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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

And..we're back!

So I go away for a week and a half with the Rapids on the verge of clinching a playoff spot and I come back to Gary Smith overlooking the worst team in the MLS en route to a home loss and then pulling out a huge point in Dallas against the hottest team in MLS. Yep, same old Rapids.

This week we're in LA for our penultimate game of the regular season, and maybe of our whole season. The math is easy. 1 point won by us or lost by KC and we're in, if we lose to LA and FSL and KC beats New England and San Jose, we're out. KC plays at NE two hours before the Rapids play at LA, so we'll know just around kickoff if the pressure is still on or not.

Tomorrow's game has a 8:30pm kickoff in LA, with the game on KWGN. The supporters groups are gathering at the Celtic Tavern in LoDo and if the group is big enough the Celtic will buy Direct Kick to show the KC game before hand.

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

Discipline Report:
TWO CAUTIONS FROM SUSPENSION: Omar Cummings, Jeff Larentowicz, Pablo Mastroeni, Brian Mullan, Jamie Smith, Wells Thompson, Marvell Wynne

Seems that every one's ankle is a bit iffy. This is the time to suck it up and play though. With 1 point necessary to make the playoffs, now is the time to go out there and get it. The good news is that anyone on the 2 yellow list who gets through this game clean is clear for the season since cards are reset at the start of the playoffs, but if you pick up your 5th card in the last game you are suspended for the first game of the playoffs. Its a bit hard with all the probables and Gary Smith's schizophrenic lineup decisions lately, but my best guess at the lineup:

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

This is the group that worked well when we were racking up points in September. Assuming they're all healthy enough to go they should go.

Key To Look For: Landon Donovan. He's quite possibly the best field player in American soccer history. I don't care how quiet he's been, when he's on the field he's the guy to keep an eye on.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Conor Casey. A bit of wishful thinking here, as I don't want to go into the FSL game, again, with the playoffs on the line but I think we can get a draw. We played very well in Dallas and right now Dallas appears to be a better team than LA. I don't think we can go into LA and win, but with our speed pulling apart their back line I see Casey getting a head on the ball for a goal, but our defense giving up one to LA's dangerous attack.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Second Half Of The Union/United Week

Note: I'm starting a family visit this weekend, so the blog will have little or no posts after this until after the Dallas game next weekend.

The Rapids play their second home game this week against one of the "combined" teams of MLS, DC United. DC is awful this year, and they have as hot at one of the worst 5 seasons on MLS history. Colorado has won its last 4 home games by a combined 14-1 score, and those were against theoretically better teams than DC. DC hasn't won in Denver since 2000, a whole millennium ago. Game time tomorrow is 7pm (note time change from the beginning of thee season!) and the supporter's tailgate will start at 4. This week is the annual supporter's chili cook-off, so come hungry!

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

Discipline Report:
TWO CAUTIONS FROM SUSPENSION: Omar Cummings, Jeff Larentowicz, Pablo Mastroeni, Brian Mullan, Jamie Smith, Marvell Wynne

It appears that Baudet has had a set back in his recovery, hopefully he sees the field soon. DC is missing 8 people due to injury and a 9th due to suspension, so it will be a rag-tag lineup we see. The Rapids lineup seems easy to guess:

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

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. With Baudet injured that's clearly our best XI.

Key To Look For: Keep the focus on this game. This is the end of the 5 game home run against teams we should have been beating. We've beaten the first 4, and the 5th seems like an easy win. its that type of thinking though that will get the Rapids relaxing and all of a sudden DC will score twice and suddenly we're in a hole. Finish the run strong.

Prediction: 3-0 win, goals by Omar Cummings x2 and Conor Casey. We won our last 4 home games by 3 goals, and Cummings is hotter than any player in MLS right now. It appears the DC will be playing with a makeshift back line and that's the type of thing Casey and Cummings will feast on.