Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Season Review - Forwards

Finally getting to the final part of the season review, the forwards.

Andre Akpan - Akpan only had one appearance this year but got some good experience while on loan to Tampa in the USSF Division II. He'll probably feature in the reserve division next year, and push Amarikwa for the forward spot on the bench until Kandji returns.

Quincy Amarikwa - Quincy was acquired early in the season from San Jose, and became the go-to option off the bench up front until Kandji was acquired. Unfortunately he appeared to be speed with no ball control. While he was great to run at defenses it was quickly obvious that he needed more time to become any type of threat, something borne out by his stats (1 goal and no assists in 13 appearances). Amarikwa will partner with Akpan in the reserve league, but probably not be a real threat for the first team unless his play increases greatly. I would expect the Rapids to either bring in another striker or draft one to challenge Akpan and Amarikwa next season.

Conor Casey - One half of Colorado's C+C Goal Factory, Casey had another great season, finishing with 14 total goals and 6 assists, the best combined total on the team. Despite the disappointment of not making the squad for South Africa Casey kept his head up and made 29 appearances, missing one game due to yellow card accumulation. He capped the season off with a goal and set up Kandji's attack for the own goal in MLS Cup, earning MLS Cup MVP honors.

We've seen that when Casey stays healthy all he does is score goals. At 29 he's probably at the peak of his career, but I don't expect a huge drop-off next season, especially is he's paired with Cummings again. Conor is never going to be the creative force in the team, he's your typical back-to-gal striker who can dish the ball to an onrushing Cummings or turn and shoot.

Omar Cummings - Omar was the team MVP IMO this year. 14 goals and 5 assists were second to Casey, but Cummings stepped up in a big way in the final third of the season when the team needed a spark to make their playoff run. He suffered through being played out of position in Smith's 4-5-1 experiment without complaint, but it was the move back to the 4-4-2 that sparked his resurgence. He had assists on both goals in the Columbus playoff series to push the Rapids through to the conference finals, and it was his run to the near post that allowed Koz's goal to sneak through for the winning goal in the Eastern Conference Final.

Cummings is the biggest question mark on the team going into next year. Currently training with Aston Villa, there's a real chance that he will be sold in the winter transfer window. The Rapids already turned down a mid-season offer for him from Necaxa, and reportedly they had an offer recently from another Mexican club. If Cummings returns I expect another successful season from the C+C Goal Factory, and I hope Smith has figured out that he has to play both of them up front.

Macoumba Kandji - Acquired before the trading deadline for the inconsistent and ineffectual Mehdi Ballouchy, Kandji didn't show much in his limited playing time, but was an immediate improvement over Akpan and Amarikwa. In 7 regular season appearances he had 3 assists and 0 goals. Of course he'll always be remembered for his attack in overtime of MLS Cup where he crossed the ball that George John knocked in his own goal for the winning score int he Rapids championship. In the collision with Ugo Ihemelu that happened as he was making the cross Kandji blew out his ACL.

Due to the blown ACL anything we get out of Kandji in 2011 should be seen as a bonus. He won't even be close to 100% until the very end of the season.

Ross Schunk - Ross was the victim of ripping his ACL near the end of training camp this year. After losing a season of development and the additions of Akpan, Amarikwa, and Kandji there just wasn't room for him.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cummings To England...Temporarily?

The Rapids and Omar Cummings have accepted an invitation for Omar to train with Aston Villa this winter. Right now everyone is saying that this is just some training and they are investigating the possibility of a short-term loan. According to Rapids Managing Director Jeff Plush, Cummings will be in Colorado for the season opener against Portland.

Reading between the lines I'm not as sure. The Rapids have reportedly been approached by a Mexican team this offseason about buying Cummings, and this is after Necaxa made an offer for him in the summer transfer window. Now we find out Aston Villa contacted Colorado about getting a closer look at Omar. I suspect that Aston Villa is thinking more long-term but they need a close-up look at Cummings before they reveal their cards. I wouldn't be shocked to see this turn into a permanent move.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rapids News 12/21/2010

I was going to do the final part of the season review tonight, but a few pieces of Rapids news have pushed that to tomorrow (hopefully).
This will be the 4th of the last 5 January camps that Pickens has attended, but he has not yet been capped. Let's hope he gets at least that honor as with the depth at goalkeeper he's not looking at getting any serious playing time. Wallace will get a shot at the left back spot as there's nobody who's really claimed it yet. Wynne will probably be a sub somewhere on the back line at best but I don't see him as a starter yet. Larentowicz has the best chance of really making an impact as the team has been looking for somebody to partner Michael Bradley in the empty bucket formation, and Ginger Ninja partners Pablo in a similar formation in Colorado.
  • Jeff Plush talks about a likely jersey sponsor and a possible friendly against a German club.
I'm glad to hear that a sponsor sounds close. I'm hoping its the long-rumored Chipotle deal. I would love to see a German club in the Dick for a friendly. I much prefer watching the Bundesliga to La Liga or Serie A but I'm limited to what I can find on ESPN3.com. My sister and brother-in-law spent some time in Heidelberg this summer and brought me a TSG 1899 Hoffenheim scarf back so I've been following them this season. I'm crossing my fingers that we get a German friendly and I'm hoping it might be Hoffenheim. ;)
This report is from Tribal Football, so take it for what it's worth. If true I'm guessing he'll fill the need for depth at center back that Gary Smith has talked about. Think of him as this year's Julian Baudet.

And on a final note, Happy Birthday to my wife Hope. :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Colorado Hosts Portland To Start 2011

MLS announced the home openers of every team today. The Rapids will host the expansion Portland Timbers in their first-ever MLS game on March 19th at 7pm. More importantly, this will (presumably) be the day that the Rapids raise their 2010 MLS Champions banner!

Through process of elimination we also know our second week opponent will be one of Seattle, San Jose, Chivas USA, Dallas, or Houston.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Season Review - Wide Midfielders

I'm hoping to finish these player reviews before Christmas, but with the schedule I have this up-coming week, we'll see if I get to the forwards or not.

Brian Mullan - Many people see the acquisition of Mullan as the turning point of the season. I'm not sure I'd go that far but it was critical. Not only did it exchange a injured player that wouldn't help us in 2010 for a player who could go straight into the starting XI, but it also allowed us to trade Ballouchy for Kandji, which became VERY critical in the overtime of MLS Cup. Biran had 4 rings and a wealth of experience when he returned to his hometown, and I was quite happy to see him get "one for the thumb". Mullan only played in 7 regular season games for the Rapids, picking up 2 assists, but the threat of his play allowed Jamie Smith more freedom on the left and gave Koz cover to make overlapping runs.

Mullan is the second oldest player on the roster right now, behind Pablo. Its a question mark how long he can be effective on the right. I don't see any reason to expect a fall-off next year based on his play for us in the latter part of the season. Its a safe bet though that he can't be expected to play in the league, Open Cup, and Champion's League games we have next year though, so we should expect to see him rotated out pretty frequently so that he's available for the home stretch. While he's in I just expect him to do more of the same.

Sanna Nyassi - An expansion draft day pick-up from Seattle (by way of Vancouver), Nyassi can be the relief a player like Mullan needs. He's young and raw, but has speed to spare. He started about half the games for Seattle in his second pro season last year, as well as being a regular in the lineup for their victorious U.S. Open Cup run. The highlight of the season was Scoring both goals in the Open Cup final. While I don't see Sanna being a regular starter for the Rapids, he'll probably be the first sub int he midfield if the team needs more attacking power.

Jamie Smith - In 2010 we finally got to see what a healthy Jamie Smith looks like and now we understand why Gary Smith signed him. He led the team with 8 assists. Combined with his one game-winning goal he was involved in more goals than anyone but the C+C Goal Factory upfront. While injuries were still an issue, they had less of an effect on him once he was on the field and kept him off the field for less time than in 2009. Jamie is the third member of the Rapids 30 and older club though, so we can't expect those injury concerns to go away, if anything they'll become a bigger problem.

The biggest thing for Smith in 2010 will be working with the young Wallace behind him. Anthony is still struggling with his positioning, especially after going forward to overlap Smith, so Jamie will have to make sure he covers for Wallace and holds up his end of the defensive duties. On the attacking side I hope he's able to establish himself as a threat to score goals as well as set him up. The more threats in the midfield we have the more space Casey and Cummings get to work with in front of them.

Wells Thompson - Wells came over in the trade with Larentowicz and everybody regarded him as the throw away player to balance out the trade. There weren't many expectations for him this season. I think that Thompson actually contributed more than was expected though. He was the "utility infielder" of the midfield, being plugged in when necessary to cover for injuries or to give people some rest but never really being a starter. I think he filled that role quite well without particularly standing out.

I think Thompson's role in 2011 will be very similar to 2010. Not a top 11 player but called to start on a regular basis, especially with the expanded schedule. I think he's a better defensive player than Smith, but not nearly the offensive player. I can see Nyassi and Thompson being regular subs depending on the game situation, Thompson when we're happy with the current scoreline and Nyassi when we feel like we need another goal.

Ciaran O'Brien - In 3 years he had 19 minutes, 1 red card, and 1 championship ring. One of the odder career stat lines. He clearly was never in Gary Smith's plans and the team isn't going to be hurt by losing him.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Season Review - Central Midfielders

With the dozen midfielders currently or recently departed from the Rapids roster I've split the review in two parts. Tonight we'll cover the more central players and save the wide players for next time.

Davy Armstrong - There's not much that can be said about Davy yet. Signed as our first homegrown player late in the season he didn't get any first-team time. The coaches and staff say great things about him though, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the reserves and even maybe some first team action next year.

Ross LaBaeux - Ross was one of two draft picks to make the team this year and appeared in 5 games, making one start. His start didn't go well, clearly being overwhelmed with the pace and level of MLS play. His spot appearances late in games were much better, mainly because the game was rarely in doubt by the time he got in.

LaBaeux is going to face competition as a backup to Pablo and Ginger Ninja. Colorado just acquired Nane and Thompson can move centrally if needed. with the expanded rosters he probably doesn't have to worry about being cut, but we can expect to see most of his time spent in the reserve league next year.

Jeff Larentowicz - Better known to the fans as Ginger Ninja, acquiring Jeff made a big difference to the level and style of play this year. His addition allowed the team to play an "empty bucket" 4-4-2 with both Larentowicz and Pablo playing as holding midfielders, something the team tried to do in 2009 but largely failed to accomplish due to Ballouchy's inability to play the position. At the beginning of the season it was expected that Mastroeni's focus on being a defensive midfielder would allow Jeff to venture forward and help the attack, but it turned out the reverse was true. Pablo, feeling confident in the support from his new partner, was the one to push forward. Ninja focused on breaking up the opponent's attacks and being a free kick specialist. He scored 4 goals this year, but looking back it seemed like more because of how close he came on a number of free kicks.

Next season will be, hopefully, more of the same. At 27 years old he's just now reaching the peak of his career so we shouldn't expect any drop-off. I don't know if Pablo can keep his offensive contributions up, so you may see Jeff push forward more next season, but other than that I expect that the Rapids will build the team and their style around having Larentowicz in midfield for the next few years.

Pablo Mastroeni - He had his best year of his career in Colorado by far. He was named team MVP yesterday. I gave the nod on that award to Cummings, but I have no complaints about it going to Pablo. Getting a solid partner in Ginger Ninja allowed Mastroeni to open up his game and venture forward like never before. He had 3 goals this year which was 1 more than he had had in his 8 year Colorado career combined. He had 2 goals here and 2 goals in Miami before this season. With the exception of a momentary lapse in the home game against Columbus that earned him a red card (and should have earned the Crew player a red card as well) he was under control and was a leader on the field. Of course he capped the season off with his first ring, leading the team to the championship. A long overdue honor for one of the all-time MLS greats.

Pablo quickly squashed a rumor that he was considering retirement, publicly stating he had more soccer to play. He will return as team captain and I expect another great season from him. As I said above when discussing Larentowicz, the Rapids team and style will be build around this duo in midfield for the next couple of years. At 34 I'm guessing that the last two years of Mastroeni's current contract will be his last as a primary starter, but I saw nothing this season that leads me to believe he'll fall off a cliff next season. The team needs to start thinking about life after Pablo, but there's no need to make a move to replace him yet.

Joseph Nane - Nane was just acquired from Toronto in the last month. He's a young player that won't take a starting job from Larentowicz or Mastroeni, but i can see him being the first option off the bench to sub in for one of them. He played in 11 games, starting 8, for Toronto in his rookie season so its early to figure out exactly what type of player he's going to be. He'll be a regular starter in reserve games though, and should get some good experience there.

Claudio Lopez - Lopez was never the player we were hoping he would be. It was clear that while he still had the mind and the touch that's led to his storied career, his fitness has started to suffer with age. Reportedly he was a very positive presence int he locker room, working with the young players and bringing his vast experience (He's now won Cups in 4 different leagues) to the team. I would love to see the Rapids approach him about some sort of player/coach role, but I don't know if Claudio is ready to take that next step in his career.

Pete Vagenas - Passback Pete was acquired only as an excuse to move Baudet and Earls before the expansion draft. I don't think there was ever any intention of making him a member of the team.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marshall Returns to The Rapids

In today's Re-Entry draft the Rapids selected Tyrone Marshall, who's option was not picked up by the Sounders. Marshall is a Jamaican defender who's been in the league since 1998. In fact, he was originally drafter by Colorado and played 1 game for them before being traded to Miami for David Vaudreuil (who, despite what the announcers like to claim about Brian Ching, was really the first MLS player born in Hawai'i). After Miami was contracted Marshall landed in LA for most of his career before a stop in Toronto on his way to Seattle.

Marshall will be a replacement for the depth we lost when we sent Earls and Baudet to Seattle. He shouldn't be considered a starter at this point, with our line of Kimura-Wynne-Moor-Wallace pretty well set, but he can compete with Palguta to be the first guy of the bench. Marshall is not yet signed to a contract though, this draft just gives the Rapids his rights to get him under contract, so there's a chance he won't make the team.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Season Review - Defenders

Continuing our review with the guys in the back.

Kosuke Kimura - A contender for the most improved player in 2010 and the clear winner for the most passionate player on the team. Koz did not get off to a good start this season, almost immediately being replaced in the starting xI when Wynne was acquired and having a string of average-to-poor games that really kept him from reclaiming the starting spot. Kimura didn't let this get him down though, and he continued to work and improve. When Baudet started having serious injury issues and Danny Earls was proving not to be the answer at left back, the door was open for Kimura to return to the starting lineup and he stepped through it. He had the biggest goal of his career (and one of the biggest in the team's history) in the Eastern Conference Final when cross turned into a shot and the only goal in the 1-0 win.

At this point Koz has the right back spot locked down. He can get up the line and into the attack when called on, but doesn't let his defensive assignments lapse. He might be the most pesky defender we have, as he'll challenge again and again until he wins the ball or is completely beaten. His biggest weakness is his distribution, even on a good day his passing is only average and he's not one that's likely to jump start an attack. Koz is the visible soul of the team on the field, pumping the crowd up and giving 100% every minute of every game.

Drew Moor - My vote for defensive MVP this year, Moor played every minute of every regular season game, every minute of every playoff game, and all but one half of the 2 USOC qualifiers. That's right, in 3300 minutes of competitive soccer for the Rapids this season, Drew Moor played 3255 minutes of it. He deserves every minute of his vacation. He had one goal, but it was a big one, scoring late in the home game against Columbus while the Rapids were playing down a man to give Colorado a 1-0 win.

Moor is a solid, quiet, center back. He doesn't make big plays very often because he doesn't need to. He knows his position and where he needs to be, and he simply does it. One thing I'd like him to do next year is become the leader of the backline. Our backline's ages right now are 26-24-26-21, so we need a calm organizer back there. Moor seems like the logical choice.

Scott Palguta - Palguta spent much of 2009 as the fill in starter, and probably expected to have that role coming into 2010. up until the day before the season started it looked like that would be the case, but the trade for Wynne just before the opening game changed the hierarchy. Palguta was now the 6th defender instead of the 5th. Scott only started 5 games and only appeared in about half the games and didn't play in the playoffs. Still he was there when called on, and with our recent moves he's moved back to that 5th spot. As long as he's satisfied being the first defender off the bench instead of starting, the Rapids should be happy to have him.

Anthony Wallace - One of the numerous late-season additions to the squad, once Wallace was up to speed he immediately found his place at left back. As the youngest player on the squad other than homegrown player Davy Armstrong he had to learn on the fly, and while he was inconsistent at times you could tell he was getting good lessons. His biggest difficulty seemed to be regaining his position after his forward runs. There were multiple times where players were able to get in behind him or were left without pressure to serve a ball into a box. The most dramatic example of this was the Dallas goal in MLS Cup.

The Rapids showed their commitment to Wallace on the day of the expansion draft, having already arranged a deal with Portland to have Anthony selected and traded back to Colorado in exchange for allocation money. I think it safe to say that he's expected to be the starting left back come March. In order to keep that spot he's going to need to improve his positioning and awareness to force the opposition back inside into the waiting arms of Drew Moor. He'll also be expected to contribute more to the offense, but that goal should be secondary to locking down the defense.

Marvell Wynne - Certainly the biggest surprise of the season, both his acquisition and subsequent play. Nobody saw Nick LaBrocca being traded for Marvell on the day before the season started, and the reaction form the Toronto fans was that he was a fast guy without a real good soccer brain. Well apparently Gary smith saw something they didn't. expected to be our right back he moved to center defender early on and excelled. He easily took Julian Baudet's starting job from him when Baudet was nicked up, and suddenly the Rapids had a central player who could push forward to support the attack while also being able to cover his defensive assignments. combined with Drew Moor they became one of the better central duos in the league.

Wynne just signed a new multi-year contract with the Rapids, so we should expect to see him starting for a long time. At 24 he still has things to learn, and right now his speed makes up for his lack of experience. sooner or later Wynne will need to improve his positioning and stop relying on his speed to get him out of trouble. For now though, he might be the fastest player int he league in a flat-out sprint and attackers are still surprised to find out that they don't really have him beat. That should keep things interesting for the near future.

Julian Baudet & Danny Earls - Both players put in good efforts for the Rapids this year. Earls was clearly surplus though once Wallace was acquired. Baudet would be nice to have for depth. The drawback to both of them, being international players, was too great to carry into the expansion draft though and they needed to be moved. This hurt us though, now we only have 5 defenders on the roster. There will be work to be done in the off-season to rebuild or depth in the back.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Different Type Of Season Review - Goalkeepers

Well, after a couple of weeks off to catch my breath after that great run (and get some non-soccer stuff in my life done) I'm back. Normally after the season I've done a season recap and a post about what I think the Rapids should do on a player-by-player basis. Things are a little different this year, obviously, with the MLS Cup win. While I'm sure I could find other grades than A to give to the various parts of the team, I still haven't come off my high from winning it all and I don't want to kill the buzz.

In the same way I think the player decisions this offseason are fairly obvious. There's maybe 2-3 players that i would consider making any moves with, the others are obvious keepers or didn't get enough playing time for me to judge. Instead I'm going to do a player-by-player season recap. I'll also include what I expect form the player coming up, but it won't be the same sort of review I've done in the past. Today we start with the goalkeepers.

Matt Pickens - Jesus was the undoubted number 1 this year, there was never even a hint of anyone else being the starter. Back spasms kept him out of the home game against Houston but he played every minute of the other 29 games and the 4 post-season matches. Pickens was the only keeper to have 2 post-season shutouts and was 3rd in shots faced this year. Of course his biggest save was in the 120th minute of MLS Cup when he appeared out of nowhere to stop what looked to be the tying goal from George John.

Matt is a solid if not flashy goalkeeper. That save in MLS Cup is the only really big save that stands out from the season, but at the same time I only remember one blunder from him all season too, the disaster at the end of the final regular season game against FSL. Pickens is just where he needs to be when he needs to be there most of the time. His big problems have been his injuries (back spasms and groin strains). I also don't expect him to jump start an offensive attack ever (unlike Tim Howard against Algeria), but that's as much about our style of play as Pickens. I seen no reason to make a change unless somebody like Brad Friedel falls into our laps. Certainly our time is best spent finding help elsewhere.

Ian Joyce - A 'Yank Abroad' that I'm not sure any American fans had heard of when the Rapids brought him home last offseason, Joyce had a quiet season. He was only called into action twice, once in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier and once in a league match. Oddly enough both games had the same 2-0 scoreline, once with the Rapids winning and once with them losing. The 3-0 loss to NY in the USOC was largely due to Drew moor having a horror of a game and leaving Joyce with no chances. In the Houston home game the Rapids were up 3-0 after 23 minutes and the Dynamo never really generated a serious threat.

Its hard to tell based on 2 games, but Joyce seems a capable backup. Assuming that Pickens returns at a similar level (and at age 29 you would expect that) we don't need a second number 1 keeper. We need a clear number 2 who can fill in when necessary. With the expanded rosters next year we can have a 3rd young keeper who's training to be our keeper of the future while still have a solid more experienced backup option. Joyce seems to fill that role. Plus it doesn't hurt that I won his jersey in the season-finale "Jersey Off Their Backs" promotion. ;)

Steward Ceus - Ceus is in his second year after being drafted by the Rapids in the 2009 Superdraft. Last year he spent much of the season with the USL-2 Charlotte Eagles, taking them to the USL-2 championship, and he expected to do the same this year. Unfortunately he broke his wrist soon after arriving in Charlotte and returned to Denver to spend the rest of the season in rehab. He did play in the first U.S. Open Cup qualifier for the Rapids, but that's the only significant game action he got with the team. Steward did get to spend time during the playoffs with the Haitian National Team in their pre-Digicel Caribbean Cup training camp in Brazil. He then got the start for all 3 of their second round group stage games before Haiti was eliminated.

I'll leave it up to the training staff that got to see him play this year to make the judgement. If the lost time due to the injury didn't set him back he seems like a young keeper that we could be training for the future. Haiti may not be a great team (especially now when there are so many more important issues in Haiti) but the fact that he's at least starting at times for them in competitive matches (the Digicel Cup is the Caribbean qualifier for the Gold Cup) is a positive sign.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Options on Lopez, Vagenas, and O'Brien declined

Yesterday Colorado chose not to pick up the options of Claudio Lopez, Ciaran O'Brien, and newly-acquired Pete Vagenas. None of these are a real surprise. O'Brien never saw the field under Gary Smith. Lopez always seemed like an odd pickup given the lack of playing time this year. Passback Pete was obviously just an excuse to unload a couple of internationals before the expansion draft.

Without boring you with all the details, what happens next is on Monday there will be a draft of all the players who's options weren't picked up or who are out of contract. Teams drafting players will be required to pick up the player's options at their current price. If the player is not selected, their current team has a week to negotiate a new lower salary before there's a second draft for teams to claim negotiating rights with the player. As the MLS champs the Rapids will have the 16th pick in both drafts, right before the two expansion teams.

Ciaran O'Brien has already tweeted that he's left Denver, so it seems he's been told that even if he's not selected the Rapids aren't interested in bringing him back at a lower number. If the Rapids could sign Lopez as a bench player for a lower number, it might be worth it. His veteran leadership and experience would be helpful for some of of our younger players. i don't know what the salary cap rules are for a player/coach, but Colorado might want to look into that. Vagenas is really surplus to our needs and probably should jut be let go.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rapids Re-Sign Wynne

The Rapids announced yesterday that Wynne had signed a new multi-year contract with the team. He knew there was interest overseas but decided that he wanted to stay in Colorado. Wynne was reportedly the only major player on the team out of contract this year, so its good to have him re-signed early in the offseason so the Rapids know what they're working with.

Per MLS policy the terms of the deal were not announced. We'll get the salary number at the beginning of the season when the player union releases its salary list. Most MLS contracts are 4 year deals with the first 2 guaranteed and the last 2 being team-held options.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rapids Trade For Nane

Colorado has sent a 3rd round pick in the 2012 draft to Toronto for midfielder Joseph Nane. He's 23 years old, drafted last year by Toronto and appeared in 11 games. Primarily a defensive midfielder he looks like he'll be a backup for Mastroeni and Larentowicz. He's Cameroonian so he will take a International slot.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kudos To The Rapids Front Office

We've all talked at length about the great run the Rapids made this year. Cummings was clearly the MVP. Pablo had his best season ever as the Rapids captain. The young backline came together to allow just 3 goals in 420 minutes of playoff soccer. What we haven't talked as much about is how well the Front Office did putting this team together.

Part of this is a mea culpa. Regular readers will remember in August when I ripped Jeff Plush for an interview he gave to MLSSoccer.com. Of particular note I pointed out his belief that DP's hadn't been proven to be winners was wrong, and how I felt like he was using it as an excuse for not improving the team. I followed that up with a post about how the Rapids wouldn't go anywhere with other team's cast-offs.


OK, I was wrong. Badly wrong. Of the 14 players that played in the MLS Cup final, 10 of them were acquired by the Rapids from other MLS teams. One of the two other Rapids that played at least half the minutes this season was acquired from another team. It appears that the Rapids went quite far with the other team's cast-offs! The Rapids took two draftees (Cummings and Kimura), added in a pair of players found in England (Baudet, and Smith), threw in one USL player (Earls) and covered it all with a group of MLS players that their former teams either didn't want, or had to give up for other reasons. The Rapids Front Office clearly made a decision to use this strategy, and executed it well. While I'm sure there were many people working on it, I assume that the heads of this plan were Jeff Plush, Paul Bravo, and Gary Smith and they, and everyone else involved, deserve a hearty congratulations for their success.

Not 72 hours after the championship they were at it again. They traded away two players that, while valuable, were more expendable than others in order to protect most of our starting XI in the Expansion Draft. This was followed up by putting deals in place prior to the draft that would allow the Rapids to keep the rest of their players protected and/or get them returned to the team in exchanged for allocation money. The cherry on top was picking up another MLS cast-off, Sanna Nyassi, for next year's team.

I won't promise not to be critical of the Front Office in the future, but I will be giving them more credit. I may not have done enough of that this year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rapids Waive Ross Schunk

Busy roster day today. The Rapids finished their activity by waiving Ross Schunk. A forward that missed the 2010 season with injury after being drafted in 2009, he played a total of 10 minutes in 3 games last season. With Akpan, Amarikwa, and Kandji the team must feel it has enough depth up-front.

Rapids Dealing With The Draft

As expected in today's expansion draft the Rapids lost Anthony Wallace as he was selected by Portland. What wasn't expected is what happened next. The Rapids sent allocation money to Portland and got Wallace back. Great move by the club. We're not exactly known for going out and spending allocation money to sign big international players, so this is just as good of a use of the money. Now out starting XI from MLS Cup is intact going into next season.

Colorado wasn't done though, as they traded an international player slot to Vancouver for Sanna Nyassi, who Vancouver had just taken from Seattle in the expansion draft. With the green cards for Cummings, Kandji, and Kimura and the trade of Baudet and Earls the Rapids only had two internationals on the roster, so we had a surplus of international slots. In Nyassi we get a young (21) attacking midfielder. Nyassi is Gambian and has played for the Gambian U-20 team. Mac Kandji last week declared that he would represent Gambia as well (he could have also chosen Senegal) so we've got a small Gambian influence on the team now.

This was another good move by the Rapids. Kandji blew out his ACL scoring the winning goal in MLS Cup, so anything we get out of him in 2011 will be a bonus. Nyassi plays the wing but can also push up, he scored both goals in Seattle's Open Cup Final win this season. That is similar to how we used Kandji this year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Rapids Win The Cup!!!!


What a game! Highs, lows, and what just happened! moments all over the place. I'm going to dispense with the normal post-game recap as I'm assuming anyone who's reading this has a least watched the highlights if not the whole game, and I'm not sure if I could really recap everything anyway. Just a few notes about the more important moments in the game.

The PK that wasn't early in the game was a mess. Honestly all 3 players involved could have been called for a foul. I can almost see letting everything go except the attempted kick at Casey. That has to be a card, and in the box, a penalty. Or if a more strict ref is calling the game, the first fouls get called and the kick never happens. Either way, poorly handled.

Dallas' goal was just a beautiful sequence. They took advantage of Wallace playing off and found space to send in the cross, and league MVP Ferreira found the open space between Moor and Wynne. Well played all around.

Casey's goal was the ugliest beautiful goal you'll ever see, at least until Kandji forced an own goal. A 3 way collision between Hartman, Ihemelu, and Casey ended up with only Casey finding the ball and poking it into the net from his backside. This isn't college football though, you don't get points for style and they all count equally.

Kevin Hartman must have sold his soul to somebody with the way he played this post-season. His save on Ginger Ninja's free kick was amazing. The ball was shielded and curving away from him. A goal there, just 5 minutes after the Rapids leveled the score, might have put Dallas away.

Kandji gave everything for the team, including his knee, to score the winning goal. Sometimes you just have to put it in the mixer and hope something good happens. It was a "lucky" goal, but it happened because Colorado was putting on pressure. Hopefully the knee is no worse than the expected hyper-extension. It looked like his leg could have been broken.

Matt Pickens save with 3 minutes remaining? Incredible. Everyone at the Celtic thought we had given up the tying goal. We were discussing it post-game and nobody could think of another save like that to preserve a win in extra time in any of the leagues or Cups we've watched.

Drew Moor - Ironman. He played every minute of every regular season game (2700 minutes). He played every minute of the 3 playoff games, including the 30 extra minutes in Columbus (300 minutes). All of that, and in the 120th and final minute of the final he's in position to clear the tying goal off the line. 3120 minutes in a season has to be some sort of MLS record.

My keys to the game were controlling midfield, especially Ferreira, and the goalkeepers. Well Ferreria got free once, but the rough style of play favored the Rapids midfield and they used it to full effect. Both keepers came up huge once, so that was a draw.

Other Observations:
  • Great time at the Celtic, even through the pressure. The confetti got a bit out of hand, so a bit of a mess got left. I hope they understand.
  • That's 5 for 5 against Dallas in the playoffs!
  • Lousy officiating by Toledo. He let everything go and quickly lost control of the game. That's how you end up with both Cummings and Kandji being injured and Casey knocking everyone in sight over.
  • Larentowicz had a great game. He was stealing balls and breaking up any attack that came through the middle. Great to see him get a ring after 3 lost MLS Cups with New England.
  • Dallas is a bunch of punks and I was very disappointed with them. Daniel "No offense to the Eastern Champs, but this game was the championship" Hernandez waited for the ref to turn his back and smacked Thompson on the head. Hartman got into Kandji's face while he was coming off injured. Twice Casey was out and out kicked with no attempt to play the ball. Former Rapid Ugo Ihemelu actually pushed the hobbling Kandji as he was coming off the field. If Toledo hadn't last control of the game that should have been a red.
  • Cummings did not have a great night, but Dallas obviously went out there with the plan to prevent him from beating them. Too bad it was the player that subbed in for him that beat them!
  • Wallace struggled at times, bringing Baudet in for him was a good move.
  • Mullan was strong but silent in adding a 5th ring to his hand.
  • Pablo caps off perhaps his best year as a Rapid by getting a trophy after 13 years in the league. Its great that he finally got the reward he deserved.
  • Great to see the team celebrate with the fans by taking a trip around the stadium with the trophy.
  • The team is having a rally at Skyline Park South, on Arapahoe between 15th and 16th, tomorrow at 4!
Player of the Game: Denver South's Conor Casey. A goal, an unofficial assist, and constant pressure all night keeping Dallas from getting into their groove. Matt Pickens could have also gotten the nod, but Casey bringing a championship back to where he grew up gives him the edge.

Expansion Draft Causes Trade

Full MLS Cup review coming later tonight, but I wanted to get this news posted.

On Wednesday Portland and Vancouver will have their expansion draft. They'll each get 10 picks from the current MLS rosters. Teams are allowed to protect 11 players, plus after a player gets picked they can protect one more. No team can lose more than two players. Teams must protect 3 internationals unless they have 3 or less, then they must protect all but 1.

At the end of last night's game the Rapids had 4 internationals. Baudet, Earls, Lopez, and Smith. Protecting 3 of them would have required us to leave sombody like Matt Pickens or Mac Kandji unprotected. To deal with this the Rapids amde a trade this afternoon. They sent Julian Baudet and Danny Earls to Seattle for Pete Vagenas. This move was purely to get our number of internationals doen, I doubt that the coaching staff even really cares that much about what Vagenas can bring to the team.

That allowed the Rapids to protect the following players:
Conor Casey
Omar Cummings
Mac Kandji
Kosuke Kimura
Jeff Larentowicz
Pablo Mastroeni
Drew Moor
Brian Mullan
Matt Pickens
Jamie Smith
Marvell Wynne

Anthony Wallace was the only starter last night unprotected. I'm guessing the coaching staff is hoping that Vancouver or Portland will go over Wells Thompson or Scott Palguta and they can use that extra protection slot on Wallace.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Simply The Best!

Friday, November 19, 2010

MLS Cup 2010 Starring Your Colorado Rapids!

Tomorrow is the game that, 3 months ago, no Colorado fan who was honest with themselves thought we would be playing in. MLS Cup 2010. The Rapids have a shot at their first major trophy, but to do it they have to go through their old foe FC Dallas. Obviously there's nothing more to play for after this game, one way or the other the season is over.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention the game is in Toronto at 6:30pm MST. The match is televised on ESPN. Supporters groups will be meeting in many places, but I'll be joining Class VI, Pid Army, and an expected 200-300 fans at the Celtic Tavern in LoDo. There should be a small but vocal contingent of fans in Toronto to support the team as well.

Injury Report:
OUT: MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); MF Jamie Smith (L calf tightness)

Dallas also has 4 players questionable or worse, so the depth between the teams is about equal. I think the lineup is fairly obvious but we've been hearing things this week that Gary Smith may make some changes to deal with Dallas. My best guess to start:

Kimura - Wynne - Moor - Wallace
Mullan - Larentowicz - Pablo - Smith
Cummings - Casey

If Smith can't go, Thompson should go into his slot. Gary Smith has talked about possibly switching to a -5-1 to match Dallas 5-man midfield. To me, this would be a mistake. The Rapids played a 4-5-1 in the middle of the season and while we kept possession we couldn't score, and Omar Cummings was wasted on the right. He's also mentioned returning Baudet to the starting XI and moving Moor outside to Wallace's spot. The back 4 has done a pretty good job since Baudet went down injured and I'm hesitant to suddenly change it up in the final.

Key To Look For: I think there are actually two keys to this one. The first is the midfield, specifically Dallas' David Ferreria, who was just named league MVP today. He's the engine that makes Dallas go, and the Rapids will need to shut him down. Gary Smith has hinted he might just try to play 10 on 10 by assigning one player, probably Larentowicz, to stick to Ferreria all night and take him out of the game.

The second key is the goalkeepers. Matt Pickens is the only goalkeeper to record two shutouts this post-season, while Kevin Hartman has been on fire for the last couple months and almost single-handledly won their game against LA for them. It could be very difficult for the Rapids to get more than one past Hartman, so Pickens will have to put in a top performance.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, Rapids win in PKs. Goal by Conor Casey. This has been, by far, the hardest game to predict this season. My heart wants to say a Rapids win, while my head wonders if we can match their quality. The Rapids can not get into a shootout in this one, Dallas has the players to win going away. Instead they need to slow the game down and keep it low scoring. I don't think we can expect to get more than one past Hartman, and I don't see us getting a shutout. If we can get it to PKs though I think we're mentally tougher than Dallas and can win the tiebreaker.

Colorado - Dallas: 2006

Finally we come to our last matchup with Dallas in 2006, also the last time we made the playoffs prior to this year. The Rapids finished 4th in the West, 11 points behind the leading Dallas team and were once again facing them int eh first round. The format was the same as 2005, a two game series with the second leg being at the home of the higher seed.

Dallas came into Invesco Field and did what you would expect a top seeded team to do, controlled the game. They got goals from Carlos Ruiz and Abe Thompson (now playing with Miami FC of D-II) early in each half. The Rapids answered early in the first half with a goal from fan-favorite Terry Cooke (now playing in Azerbaijan) but did not have a second half response. With two minutes remaining the Rapids went down to 10 minutes through a straight red card to Thiago Martins (now playing in Norway) and Dallas was comfortable with their victory.

A week later the teams met again in Dallas with Colorado being forced to go on the attack. This was made easier when Chris Gbandi (also playing in Miami) was red carded in the 29th minute. The game was still scoreless at halftime though Mastroeni had picked up a yellow.

Things got wild in the second half. Carlos Ruiz scored again right after halftime, putting the Rapids down two goals. Colorado turned to Nico Hernandez (now playing in Vietnam) to dig them out of the hole. Nico scored a brace in the 57th and 83rd minute, forcing the game into extra time. 2 minutes in Clarance Goodson (about to move from Norwegian team to Denmark) put Dallas in the lead. The Rapids were at the end of their rope with less than 10 minutes to play when Clint Mathis scored the biggest goal of his Rapids career with 6 minutes to play. The teams were back to settling things with PKs.

Both teams started strong in PK's with the first 3 being made by both sides. Dallas missed their 4th kick and Kyle Beckerman (now with FSL) made his to put the Rapids in the lead. Dallas put the pressure on by making their 5th kick, only for Aitor Karanka (now an assistant coach with Real Madrid) to miss his, forcing sudden death. Dallas keeper Dario Sala took the 6th kick for his side, only to miss it. Team captain Pablo Mastroeni stepped up to end the game and set off a crazy sequence of events.

After Pablo made his PK he immediately approached the Inferno Supporters Group behind the goal to return some of the taunting the Rapids had been taking all game. He was joined by some other players while Rapids keeper Joe Cannon tried to keep things from getting out of hand. Suddenly Dario Sala snapped. He leaped up from the ground and charged at the Rapids team. first he sucker=punched Jovan Kirovski in the back of the head, then laid out Hunter Freeman with a haymaker. Mike Petke came to his teammates defense with a flying kick to Sala's gut before Cannon leaped in to break everything up and settle things down. Sala would eventually be suspended for the first 6 games of the 2007 season for his actions, and Mike Petke was fined.

I bring this up because there was an article today where Sala blames Mastroeni for starting the scuffle and also suggests he's the only player of Argentinean descent who isn't friendly with other Argentinians. This is revisionist history at its best. Mastroeni was absolutely out of line with taunting the Inferno, but it was Sala that started throwing punches. I'm not sure why Sala is giving the Rapids bulletin board material 2 days before MLS Cup, but we'll take it.

The Rapids went on to lose the Western Conference Final in Houston 3-1 and that was the last playoff action we saw before this year.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Colorado - Dallas: 2005

By 2005 the playoffs had changed format. The first round was now just a 2 game series, with no away goals rule. the Rapids finished 3rd in the West, 3 points behind FC Dallas which set up another first round matchup between the teams.

The first game was at Invesco Field in Denver. Both teams came out looking for an advantage but all they found were yellow cards as the game ended scoreless, setting up a 1 game series at the brand-new Pizza Hut Park in Dallas.

The Rapids jumped out to an early lead off a Jeff Cunningham goal. Cunningham could be starting as the lone striker in Dallas' 4-5-1 formation on Sunday. That was the only event in a quiet first half, but the second half turned out to be very different. The first 20 minutes saw 3 yellow cards and a red card on Rapids midfielder Alain Nkong (now playing in the Mexican second division). In the 67th minute Dallas leveled the score on a goal from Carlos Ruiz (now playing in Greece). The teams would exchange 3 more yellow cards, but Dallas could not find a second goal despite being up a man and the game would go to 30 minutes of extra time.

Right at the end of the first 15 minutes of overtime Carlos Ruiz scored again and things looked bleak for the Rapids. Right after the teams switched sides Richie Kotschau popped up out of nowhere to level the game (He still lives in Denver and has been seed at Rapids games and events). Colorado was called for a PK and Ruiz stepped up to take the lead and complete his hat-trick, only for his shot to hit the post so the series went to PK's. Much like the recent series against Columbus the fist 4 kickers for each side made their kicks. Then Roberta Mina had his saved by Rapids keeper Joe Cannon (still playing for the San Jose side the Rapids defeated on Saturday). Jean-Philippe Peguero put his shot away to send Dallas out again and the Rapids to the conference final against LA. Much like this year Colorado hosted the Conference final since the Galaxy, as the 4 seed, knocked off the top seeded Earthquakes. LA would come into Invesco Field and control the game en route to a 2-0 victory and a trip to MLS Cup (which they won, 1-0).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Colorado - Dallas: 2002

Colorado and Dallas finished equal on points in 2002 and were matched up in the first round of the playoffs. Dallas, by virtue of their 2-1-1 record against the Rapids in the regular season, had home field advantage in the 3 game series. Game 1 at the Cotton Bowl did not go well for Colorado. Carlos 'El Pibe' Valderrama scored after 2 minutes but the game was all Dallas after that. Steve Morrow, who now oversees international partnerships (including the one with the Rapids) for Arsenal, scored first followed by now FSL coach Jason Kreis, Chad Deering, and Antonio Martinez. Rapids Gallery of Honor inductee John Spencer (now the coach of the Portland Timbers) got one back in stoppage time but Dallas took the 3 points for this one.

3 days later the teams met again at Invesco Field with a completely different result. While the first game featured 6 goals this one had just a single score. Chris Carrieri (currently playing for the USL-2 Richmond Kickers) scored in the 78th minute to level the series and force a deciding game 3 back at the Cotton Bowl 4 days later.

Game 3 started much like game 1 with a quick goal. This time it was Dallas' Bobby Rhine (still working in the front office of FC Dallas) putting Dallas in the lead in the 6th minute. Colorado would strike back 16 minutes later as John Spencer would get his second of the playoffs. The two teams would battle for the rest of the game but neither could break through, forcing an overtime session to settle the series. In one of the shortest overtimes (MLS used the Golden Goal rule until the end of the 2002 season) Colorado's Mark Chung scored in the first minute to send the series and send Colorado through to the Conference Finals. Colorado lost that series to LA in 2 games by a combined score of 5-0.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Colorado - Dallas: 1997

This is the first of a series of posts this week recapping our playoff history against the Dallas Burn/FC Dallas. We've faced them 4 times in the last 14 years and beat them all 4 times.

The first meeting was in the Western Conference Finals in 1997. Colorado has put a beat down on Kansas City (the #1 seed) int eh first round, winning the first two games of the best of three series 3-0 and 3-2. Dallas, as the #2 seed, did the same thing to LA 1-0 (in a shootout) and 3-0. This gave Dallas the home field advantage in the series with games 1 and 3 at the Cotton Bowl and game 2 at Mile High Stadium.

Colorado pulled off the upset in Dallas in the first game. Chris Henderson (now Seattle's Technical Director) slotted home a goal in the 42nd minute to give the Rapids the lead and keeper Marcus Hahnemann (now with EPL side Wolverhampton Wolves) was a brick wall, preserving the shutout. The Rapids took their advantage home to Denver the next week. The first 5 minutes of the game resulted in goals from Adrian Paz for the Rapids followed closely by the equalizer from Damian. The game looked destined for a Shootout and probably a return to Dallas for Game 3 when Chris Henderson stepped up and put away the series winner in the 87th minute, sending Colorado on to their first MLS Cup.

In researching these series of articles I found something interesting. The Rapids have made it past the first round of the playoffs 5 times. 3 times they beat Dallas in the first round. The 4th time (detailed above) they beat Dallas in the 2nd round. The 5th time this year they play Dallas in the final. will the streak continue?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Toronto Here We Come!

Yeaahhh!!!! The Rapids did what they needed to do on Saturday night. they went out, controlled enough of the game, and nicked a goal to claim the Eastern Conference Championship. It was touch and go for a while but in the end the best team won and set off a celebration at the Dick that we've never seen before.

San Jose controlled the game early, creating a couple of dangerous situations in the first 20 minutes. Slowly Colorado pushed back, forcing Jon Busch into a number of saves. 5 minutes before the half the Rapids broke through. Kimura corralled a ball in the corner of the San Jose end and pushed back down the field to open up a cross. Half turned away from the net on the sideline he flicked a cross in for an on-rushing Omar Cummings. Earthquakes keeper Jon Busch moved to cover the shot from Cummings. Only problem is that Cummings never made contact. With everybody on the field expecting a near post shot from Omar the ball bounced in the box and went just inside the far post for Koz's first goal of the season.

The Rapids took control of the game in the second half with multiple great chances. Cummings played a ball to a charging Mastroeni that Busch barely tipped wide. 2 minutes later Cummings should have put the game away. Breaking free 1-on-1 with Busch he got around him, but trying to put the ball high enough to not be headed by the Quakes defender he hit the crossbar. After that Drew Moor beat Busch on a header off a corner kick but Geovanni headed it off the line. finally after killing a number of desperation chances by San Jose the final whistle was blown and the Rapids were off to MLS Cup.

My key to the game was keeping the keeping the ball away from the Earthquakes outside players, Wondolowski and Convey. Both were essentially non-factors in this game, well done.

Other Observations:
  • Not only did the Rapids claim a spot in MLS Cup but they also claimed a spot in next year's CONCACAF Champion's League. If we win MLS Cup we'll go straight into the group stage, which is a home and away series against 3 other teams in our group. If we lose MLS Cup we'll have to go through a home-and-home qualifying round against another team to make MLS Cup.
  • Wells Thompson started in place of Jamie Smith, who had his hamstring tighten up in pre-game. For being a last minute starter Thompson got the job done.
  • Conor Casey could not buy a foul all night. Curse of the big man, if both players fall down it must be the big man's fault.
  • Drew Moor had an awesome game. He's played every minute of every game for us this year, I'm amazed that he's still going so strong.
  • Pickens had a somewhat easy night, only facing one shot on goal.
  • Pablo had his shooting boots on, having a couple of looks at goal. How good must it feel to him to finally make MLS Cup after 13 years?
  • the Rapids found out today that they'll be wearing the primary burgundy jerseys in MLS Cup.
  • Great to see the team celebrate with the fans by taking a trip around the stadium with the trophy.
  • The Dick was rocking on Saturday, best crowd I've ever seen.
  • Next up, Dallas who we've faced 4 times in the playoffs and beaten 4 times. Let's make it 5 for 5!
  • MLS Cup coverage starts at 6:30pm MST on Sunday.
Player of the Game: Kosuke Kimura. Not only did he have the conference winning goal but he was a beast on offense and defense all night. I really hope we can figure out a way to protect him in the expansion draft.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Eastern Conference Champions!

Full game review coming later today or tomorrow. MLS Cup next Sunday at 6:30pm MST!!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rapids Clash With Earthquakes

Well here we are. The Rapids are hosting the Eastern Conference Final! Yeah, i didn't expect to be here either. San Jose comes to town tomorrow night with a trip to Toronto and MLS Cup 2010 on the line. Game time is 7:30pm at the Dick and the Class VI/Pid Army tailgate starts at 4:30pm. If you're a Rapids fan and you're in Colorado, be there.

These two teams have been pretty equally matched this season. Early in the year the Rapids went to the Bay Area and lost 1-0 on a goal from Chris Wondolowski that on replay was clearly offside and was missed by the refs. Mid-season the E-Quakes came to Denver and lost 1-0 when an Omar Cummings cross/shot was somehow turned into the SJ net by SJ keeper Jon Busch. San Jose and Colorado finished equal on points and equal on head-to-head, so the final standings (and it turned out the location of this game) game down to goal differential which Colorado won +12 to +1.

Injury Report:
OUT: MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); MF Jamie Smith (L hamstring strain)

San Jose has 7 players questionable or worse, so the Rapids are better off from a depth perspective. I think the lineup is fairly obvious:

Kimura - Wynne - Moor - Wallace
Mullan - Larentowicz - Pablo - Smith
Cummings - Casey

Yep, the same XI we've seen most of our late season run. The only change (barring unknown injury) i could possibly see is Wells Thompson for Jamie Smith to give Anthony Wallace defensive help on Chris Wondolowski. I think the best defense though is to stay on the attack which Jamie Smith is much better at.

Key To Look For: Keep the ball away from the Earthquakes outside players, particularly Bobby Convey and Chris Wondolowski. The E-Quakes got hot behind these two players, but outside of them their offense suffers. Wondo has 18 of San Jose's 34 goals this season, while Convey was the key to their victory in the series against New York. If the Rapids can deny them the ball the Earthquakes will struggle to score.

Prediction: 2-1 win, goals by Omar Cummings and Jeff Larentowicz. It may take extra time to gt the winner, but I think the cold temperatures, altitude, and the C+C Music Factory up front give the Rapids the edge. Larentowicz is due to get one of his blasts on target and SJ's likely left back is somewhat inexperienced and I think Cummings can capitalize on that for a goal. That will be the difference.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Goodbye Dave

For my regular readers who aren't friends and family in the Seattle area this is going to be out of place but bear with me. I'll have a game preview up tomorrow for the Eastern Conference Final.

Yesterday legendary Hall Of Fame Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus passed away from a heart attack. Dave called the first pitch in Mariners history in 1977 and almost every pitch between that one and the Ichiro fly-out that ended the 2010 season. Everybody in Seattle of my generation and younger grew up listening to him on the radio and TV. Before I was a soccer fan and almost before I was a football fan I listened to Dave calling the Mariners.

You never listened to the national announcers when watching a Mariners game, you always muted the TV and turned on the radio to here Dave calling the game. His trademark phrases of "That ball will fly away!", "My oh my!", and "Get out the rye bread and mustard Grandma, its grand salami time!" were repeated by everybody. The run to the '95 ALCS saved baseball in Seattle and usually players like Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, and Randy Johnson get credit for that, but I think more than anyone, Dave Niehaus saved baseball in Seattle. That run wouldn't have been the same without him.

I think Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer's wife said it best,"When we suck, its not going to be the same". The M's sucked for most of the 34 years that Dave called the games, but he made it bearable, sometimes even enjoyable. Now its just going to suck.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rapids Reach 3rd Conference Final in 6 Years

Quite a nail-biter on Saturday night as the Rapids lost the game, but won the series. This game was almost the reverse of the first leg in Colorado. Columbus was clearly the dominate team in the first half, having multiple opportunities to score but only putting one away to even the series. The goal came off a pinball series in the box when Colorado couldn't clear it.

The game came down to the second half and it, like the whole series, was very balanced. As the half went on the Rapids took more and more control and they needed it. In the 70th minute, on their first real good attack of the half, the Crew scored to go up 2-1 in the series. Robbie Rogers got free on a counter and played through a weak Anthony Wallace foul to slot one past Matt Pickens. Things looked bleak to Gary smith inserted Claudio Lopez and Mac Kandji and the game changed. While neither player made a huge impact, the change to a 3-5-2 with more mobile players put the Crew defense on their heels. Finally in the 84th minute Colorado broke through. like so many goals the last two seasons it was the C+C Music Factory that did it. Kandji intercepted a ball in midfield and immediately sprung Cummings down the right side. As we've seen plenty of times Omar served a cross along the ground to an onrushing Casey who put it past the Crew keeper to level the series at 2-2.

At this point the Rapids had the greater control but neither team could break through in regulation or overtime so we were off to PK's. This being the 3rd time in 6 years the Rapids have taken a first-round playoff series to PK's on the road, and all 3 had the same result. After Casey, Kandji (barely), Larentowicz, and Lopez were matched kick for kick by Columbus Jamie Smith stepped up and put the 5th kick home, and watched the Crew's Brian Carroll put their 5th kick over the crossbar. Victory to the Rapids!

My key to the game was keeping the pressure on the Columbuss midfield which we did not do. Pablo had a very poor game and until late in the match Columbus was able to drive through the center of the pitch. Lucky for us they weren't able to do more with it.

Other Observations:
  • Pablo needed to shut up and play. He was very lucky not to pick up another yellow for dissent.
  • Meanwhile in all honesty Brian Mullan should have been sent off with two yellow card fouls in 2 minutes, but the ref only carded him for the first.
  • Ugly refereeing on both sides. ou could make a case that both teams should have been down to 10.
  • Anthony Wallace, if you're going to foul to prevent a goal, make sure you take the guy down. His half-hearted attempt to foul rogers didn't accomplish anything.
  • Pickens can't really be blamed for either goal, and he came up with some big saves.
  • If the Conference Final comes down to PK's or, should we be so lucky, MLS Cup, don't let Kandji take one. His was weak and should have been saved.
  • Haha, we're still playing and FSL is out.
  • One more game at the Dick. Everyone better be there!
Player of the Game: Conor Casey. Yeah, I know, easy pick. But he did save the season for us.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Second Verse, Same As The First?

Colorado has gone to Columbus with a 1 goal lead in their 2-legged series. Tomorrow afternoon we'll find out if its enough. The Rapids get their second look at the Crew in just over a week when they face off at Columbus Crew Stadium tomorrow at 2pm MDT. The game is on Telefutura nationally and on KWGN locally. Class VI and the Pid Army are expecting upwards of 200 fans to gather at the Celtic Tavern in LoDo for the game.

If after 90 minutes Columbus has a 1 goal lead, leaving the series tied, there will be 30 minutes of overtime and, if the series is still tied, penalty kicks. The "away goals" rule is not used in MLS. The last two times the Rapids have been in the playoffs they went to PK's and won, both in Dallas in 2005 and 2006. The winner of this series will host the San Jose Earthquakes in the Eastern Conference Final next Saturday.

Injury Report:
OUT: MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
PROBABLE: FW Quincy Amarikwa (L ankle sprain); GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); MF Jamie Smith (L hamstring strain)

Columbus' injury report hasn't changed from last week, still missing their starting GK, a starting forward, and a 3rd player. The lineup for the Rapids seems fairly obvious:

Kimura - Wynne - Moor - Wallace
Mullan - Larentowicz - Pablo - Smith
Cummings - Casey

The old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". This lineup has done very well in the last third of the season and we should stick with it.

Key To Look For: Keep the pressure on the Columbus midfield, same as last week. Denying GBS and Gaven the ability to dictate the tempo kept Columbus on their heels last week. Mastroeni and Larentowicz need to continue their great play from last week and keep the midfield locked down.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Omar Cummings. I don't think we can get back-to-back shutouts against a Crew team pushing for an equalizer, but by pushing for that goal they'll leave themselves vulnerable for Cummings' slashing runs at goal. The Rapids will hold them to a draw and move on to hose San Jose at the Dick.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rapids Sink The Crew

The Rapids, in front of one of the best crowds of the year (in support if not in numbers), picked up a vital win in the two-legged series with the Crew last night. Colorado was clearly the best team on the pitch and were unlucky to only win 1-0. The Rapids completely dominated play in the first 45 minutes and for all but the last 15 minutes of the second half.

The game started well as after a few minutes of nervous play the Colorado slowly started taking control. It was obvious early that Columbus had no answer for Omar Cummings, and he took full advantage, slicing up the defense on run after run. Finally in the 23rd minute the Rapids broke through. Cummings took the ball down the right side and crossed it through the box at the 6-yard line. Casey barely touched it as he dummied for the ball and let it go, and Mastroeni crashed the far post to put it in the roof of the net for his first ever playoff goal.

The Rapids continued to pepper the Columbus goal with shots, really putting them on their heels. The half came too soon, if Colorado had another 5 minutes they almost certainly would have broke through. In the second half it was more of the same early as the Rapids upped the pressure, but couldn't get thee second goal. Surprise starter Wells Thompson was pulled for Mac Kandji int he 75th minute, which changed the nature of the game. The switch from the 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 opened up more space for Columbus, and Kandji's less than stellar defensive play led to multiple dangerous free kicks for the Crew. The last 15 minutes the Rapids spent more time defending their one goal lead than trying to double it. in the end though Colorado takes a 1-0 lead into the second half of this series.

My key to the game was keeping the pressure on the Columbuss midfield, which we did for 75 minutes, along with numerous unforced errors for the Crew. This allowed our wingbacks to push up and add to the attack.

Other Observations:
  • What shouldn't get lost in the disappointment over only getting one goal is that this was our first shut out in 7 games.
  • Cummings was money all night. The only way they stopped him was to prevent him from getting the ball because as soon as he did he was behind the defense.
  • Kimura did not have a great game, but did enough to frustrate the weak Crew offensive attack.
  • I thought the Thompson-Kandji sub was a great move and should of happened 10 minutes earlier. Given what happened after Kandji got in the game though, its good that Smith is the coach and I'm the blogger!
  • Wells Thompson's corners leave much to be desired.
  • Both Casey and Pablo beat Crew players multiple times, which should be embarrassing for the Crew players.
  • Great crowd last night. It was only 12K but, other than last week's sellout rivalry game, the best crowd we've had in probably two years. Everybody was into the game and it followed through the whole stadium. Even the cheesy "Scarves Up" as the players entered the field looked great last night because it seemed like everybody had a scarf and was holding it up (the cold weather helped).
Player of the Game: Pablo Mastroeni. I went back and forth on this one as Omar Cummings had a great night. I finally gave the edge to Pablo for the goal and his ability to beat Crew players with the ball. Turns out he's an offensive juggernaut, who knew? Matt Pickens made a late claim for the award as well in keeping the Crew off the board.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back To The Playoffs

Tomorrow night the Rapids go somewhere they haven't gone in 4 years, the playoffs. As the #5 team in the West Colorado was switched to the #3 seed in the East to face #2 seed Columbus. The Crew finished just 4 points ahead of the Rapids overall, and their win on Sunday was their first in 6 games.

Game time tomorrow night is 7pm at the Dick. Despite the short notice and the weeknight game Class VI and Pid Army will be out in force with the tailgate starting at 5pm. The game will also be televised nationally on ESPN2.

Injury Report:
OUT: MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
PROBABLE: FW Quincy Amarikwa (L ankle sprain); MF Jamie Smith (L hamstring strain)

Columbus is down their starting keeper and two other players. The lineup seems fairly obvious this week, if it ain't broke, don't fix it and despite our last minute meltdown on Saturday, the lineup ain't broke:

Kimura - Wynne - Moor - Wallace
Mullan - Larentowicz - Pablo - Smith
Cummings - Casey

I suppose if Baudet is healthy you could put him in for Kimura, but considering how well this group has worked this season I don't think the even of the playoffs is the time to make a change.

Key To Look For: Keep the pressure on the Columbus midfield. The Columbus midfield of Gaven and Schelotto played 90 minutes in a meaningless game on Sunday. Now they have to fly to Colorado and play on 3 days rest at altitude. Keeping them under pressure and wearing them out will take the momentum out of Columbus' game.

Prediction: 3-1 win, goals by Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. I'm not sure which one of those two will get the third goal. The Rapids will take advantage of not having to travel and the extra day of rest to push Columbus early and often. The Crew will hang in for a while and may even get even 1-1 but they'll fade late. Its important to remember that this is just the first half of an 180 minute match and we need to take a multi-goal lead into Columbus next weekend.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rapids Shell-Shocked But Not Beaten

I really don't want to talk much about this game. Needless to say it was great for 90 minutes before it turned into a 3 minute meltdown by Matt Pickens and Brian Mullan. The Rapids were clearly the better team on the night, even the FSL fans admit it, but the soccer gods are apparently against us as a Pickens blunder, a bad double bounce, and a Mullan foul conspired to deny us the win and the Rocky Mountain Cup.

The Rapids completely outplayed FSL this game and deserved the win, only to fumble it away. There are tow silver linings. 1. FSL never beat us this year and 2. with the draw the Rapids play in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. I'd gladly swap to the Western Conference to have won this game though.

Other Observations:
  • The playoff games are as follows:
Thursday Oct 28th, 7pm, DSG Park, ESPN2
Saturday Nov 6th, 2pm Columbus Crew Stadium - Telefutura (and maybe KWGN?)
  • Conor Casey's goal tied him with Omar for the team lead, so Omar had to go out and get another one to win the team's Golden Boot.
  • Omar Cummings was named Class VI Player of the Year and Marvell Wynne was named Defender of the Year. Congrats to both players, and thanks for coming by to accept the awards in front of the section.
  • I am now the proud owner (seriously!) of an Ian Joyce jersey, the name I randomly drew when I was one of the winners of the "Jersey off the Back" promotion. I've always wanted a Rapids GK jersey.
  • Pablo had a great game, and was obviously upset at the end of the game. Great to see the combination of passion and control.
Player of the Game: Kosuke Kimura and Anthony Wallace. The outside back duo had solid games and each picked up an assist. There was no easy way to decide between them, so they both get it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time To Claim What Is Rightfully Ours

Last game of the season and FaKe SaLt LaKe is in town again. The difference this year is that both teams have already clinched a playoff spot and are now just playing for seeding and the Rocky Mountain Cup. FSL can win the Supporter's shield with a win and LA failing to win or a draw and LA losing. The Rapids could move up to 7th with a win or a draw and a San Jose loss or draw, or even 6th if Seattle loses earlier in the day.

Of course the big prize is the Rocky Mountain Cup. With the teams drawing 1-1 in Sandy the Cup comes down to one game. The winner of the game takes the Cup, in case of a draw FSL keeps it as the current holders.

Game time is 7pm and it looks like a packed house. Because its the final game of the season and the Rocky Mountain Cup the tailgate will be 3 hours, starting at 4pm.

Injury Report:
OUT: MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
PROBABLE: FW Quincy Amarikwa (L ankle sprain); DEF Julian Baudet (L hamstring strain); FW Omar Cummings (L ankle sprain); DEF Brian Mullan (R ankle sprain); GK Matt Pickens (groin); DEF Anthony Wallace (groin strain)

This time of year every one's a bit banged up, and Gary Smith will have to choose between going for an improved seeding and the Cup and resting players to get healthy for the playoffs. That said, my guess on a lineups:

Kimura - Wynne - Moor - Earls
Mullan - Larentowicz - Pablo - Smith
Cummings - Casey

I think Wallace and Baudet get another week before re-entering the starting XI but I wouldn't be shocked to see either one come in as a sub. I think Pickens and Cummings start as they have been able to the last few games while Baudet and Wallace haven't. Mullan may be hit or miss, but I'm thinking he plays.

Key To Look For: Its the Rocky Mountain Cup. Just as a reminder:

Now go get us our trophy back!

Prediction: 2-1 win, goals by Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. The Rapids will get out to a 2-0 lead behind the Dynamic Duo but will concede one in the second half and have to hold on late for the win, setting off a on-field celebration with the Cup as FSL sulks back to the locker room having been denied the Supporter's Shield.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Player Of The Year

After the game on Saturday Class VI will award its Player of the Year award and the Pid Army will award its Defensive Player of the Year award. I thought I would tell you who I voted for and why.

First let's look back and who I named Player of the Game for the 27 games I've awarded it this year:

  • Omar Cummings - 6 times
  • Pablo Mastroeni - 4 times
  • Marvell Wynne - 4 times
  • Matt Pickens - 3 times
  • Mehdi Ballouchy - 2 times
  • Jeff Larentowicz - 2 times
  • Drew Moor - 2 times
  • Julian Baudet - 1 time
  • Conor Casey - 1 time
  • Claudio Lopez - 1 time
  • The fans - 1 time (the KC home game mess)
For player of the year I already had a pretty good idea of who I would vote for and the review of my Player of the Game awards reinforced it. Omar Cummings is clearly the Player of the Year for the Rapids. He leads the team in goals and so many of them came at crucial moments to put the Rapids in the lead or to put a team away.

I know another favorite pick is Marvell Wynne, who has also been great. I think he's been so much more than we expected that he's picking up some votes there, but I'm not sure that means he was the best player. Pablo has had one of his best seasons as a Rapid in years, and if it weren't for Cummings great season he'd be my pick for Player of the Year.

For Defensive Player of the Year its a little less obvious. Wynne was Player of the Game often for both his defensive work and his offensive work. Matt Pickens has been solid but never really spectacular. I actually went with Drew Moor. Moor has not been flashy but he's been consistent. He's played every minute of every game and is the only player to start every match. (Larentowicz has 29 appearances but only 28 starts). Every game if you were asked to name the best defensive effort his name may only come up a handful of times, but if you were asked to name the best two defensive efforts I think his name would appear for pretty much every game. He's reliable, an ironman, and our Defensive Player of the Year.

Monday, October 18, 2010


That's right, after 4 long years the Rapids are back in the playoffs. They had their spot clinched when New England beat Kansas City about 30 minutes before kickoff, but Colorado didn't want to be seen as backing into the post-season. So they went out and beat LA up and down the HDC pitch in a 3-1 win. After an early goal by Edson Buddle off a deflection by Drew Moor the Rapids took control. Edson Buddle returned the favor, having a Sean Franklin clearance go off his back for an own goal.

12 minutes later the Rapids scored through a textbook Cummings-Casey paring. Omar took the ball down the right side, got into open space, and sent a cross along the ground into the box towards an on-rushing Casey who one-timed it into the net for a 2-1 lead. Rapids fans have seen that exact play numerous times in the last couple of years, apparently the LA defense didn't watch the tapes. LA had some chances before half but Matt Pickens was up to the challenge.

After halftime the Rapids got a bit lucky. Thompson, a surprise start at left back, picked up a yellow early in the game. In about the 60th minute he hauled down Landon Donovan on a play that should have been a second yellow, but it wasn't given. Who knows what happens if the Rapids go down a man there. The Rapids took advantage as Cummings and Casey exchanged places. in the 67 minute. Casey brought the ball up the middle and pushed it through the LA defense where Cummings was running onto it and hit a shot to the far post to end LA's hopes to claim the Supporter's Shield on Saturday.

My key to the game was Landon Donovan. Landon who? He was pretty much invisible in the game except when he was yelling at the ref. To be fair to him though, he should have picked up the second yellow on Wells Thompson which may have changed the game.

Other Observations:
  • Back in the playoffs! The Rapids will be either the 3rd or 4th seed in the East or the 4th seed in the West. The two San Jose games and the Seattle game will all have an effect on where we end up along with our Rocky Mountain Cup match next Saturday.
  • Colorado's home playoff game will be sometime between Oct. 28th and Oct. 30th. A decision will be made after all the playoff spots are set next weekend.
  • 4 years, 5 months, 10 days and 69 games. That's how long it had been since the Rapids gave up the first goal in a regular-season league match and won the game. Glad to get that monkey off our back.
  • Wells Thompson gave a good effort at left back, but let's not do that again. He's clearly not a left back. Danny Earls hasn't been consistent, but he's done better than that.
  • Cummings and Casey have now combined for 49 goals in the last two seasons. Best strike duo in MLS?
  • Honestly, you couldn't tell that Landon Donovan and David Beckham, two of the three biggest names in MLS, were on the field for this one. Well done by the whole team, but Pablo gets particular credit in keeping them from getting anything started.
  • Wynne and Moor have become a very good center back pairing. I think Moor's our defensive player of the year but its a tough choice.
  • Koz seemed to mentally tire during this game, making worse decisions as the game got later and later. Hopefully that's just a one time thing.
  • Mullan and Smith didn't show up on the scoresheet, but their presence on the wings helped free up space for the Dynamic Duo to do their thing.
  • Its going to be nice to go to the final game of the season not looking over our shoulders for a playoff spot.
Player of the Game: Matt Pickens. He could do nothing about the odd deflection that lead to the LA goal, but other than that every time LA thought they had a chance Pickens was there to shut it down.