Pickens during Matt's injury and Played better than I expected. I can't think of any goals this season that were the fault of the keeper. Right now the Rapids have a solid number 1 who's on the fringes of the National Team, an experienced backup that's shown he can carry the load when called on, and a young developmental player in Ceus that could be the future for this franchise.
Grade: A

Defense: The defense has been generally solid, with occasional temporary breakdowns. We seemed to have settled into a solid 4-5 starters in Ihemelu, Gibbs, Harvey and Kimura or Palguta depending on injury and game location. Smith has said he sees Kimura as more of an asset at home on the bigger field and has used Ihemelu on the right on the road. I thinkKimura is developing into a decent MLS starter and I would like to see him get more playing time, particularly after the last couple of games. Harvey has been solid on the left, dependable and quiet, just what you want from a defender. The issues have been in the center with Ihemelu, Gibbs, and Palguta all having breakdowns that have led to goals. Overall the group has been solid, averaging just over a goal a game against, but only getting 1 shutout. If they can clean up the individual mistakes this is a good group to build off of.
Grade: B-

This has been the most disappointing group for the Rapids so far this season. Part of the issue has been the revolving door at right mid, and also the instance of Gary Smith to play Ballouchy in the center until recently. Pablo has been Pablo, at this point in his career there's no surprises from him. Clark is trying to balance out passing vs. taking on defenders, which is what the coaching staff emphasized to him during the offseason. When he finds the balance he looks like one of the most dangerous wingers in MLS, when he doesn't it becomes very frustrating to watch him play. Terry Cooke has been dangerous, as always, but its becoming evident that he's not a 90 minute player and that has caused the issues at right mid. Smith has been trying to decide if he should start him, knowing he'll have to be subbed, or bring him off the bench for a late spark. I favor starting him but I can see why Smith has been trying other options. The problem area has been Pablo's partner in the center of midfield. Smith has been forcing Ballouchy into a spot he's not ready for and its killed our attack going forward. Mehdi seems to either have good ideas and an inability to execute, or the ability to execute and bad ideas. He can't seem to put the instinct together with the talent at the same time. Smith finally decided a change was necessary in the Rocky Mountain cup game and started LaBrocca in Ballouchy's place and the results were evident quickly. Nick had a goal int he first 10 minutes and the team overall looked more composed and dangerous the whole game. If Smith sticks with LaBrocca and figures out his plan for the right midfield the group can build on that result going forward. If he continues to stir the pot though we're going to have issues.
Grade: C-

Conor Casey was coming off a great end to the '08 season, one I didn't think he could keep up. So far he's proven me wrong. His numbers don't look quite as good as they did, but he's made up for it in ball control, stability, and leadership. Omar Cummings showed signs early in the season of becoming a MLS-caliber starter, but his play has faded in the last couple of games. Hopefully this break will refocus him for the rest of the season. The real issue up front is depth, or lack there of. With only 4 pure strikers on the roster, and 2 of them having no MLS experience, when injuries and national team callups come up we're going to be hurting.
Grade: B

With the reduced roster sizes this year the team's depth is really going to be tested. The Rapids have solid backups a goalkeeper (Burpo) and defense (Harden, Palguta, Guerrero) but they are hurting up front. Right now our attacking options off the bench are Peterson and the untested Schunk and Richardson. I'd like to see the team get another attacking midfielder and forward in case of injury or absence by any of the offensive players. I've been happy with the play of those bench players who have seen time, though Peterson hasn't done quite as much as I would have liked. The silver lining in all of this is that every team is fighting with depth issues, so we're not in any worse shape than anyone else.
Grade: C

In his first year as a non-interim head coach Gary Smith has done a decent job. The team looks much more composed and focused than they ever did under Fernando Clavijo, and they've fought back in to a number of games that in past years they would have just rolled over and taken the loss. The biggest issue seems to be a tendency to settle for the lead instead of going for the killing blow. I wasn't pleased to see Cooke on the bench to start the season, but seeing him play I can understand Smith's concerns about his stamina. I'm cautiously optimistic at this point, but I don't know if that's just "Anything is better than Clavijo" feelings.
Grade: C+

This covers everything that happens outside the game itself. The player moves have been solid up to this point, from big moves like the Gomez trade to smaller things like getting our young players on long-term contracts. The Front Office seems to be letting Smith run with the team and there isn't any talk about clashes between Plush and Smith like there was between Plush and Clavijo. Some of this is because Smith was hand picked by Plush, while Clavijo was here before Jeff was, but I also think that adding a soccer mind in Paul Bravo has helped as well. There's now someone to bridge the gap between the board room and the training room. The other thing that has been improved, and look for a separate post on this next week, is that the interaction between the Front Office and the fans has improved considerably. The main issue right now seems to be no interest in using the Designated Player slot. I think this team might be one standout attacking player from being a real contender this year, but we've heard no rumors about a player that would command DP wages being brought in.
Grade: B

The team looks better than they have in years, and the results reflect that. We're 2-1-0 at home and a somewhat surprising 1-1-2 on the road. I now feel like the Rapids can stand with any team in the league, but they need a little luck to beat the better teams. This team is showing that its playoff quality, which is further than I thought they would be at this point, but I don't see them as MLS Cup contenders yet.
Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Weekend Roundup 5/9 - 5/10

Colorado Rapids - The Rapids had a bye this week. Next week we're in New England.

Queen of the South
- For their final game of the season QoS traveled to Livingston. On a soggy pitch the Doonhamers appeared eager to get to the offseason, giving up a goal and a PK in the first 10 minutes. That looked to be a appropriate ending to a season of disappointment, but in the second half Queens decided they didn't want it to end that way. In 3 minutes they scored and got a PK goal to level the score, and ended the season with a draw. With the point Queen of the South ended the season in the top half with a 5th place finish. They were only 8 points out of second place, but the league champions St. Johnstone were a full 15 points ahead of them. Hopefully we can repeat the good start of this season next time around, and this time make a better promotion push.

Blackburn Rovers - Blackburn had a vital game against Portsmouth at Ewood Park this weekend. Grabbing the 3 points in this game would make survival all but mathematically certain. The team responded to the challenge, controlling the game for most of the 90 minutes. In the first half Morten Gamst Pedersen scored his first goal of the season in what may be the most important goal of the season for Rovers. In the second half Portsmouth was called for a handball and Benni McCarthy stepped up to put the game away. There was a scare in the final minutes as the handball PK call went the other way, but Portsmouth's Utaka put the ball over the bar from the spot and Blackburn get the necessary 3 points. If Newcastle and Middlesbrough had drawn on Monday Blackburn would be assured of safety, but since the Jailbirds managed a win there's still a mathematical chance of going down. Rovers will be safe with 1 more point gained, or 1 point lost by Newcastle or Hull over the last 2 weekends of the season. Next week we travel to Chelsea so we shouldn't expect to gain that point this week, hopefully Hull or Newcatle won't win.

CD Tenerife - CDT returned to the Canary Islands to host Murcia. They continued their remarkable run, now at 17 games without a loss, as they took a 3-0 lead before giving one back to Murcia late. Unfortunately the other 4 teams in the promotion race all won as well, so Tenerife didn't extend their lead at all, but we're one step closer to promotion with only 6 games left. Right now they have a 5 point cushion over Hercules, who they play on the road next weekend. A win there would give them a 7-8 point lead with 5 games to play, and fans could start to seriously consider what La Liga would be like next year. A loss would make it only a 2 point lead and things would get very tense very quickly. Xerez still leads the division by 2 points over CDT, who's worst possible finish is 9th.

Kildare County - Another week, another shut out lost. Reports are that the Thoroughbreds played "better" this week, but the time for moral victories is long past. The total is now 35-2 over the last 9 games. The team is still only 3 points from safety though, so survival is still a possibility even with the worst run of form I've ever seen from a "professional" team.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Weekend Roundup 5/2 - 5/3

Colorado Rapids - After the beat down of FSL the Rapids position has improved. They are now 3rd int he West and tied with Chicago and KC for 5th overall. They are tied with KC, Toronto, and Seattle for 5th in goals scored and they are 4th in goals allowed. Everyone is chasing Chivas who has 19 points and has only allowed 3 goals (one to the Rapids).

Queen of the South
- The final home match of the season saw QoS facing Dunfermline. Unfortunatly for the home fans a season that started so promising ended on a sour note as the visitors took a quick two goal lead on their way to a 3-0 win. This will probably be the final appearances at Palmerston for fan favorites Sean O'Connor and Stephen Dobbie. With the season finale against Livingston coming up on Saturday the Doonhamers can finish anywhere from 4th to 8th.

Blackburn Rovers - Blackburn faced a tough challenge on the road against former manager Mark Hughes and Manchester City. Rovers started the game as the more impressive side, controlling the first 25 minutes of play. The next 10 minutes saw it all go wrong though as City scored twice to take charge of the game, then on the cusp of halftime the home side was given a PK for a handball and they took a dominant 3-0 lead into the locker rooms at half. Blackburn got one back in the second half, but the hole they had dug was too deep and Manchester got the win. Luckily for Rovers most of the other results int he bottom of the table went their way and they sit 15th, 6 points above the relegation line with 3 games to play. With a win over 14th placed Portsmouth at Ewood Park on Saturday and a draw in the Newcastle-Middlesbrough game Blackburn will be safe from the drop.

CD Tenerife - 2nd placed CDT travelled to 3rd placed Zaragosa for a promotion battle. It only took Zaragoza 2 minutes to put Tenerife on their back foot as an early attack lead to a 1-0 lead for the hosts. As we've seen all season though Tenerife didn't panic as they chipped away, finally getting the equalizer just before half. The second half saw both sides having chances before Zaragoza really turned up the pressure, but CDT held and got a vital point in their promotion campaign. With 7 games to play Tenerife is in 2nd place, 3 points behind leaders Xerez and a 5 point cushion in the promotion zone. They have big games at 4th placed Hercules and hosting 1st placed Xerez in the next month, so they have complete control over their destiny.

Kildare County - Stop me if you've heard this before, but County was shut out at home, this time 3-0 to midtable Wexford Youths. That makes it 33-2 that they've been outscored in the 8 games since their opening 1-1 draw that got them their only point of the season. Remarkably they are only 3 points from being out of the relegation spot, but they've shown no ability to even consider getting out of the hole they're in.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

News and Notes 5/6

The Rapids made a trade today, sending Nico Colaluca to New England for Rob Valentino. Valentino is a defender and Generation Adidas like Colaluca so there's no effect on our salary cap. This is really a meaningless trade right now as they have a combined 4 games of league experience between them and neither one looks like they're going to be a starter anytime soon. Valentino gives us more depth o nthe back line, but given that we now have 12 out of 24 players that are defenders or have spent time on the back line, I'm not sure it was depth that we needed.

The Rapids have also found out that they will play at Seattle in their next U.S. Open Cup play-in game. The game will be May 28th, 3 days after we host Seattle in league play, and the game will be played on the turf fields at the Starfire Soccer Complex in Tukwila, WA. I'm sure the best coverage we can hope for is a play-by-play text stream like we had for the LA game.

Monday, May 4, 2009

2 Points From Reclaiming the Rocky Mountain Cup!

For the first time all season the Rapids put it together for 90 minutes. This resulted in complete domination of he FaKe team from the West side of the Rockies and a 2-0 win for the good guys.

Gary Smith made two changes to his starting lineup from the last couple of games. Matt Pickens reclaimed the starting position in the net and Mehdi Ballouchy was (finally) benched in favor of Nick LaBrocca. While the Pickens-Burpo switch proved immaterial to this game (FSL had 0 shots on goal), starting LaBroca paid off in 10 minutes. After a couple of good attacks in the early going, Casey controlled a ball on the left side, sent a pretty through ball for Colin Clark to run onto, and he crossed it to a wide open Nick LaBrocca, who buried it past Nick Rimando for the early lead.

The game changed completely in a space of 6 minutes. In the 35th minute there was a collision between an FSL defender, FSL keeper Nick Rimando, and Conor Casey. Rimando was forced to leave the game with a cut hand and with backup Chris Setiz in Portland on load, FSL was forced to go to an untested MLS rookie. 6 minutes later Jamison Olave dove into a tackle on Conor Casey with both feet and the studs up. To add insult to injury he did it right in front of Class Vi. Needless to say we were all trying to help the ref to the right thing, and he did, showing Olave the way to the locker room with a red card.

At this point the Rapids took complete control of the game. While FSL had occasional forays into the attacking half, Colorado controlled the game for the remaining 49 minutes. In the 60th minute the Rapids put the game away. Cookie played the ball across the top of the box for an onrushing Kimura, who blasted it past the rookie goalkeeper for his first ever MLS goal.

At that point what remaining fight FSL had left faded. The only incident of note was late int he game. As Pablo was trying to control a ball in the FSL box Javier Morales swung an intentional elbow into Pablo's face, leaving him down for a few minutes. I would not be surprised to see MLS issue a suspension for the foul, even though it was missed by the referees. The game ended with the Rapids having a passing exhibition for 4-5 minutes, accompanied by chants of 'Ole!' 'Ole!' from the stands.

My key to the game was who wanted it more. We did early on, and when FSL was faced with being down a goal, down a man, on the road, and a rookie keeper in goal they folded.

Other Observations:
  • The Rapids got a bit lucky in the first few minutes. Ihemelu clearly played the ball back to Pickens and Pickens scooped it up with no call. The shot would have been at a difficult error on the free kick, but it was better we didn't have to deal with it.
  • What do you think Ballouchy's thinking? His replacement gets a goal in 10 minutes.
  • The outside backs really stepped up in this game. Harvey and Kimura had their best games of the season.
  • Kimura's goal was the first for a Japanese player in MLS. His parents were also in town from Japan, its got to feel good to score your first professional goal in a situation like that.
  • Burpo did well, but I'm glad to see Pickens back in the nets.
  • I'm disappointed that we didn't take bigger advantage. A 2-0 win is great for our league standing, but we really could have used another goal (or two!) to put the pressure on FSL in the Rocky Mountain Cup.
  • After my midweek post about he Rapids only having a 2 goal lead once under Gary Smith, it was nice to get another one.
  • Well played all around by the team. Best game of the season so far.
Player of the Game: Nick LaBrocca. Tough choice this week. I considered Pablo, Kimura, Harvey, Clark, and Kimura. In the end I had to go with LaBrocca. He was put back into the starting lineup in a new position and made the most of it. He scored, ran the midfield, and hustled all game.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Rocky Mountain Cup Round 1!

This is one game that shouldn't require any effort to get up for from the players. The Rapids left two points on the field last week, and now they have a chance to beat down FaKe SaLt LaKe. There's no excuses for not putting out 100% effort for 90 minutes in this game. Kickoff is at 7:30pm tomorrow, and there will be an expanded 3 hour tailgate before the game in the VIP Lot. All fans are welcome (well, maybe not FSL fans ;))

Injury Report:
OUT: GK Steward Ceus (R knee strain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Ty Harden (hamstring), DF Cory Gibbs (R groin)

Official Discipline Report:

With the exception of the center back spot we're healthy, but so is FSL. We're going to need Palguta to step his game up and lock down the back with Ihemelu.

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

I think Smith will stay with Burpo at least through this week, and then use the bye to evaluate which keeper to go with. He started Cooke last week and I thought TC brought some stability to the midfield so I expect him to start again.

Key To Look For:
Simple, who wants it more. This is the only RMC match in Denver this year, and if we don't get a win, probably a multi-goal win, its going to be very very hard to bring the Cup back where it belongs. Not to mention that losing more points at home will make for a long season as we have to dig out of a hole. If the Rapids show up, control the ball, and play like they want to dominate the game we can win this. If the team that's shown up over the last few weeks is what comes out of the locker room tomorrow night we'll be lucky to squeak out a win.

Prediction: 2-1 win, both goals by Conor Casey. I almost want to say 1-0, but our defense hasn't gotten a shut out yet so I have to assume FSL will score one. I think the Rapids will be up to the challenge, and after Casey being shut out the last couple weeks he'll put the team on his shoulders.