Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mid-Season Report Card

17 games down, 17 to go.  It feels weird to be at mid-season already and not even hit 4th of July, but that's what the early start does to the season.  At this point the Rapids have been eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup and it would take a miracle run to win the Supporters Shield, being almost a full point per game behind Montreal in that competition.  That leaves MLS Cup and the Rocky Mountain Cup as the only realistic goals this season (and right now the former is barely realistic).  Colorado is currently .32 points/game out of a playoff spot which translates to 5-6 points over the first half of the season.  They'll have to raise their game in the second half of the season not only to match how the rest of the West is playing but above that to make up those 5-6 points.  At least as far as the Rocky Mountain Cup goes the Rapids are in the drivers seat.  4 points from the first 2 games leaves them just needing a draw in the final game on Aug. 3rd to win the Cup.

Breaking the team down by position:
Goalkeeping: Clearly the strongest unit on the team.  When Pickens broke his arm in March the fear was that the season went down with him, but little-known Clint Irwin stepped in and became the best player on the team.  Irwin became the first keepers in league history to face PKs in his first three then four starts, guessing right on all four and saving one while forcing a second high.  With Pickens about to return from injury Pareja will have a tough decision to make between the team's 2012 MVP and the team's 2013 MVP (so far).  The only blight on the group is Steward Ceus' poor play in the season opener and in the USOC.
Grade: A-

Defense: A unit that looked great for the first 14 games fell apart last week.  In our first 14 games the Rapids held opponents to 1 or 0 goals 9 times, and only allowed 2 goals the other 5 times.  This was one of the top 3 records in the league.  In the 3 games last week they gave up 7 goals and at least 2 each game.  The major change?  Shockingly, Shane O'Neill.  He's been gone for the U-20 World Cup and our defense has fallen apart.  Now I don't think our defense hinges on a 19-year old 2nd year player but it shows the difference between a set back four and one that's in flux.  Drew Moor has looked less solid than previous years, Wynne has moved back and forth between CB and RB, Mullan clearly is not a RB, and Calderon got injured early.  The one positive sign is Chris Klute who seems to have locked down the LB position.  The only way the Rapids get back into the playoff picture is if the defense returns to the state it was prior to this last week of play.
Grade: C

Midfield: The center of this Jekyll and Hyde team.  Sometimes they control the game, sometimes they're invisible.  Of course they've also been the group most hurt by the injury bug.  Thomas, Rivero, Castrillon, Harbottle, Smith, Powers, etc. have all missed at least a game which makes it hard to get settled into a constant group.  Harris, surprisingly, has been the best of the group when he can keep his red card instincts in check.  Powers has done good filling in for the injured Rivero but he's no Rivero.  The team is much more dangerous with Martin on the field.  Thomas has taken over the destroyer role with Sturgis playing th ebox-to-bx midfielder role.  If those 3 are on the field we get control of the midfield, when we have to plug other pieces in we struggle.
Grade: C-

Forwards: Ugh, a mess.  Brown has been good, for a rookie, but other than that there's been no help from the attack.  Buddle is the biggest overpaid waste of space we have, which saves Mwanga from the title.  A total of 5 goals is not anywhere close to good enough from the strike force.  If this doesn't improve, and quickly, you can kiss the season goodbye.
Grade: F

Coaching: Pareja (along with Bravo) has put together some good young players, but the lack of the key MLS-caliber players is hurting this team.  Pareja seems to have finally settled on a 4-2-2-2 type system (when everyone is healthy) that seems to work but he struggles when he can't plug in the best pieces.  The second half of this season Pareja will be coaching for his job, right now I'm not sure he keeps it.
Grade: D

Overall: Had I written this review before the last week's games I would have said I was pleasantly surprised to be where we were given our injuries.  We're now closer to where I expected to be, which isn't good.  Colorado can still turn it around but its going to take a lot of work, and it starts against the current leader, Montreal.  Not the way you want to start.  The season is going to go one of two ways.  Most likely we're into the summer swoon and things go downhill from here.  Possibly we come home from this road trip, win two at home, and start a run that gets us back into the playoff picture.  I expect the former but am rooting for the latter.
Grade: D+

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