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.