Wednesday, May 12, 2010

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 solid but not spectacular. He's had one goal in Kansas City that was really his fault and the rest that, while a top goalie might have stopped, you can't really blame Pickens for not stopping. He's been less sure about his catches this year though, punching balls that other keepers would normally catch. The new ball seems to be playing havoc with all the keepers though, so this may be a symptom of that. While I have no issue with Pickens as our keeper, I don't feel like he's going to win a game for us like Cannon or even Bouna Time did in the past.
Grade: B

Defense: The defense has been fairly strong this year, except on set pieces. The Rapids are 4th in goals allowed with 7 goals given up in 7 games, and 6 of them were on set pieces. The 7th was actually offside, so you could claim that the defense has yet to give up a legitimate goal from the run of play. They've done this despite Julian Baudet being injured and using Scott Palguta in a substitute role. Marvell Wynne has looked much better than expected at center back, Danny Earls is starting to figure out the balance between offense and defense, and Drew Moor has quietly been the MVP of the group. The injury to Kimura looks like it could keep him out a while unfortunately but hopefully with Baudet being back in the starting lineup we'll get some leadership on set pieces. If we could figure those out it seems like it will be very hard to score on us.
Grade: B

A tale of two formations. We started the season with a 4-4-2 and the midfield couldn't connect at all. A couple of games ago we switched to a 4-5-1, sliding Cummings back on the right and moving Ballouchy to the central playmaker role and suddenly our movement and possession game appeared. Larentowicz and Mastroeni have made the central midfield almost impassible for the opposition but thee wings have been interesting. Colin Clark got benched for 2.5 games, until Wells Thompson somehow lost his forward gear against LA and Clark returned at halftime. Hopefully that experiment is over and Clark will start again. On the right side we've seen Ballouchy (ineffective), Jamie Smith (injured) and Cummings rotate into that spot. Cummings has been the best, but it removes him from the attack. Hopefully Claudio Lopez can regain form and take the starting spot, or Jamie Smith can stay healthy for more than 2 games in a row. Gary Smith is going to have to figure out if he can find 4 midfielders that can link the offense and defense or if he needs to stay with the 5 man midfield at the cost of some attacking power.
Grade: C-

Where did the Dynamic Duo go? Cummings has 2 goals and Casey has 3, but all from the spot. The team has 8 total, tied for 11th in the league, and the lack of finishing has cost us at least a draw in each of the last two games. With the new 4-5-1 formation we're generating plenty of chances, but Cummings and Casey suddenly can't find the back of the net with shots going everywhere but in the goal. The diminished scoring appears to have cost Casey his shot at the World Cup. It will be important that Gary Smith gets Casey focused on regaining his scoring touch and not allow him to spin off so he loses focus and motivation. If Casey and Cummings can get back to their form of last season we've got a top notch strike duo. If they can't it will be a long season.
Grade: D

The Rapids have done a good job of putting together a solid bench. Kimura, Palguta, Thompson, and Lopez give the Rapids numerous options for defense and midfield. At forward the team is weaker, with rookie Andre Akpan and second year player Qunicy Amarikwa as the only backups. Amarikwa has had a couple of looks and has the hustle and drive but has yet to show the ball skills needed. The Rapids could probably use a forward with some more experience, especially to push the under-performing Casey and Cummings, but other than that the bench is in good shape.
Grade: B-

Gary Smith has been hit and miss. His decision to fix the problem with the midfield by going to a 4-5-1 seems to have been a good one, but one wonders why it took so long to figure out that the 4 man midfield wasn't working. Benching Clark on the turf in New England made sense, but keeping him benched for two games after that didn't. Acquiring and starting Wynne as a center back looks like a great move right now, but leaving us with only a rookie forward as backup to start the season wasn't good. There's a big challenge ahead in getting the attack back in line, especially with Casey coming off the disappointment of missing the World Cup. In the end though it will come down to the playoff chase, and a lesser extent the Open Cup. for now he's just an average MLS coach.
Grade: C

The Rapids have made good player moves in picking up Wynne and Lopez, and dealing for some more backup in Amarikwa. The downside is that we needed to make those kind of moves at the beginning of training camp so that the players were available when we needed them at the start of the season, not playing their way into the squad in mid-season. The addition of the Supporter's Terrace is a huge plus, instantly changing the dynamic of the stadium for the better and helping with home field advantage. Right now the majority of the rest of the league and even two D-II teams have announced friendlies against major European opposition while the Rapids have been silent, which is a bit of a bummer for the fans and probably the players too. So its a real mixed bag from the Front Office right now.
Grade: C

The team is at .500, with a good defense and a bad offense. They are tied for 4th in the West but 6th overall in the league, in the next to last playoff spot. The Rapids have one game in the current 24 day period, and then 3 games in the 12 days before the start of the World Cup. We'll find out a good deal about this team by the end of that time. Right now I think the Rapids look much like they have the last 3 years, a team good enough to stay in the playoff hunt until the very end and either make or miss the playoffs in the last game or two. Since half the teams make the playoffs this year, that makes them a distinctly average team.
Grade: C

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