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-

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