Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2017 Home Openers Announced!

As you can see in the picture, the league announced the home openers today.  The Rapids will start at home in their season opener on March 4th against New England.  That means its also Jameson Night (or Jameson afternoon in this case given the 4pm kickoff) at the tailgate.  We also know from the other home opener announcements that the following week the Rapids will be the opponent for RBNY's home opener on March 11th.

The full schedule will be released before next month's Superdraft on January 13th.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rapids Pass In Both Drafts This Week

Colorado took nobody in yesterday's Waiver Draft (no team selected anyone) or in today's Re-Entry Draft Phase 1 (3 players were taken total, none of which were Conor Doyle).  This is not a big surprise, rarely are players taken in Phase 1 and the waiver draft this year was slim pickings.

The last major activity of 2016 is next Tuesday with the Re-Entry Draft Phase 2.  Between now and then the Rapids can negotiate a new contract with Conor Doyle if they want, then on Tuesday we can expect more players to be taken as there is more flexibility with contracts in Phase 2.  After that things will largely go quiet through the holidays until the combine starts on Jan. 7th and the Superdraft on Jan 13th

Also for the record here's the official confirmation of Pablo's new 3 year deal.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Players Staying, Going, and Coaching News

A lot of news today.  First, as expected, no Rapids were taken in today's expansion draft.  Given how much interest was shown in projected drafts for Jared Watts I'm going to go with my theory that the deals on Sunday with the expansion teams included an agreement that they wouldn't take any players from Colorado.  One ex-Rapid moved, briefly.  Atlanta took Clint Irwin and then immediately traded him back to Toronto for Mark Bloom (who was born in Georgia) and general allocation money.

EDIT: In a tweet tonight the Post's Daniel Boniface has confirmed there were deals in place with Minnesota and Atlanta to bypass Raids on the expansion draft.

After the expansion draft the Rapids announced that they traded Jermaine Jones' rights to LA for their natural first round pick in next month's Superdraft and a conditional second round pick in the 2018 draft.  If you remember in March we sent our natural first round pick to New England along with general allocation money to get Jones' rights.  So essentially getting him for a season cost us nothing except his salary.  Not a bad bit of business.

News also broke today that Pablo has re-signed for 3 years.  This is technically a rumor until its confirmed (probably tomorrow) but we're going to call it confirmed unless there's something drastically different in the official announcement.  As I wrote two weeks ago I'm ok with re-signing him, I'm just concerned about getting into a long term deal without knowing which Pablo is the real Pablo, 2014-15 or 2016.  There's no news on if this contract has any option years so I'm going to assume for now that its a standard 3 year contract like his last one.  Lets hope we don't have a repeat of the 2007-08 Clavijo years.  Though I suppose KSE extended Jeff Fisher for two years to start this season and fired him yesterday, so maybe they've learned their lesson about keeping a bad coach (Go Hawks!).

Monday, December 12, 2016

Roster News and Expansion Draft Protected List

Two big announcements today.  We got the list of re-signed and released players and we got the protected list for the expansion draft.  First the roster news.  Here's the current status of everyone (other than Juan Ramirez):

Players already under contract for 2017: K. Doyle, Gashi, Howard, Powers, Williams

Players who's option for 2017 was picked up today: Badji, Berner, Burch, Burling, Calvert, Castillo, Miller, Serna, Sjoberg

New long-term contracts signed today: Azira, Cronin, Hairston, MacMath, Watts

Options declined today: C. Doyle, Pappa, Pfeffer, St. Ledger

Out of contract: Jones, Le Toux

If you remember my roster write up from Saturday I had 11 players on the Keep list, 10 of which were confirmed to be signed for 2017 today.  Greenspan being traded yesterday prevented a clean sweep of my list.  I also had 6 players on my Keep But Look For An Upgrade list, all of which are now under contract for 2017.  I had 5 on my Trade/Sell list but it appears we're just releasing two of them, Pappa and Jones (though if Jones isn't selected in the expansion draft we'd still retain his rights).  We kept Powers, MacMath, and Ramirez and hopefully we get value for them.  All 3 names on my Cut list got cut (C. Doyle, Le Toux, St. Ledger), while one of my unknowns was kept (Castillo) and one was cut (Pfeffer).

The announcement did include that the team is in discussions with some of the cut players to bring them back under different contacts.  If I had to guess that would be Pfeffer and maybe Conor Doyle.

Overall we have 19 players under contract for 2017, though we can expect a couple of these players to not start the season on the roster through trades, sales, or cuts.  Its a solid core to build around and we can now focus on looking for difference makers to help the offense.

Also today the team released its  list  of protected players for tomorrow's Expansion Draft that will happen at noon MT.

Auto Protected Homegrown Players:
Caleb Calvert
Zach Pfeffer (despite being declining his option we retain his rights and he could be selected tomorrow)
Dillon Serna

Protected List:
Micheal Azira
Dominque Badji
Sam Cronin
Kevin Doyle
Shkelzen Gashi
Marlon Hairston
Tim Howard
Zac MacMath
Eric Miller
Dillon Powers
Axel Sjoberg

A couple of surprises on that list.  I picked 8 of the 11 correctly on Saturday but I had Burch,, Burling, and Watts protected over Badji, MacMath, and Miller.  MacMath is understandable if the team thinks there's more value in trading him than using him as the carrot to be the only Rapid picked tomorrow.  I'm surprised at Badji or Miller over Watts, a number of columnist have already identified Watts as one of the best possible pickups for Atlanta or Minnesota tomorrow.  Burch and Burling provide veteran leadership and I'm a little surprised to see Badji valued over them.  Miller at least plays a hard to fill position (left or right back) so there's some understanding there.

All that said, I still think the deals with both expansion teams yesterday included an understanding that nobody from the Rapids will be picked tomorrow.  If I'm wrong though then I think the most likely pick is either Watts or Pappa.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trades And Homegrown News

So in the short trade window that was open this morning before Tuesday's expansion draft the Rapids made two trades.

Every team has 8 spots by default.  We have a permanent one from FSL in the Gregorio trade and send one to Vancouver through 2031 in the Nyassi trade so those cancel out.  We also have one from LA when we got Sarvas from them and one at the beginning of the year from SJ for allocation money.  The end date on those two trades haven't been announced.  So worst case those two expire and we're down one with today's trade, best case we're still up one after today's trade.  So somewhere between 7 and 9.  Right now we have 7 internationals on the roster (8 if Ramirez ever returns) and I don't expect all 7 to return next year so we're fine.  Badji, Castillo, and Williams could all be at risk of not returning and no chance St. Ledger comes back.  Even Kevin Doyle could not return.  The only two internationals I'm sure will return are Gashi and Sjoberg, and that assumes we don't sell Sjoberg to Sweden (I don't think we will, especially with today's second trade).
This one surprised me a bit as with the work the Rapids did with the Navy to get him training time I figured we would have had a longer commitment with him.  This also makes me believe that Watts or Burling is an expected starter alongside Sjoberg next year.  This was the only trade in MLS today that didn't involve Atlanta United in some way.

With these moves we now have 3 picks in next month's draft.  Our natural 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks have been traded for Jones, MacMath, and Conor Doyle respectively but we have our natural 4th round pick (#86) to go with the two we acquired today.

EDIT: So I forgot, we do have a 1st round pick in next month's draft. We get a conditional pick 1st round pick from TFC from the Irwin trade. It wasn't listed on the Wiki entry until after TFC's draft spot was determined (last night). I'm guessing the "conditional" aspect dictates if we get their natural pick (#21) or another of their 1st round picks should they trade for one.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the deals with both expansion teams today included the understanding that they wouldn't take any Rapids players in Tuesday's expansion draft.  most people would say the 3rd round pick was not enough for Greenspan and even a 2nd round pick is a little light for 2 years of an international spot.  But if both trades included protection from expansion picks that evens them back up.

One other piece of news today, a Denver Post article about Denver University's junior center back Kortne Ford who says he's in talks with the Rapids.  Ford came through the Rapids academy and would be a homegrown player if he signs with the Rapids before going into the draft in 2018.  The article makes it sound like he's deciding between returning for his senior year at DU or going pro now.  These talks may have also influenced the decision to trade Greenspan if the Rapids were confident they were going to get Ford in for depth at center back.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 Roster Review and Expansion Draft Prediction

Its been a little late coming but I'm finally getting around to my annual roster review.  Afterwards I'll also project who I think the Rapids will protect in next week's expansion draft.

This is my breakdown of what I think Colorado should do with each player, given the realities of MLS's player acquisition rules and current contract statuses (as best we know them).  I'll like the player's position and their 2016 base salary as well.

M Micheal Azira, 63K - Might be the best deal in the league at 63K.  Should have played more down the stretch
GK John Berner, 63K - He'll be needed to start thee season until Howard is healthy
F Caleb Calvert, 75K - Young and likes some of what we saw this year.  Also apparently retains his homegrown designation
M Sam Cronin, 225K - Surprisingly maybe the key to the team this year.  We saw how much it hurt not to have him in the final game
F Shkelzen Gashi, 1.575M  - Took a while to get settled but I think there's more to come
D Joe Greenspan, 51.5K - Young, looked good at times, no brainer to keep him
M Marlon Hairston, 90K - Probably took the biggest step forward of any player this year.  Can't wait to see him contribute more regularly next year
GK Tim Howard, 2.1M - Duh
M Dillon Serna, 66K - Equally duh.  Hopefully he bounces back from the ACL well
D Axel Sjoberg, 66K - Keep him and give him a raise
D Jared Watts, 68K - Another one that took a surprising step forward this year.  Still want him as a backup not as a starter though

Keep for now, be looking for an upgrade:
F Dominque Badji, 53.5K - Barring a huge step forward in his shooting ability he's nothing more than a later game speedy super sub.  Nice to have but if there's an option to improve by moving him we should.
D Marc Burch, 120K - I could see moving him into the keep list but that price tag is a bit high
D Bobby Burling, 110K - If Pablo sees him as a starter next to Axel then we can keep him.  If he's going to back up Watts though we can probably do better or get cheaper (or both)
F Kevin Doyle, 1.075M - I love his passion and his leadership, but we're just not getting enough out of him.  If we could bring him back at about a third of the price I'd be good keeping him.  He's going to be hard to replace though, unless we have an option on his contract.
D Eric Miller, 66.4K - Young, has potential, but looked really bad late in the season
D Mekeli Williams, 85K - Started hot but fell off as the season went on.  We can probably do better at outside back

M Jermaine Jones, 600K - Reports are he's already talking to LA.  Trade his rights there and move on
GK Zac MacMath, 140K - He deserves a chance to start some where and that's to much to pay for a backup GK
M Marco Pappa, 110K - Not a fit for Pablo's system
M Dillon Powers, 270K - He needs a fresh start somewhere else.  Maybe Blackburn?
M Juan Ramirez, 85K - He's done in Colorado, get what we can for him

F Conor Doyle, 66K - Did nothing this year
M Sebastien Le Toux, 300K - Way too much for way too little
D Sean St. Ledger, 192K - Literally did nothing this year

Unknown/Too Little Info:
D Dennis Castillo, 51.5K - Not enough playing time to really know
M Zach Pfeffer, 101K - Pfeffer retained his homegrown player designation so he's probably worth keeping but I haven't seen him all season so who knows

That leaves us 8 to replace and 6 to upgrade.  That's a bit much so we can expect that we won't upgrade every one of those players and somebody like Conor Doyle or Dillon Powers may hang around.

The first thing to be concerned about though is Tuesday's Expansion Draft.  Here are the basic rules:

  • Atlanta United and Minnesota United will each get 5 picks
  • No team can lose more than 1 player
  • Teams can protect 11 players, 3 of which must be internationals
  • Homegrown and Generation Adidas players are automatically protected on top of the 11
  • Anyone with a no-trade clause must be included in the 11 protected players
Given that, here's what I predict/suggest for our protected list:

Homegrown players:
  • Caleb Calvert
  • Zack Pfeffer
  • Dillon Serna
(Yes, Calvert and Pfeffer kept their homegrown designations after being acquired by Colorado, per MLS)

Possible Generation Adidas players:
  • Marlon Hairston
  • Eric Miller
The time when a player "graduates" from Generation Adidas is not made public so its possible neither, one, or both of these players will be auto-protected.  I've heard both things about Hairston so far.  We shouldn't use a slot on Miller if he's not protected but we should on Hairston.

  • Kevin Doyle - If we have any thought of bringing him back
  • Shkelzen Gashi - Probably has a no-trade clause but worth protecting anyway
  • Axel Sjoberg - Easy choice, he's a cornerstone of our defense
Remaining List:
  • Micheal Azira - Would be a steal for either team
  • Marc Burch - Worth keeping rather than letting go for nothing
  • Bobby Burling - See Marc Burch
  • Sam Cronin - Fairly obvious, a key piece of our midfield
  • Tim Howard - Probable no-trade clause plus we put way too much into him to take any risks
  • Dillon Powers - Worth too much to let him go for free
  • Jared Watts - Surprisingly I think he needs to be protected
  • Marlon Hairston - If not auto-protected, otherwise the coach's opinion of the player with the most potential out of Badji, Castillo, Greenspan, and Williams
The goal here is that leaving MacMath and Pappa unprotected entices Atlanta or Minnesota to pick one of them protecting the rest of the roster.  So my final combined list of protected players would be:

Azira, Burch, Burling, Calvert, Cronin, K.Doyle, Hairston, Howard, Gashi, Pfeffer, Powers, Serna, Sjoberg, Watts, and possibly one young player with potential.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Prediction Scoring

Let's look back to my 2016 predictions and see how I did (hint, not well):
  • Rapids finish with points in the low-40s and in 8th place in the West
  • The Rapids get less than 12 points in their first 9 games, leading to Pablo's removal as head coach sometime in that stretch.
  • Spencer takes over and rides the "new coach" bounce to a win over FSL in game 10
  • Colorado pulls an upset in the third Rocky Mountain Cup game in Sandy and retain the Cup for their first back-to-back RMC wins since '05-'06.
  • Pablo stays with the organization in another capacity (Academy?)
  • We win a USOC game, maybe two, but bow out before the competition gets really interesting
  • Howard shows up in July and immediately becomes the best keeper in MLS but its not what the team needs to make a playoff push
  • Gashi scores 11 to become team MVP and Golden Boot winner
  • Ramirez never returns to Colorado
  • The Rapids make one more notable signing (name player, not necessarily DP) this season
  • Spencer retains coaching position into 2017 even though results after taking over for Pablo don't really deserve it
  • Bravo keeps his job into next year
Yeah, I started out 0-5 before I nailed the USOC prediction.  We did win one game before getting eliminated.

Howard was arguably the best keeper in MLS but we didn't need him for a playoff push.  I'm taking half a point.

Gashi was the Golden Boot winner and 9 is close enough to 11 to count it as accurate.  He however was not team MVP so half a point.

Ramirez never returned, I got that right.

This prediction was before the Jones signing so I got that one.

Spencer never took over, miss.

Bravo still has his job, count it.

5 of 12 total overall.  Ugh.  At least almost all of them I missed because the Rapids were much better than I predicted.  That's the way I like to be wrong.

Monday, December 5, 2016

2016 Player of the Year

my 2016 Player of the Year is the Rapids Goalkeeper.  Yes, I'm splitting the award between Zac MacMath and Tim Howard.  Both played the same number of games (19 league games, including playoffs), they both led a league leading defense, and they both dealt with the tough situation of being the #1 at different times of the year.  It was the most consistent position on the team and that's largely because they are two of the more talented players on the team and handled their job with professionalism.  This could have easily "gone wrong" this year with MacMath pouting or Howard thinking he could take it easy coming back to MLS but neither one allowed the situation to get to them.

They were also named team MVP at the Rapids awards banquet, splitting the award.  I however am not copying the Rapids on this pick.  If you go back to the Voice of C38 podcast right before the playoffs I was interviewed at the tailgate and suggested that the Rapids GK should be team MVP. So the Rapids stole the idea from me, not the other way around. :D

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The First Big Offseason Decision - Pablo

As of now Pablo Mastroeni is essentially out of contract as Rapids Head Coach (I'm sure his contract probably runs to the end of the month or something but the games are over).  The first decision the Rapids Front Office has to make this offseason is obvious' Will Pablo return?

To review his head coaching tenure so far:

2014: 8W-8T-18L - 0.94 pts/game - 2nd worst in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 at home by Atlanta

2015: 9W-10T-15L - 1.09 pts/game - 4th worst in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 in Houston

2016: 15W-13T-6L - 1.71 pts/game - Best in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 in Dallas - Eliminated in Western Conference Final by Seattle

Overall: 32W-31T-39L - 1.24 pts/game - 5th best career record in team history

So it really breaks down into the Tale of Two Pablos.  2014-15 Pablo was arguably the worst coach in team history as that was the worst two year run in the 20 seasons of Rapids soccer.  2016 was arguably the 2nd best coach in team history (Smith got a MLS Cup which beats Pablo's best regular season).  So which one is the real Pablo?  Did he learn from the last two years and improve as a coach or was this year due to the added investment in players more than better coaching?

I don't know.  I see some improvement.  He's stabilized his starting XI as much as injuries and absences allow.  He's clearly got the locker room as these guys are playing for him and don't quit.  We're seeing some young players like Hairston and even Watts improve under his coaching.  Those are all positive signs.  On the flip side though I feel like his in-game coaching hasn't changed.  He's still late with subs and rarely uses all of them.  He's regularly out maneuvered by the opposing coach, especially in halftime adjustments.  I know his sideline antics bother some people (not me personally).

So, what should the Rapids do?  Here's my suggestion. Pablo should get a new contract either for 1 year or with a team option after the first year.

His expectation for 2017 should be to easily make the playoffs (not clinch one of the final 2 spots in the final 2 weeks). He doesn't have to repeat this year and be in the Shield fight but he can't regress to "typical" Rapids levels. A deep USOC or CCL run would also be helpful.  If he does that then he should go into 2018 knowing that, barring a catastrophic run like the end of 2014, he's not on the hot seat and 2019 is basically assured.

If he fails to make the playoffs in 2017 then the team should use their option and/or not renew his contract and find a new coach. If he makes the playoffs but in typical Rapids fashion "one of the last two spots on the final day or two of the regular season" then we'll have to analyze the season, look at the USOC and CCL play, and have another discussion.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Rapids End Season With First Home Loss Of The Year

Well, that's it.  Seattle outplayed us in both legs and they move on to MLS Cup after a 1-0 win yesterday.  There really isn't much to say about this one.  Colorado set a regular and post-season MLS record by having 16 shots with none of them on target.  Much like we've seen all season, in a game they came in trailing by a goal they didn't get one shot on target.  That's the story of the game.  13 shots on target and 2 goals in 4 playoff games won't get you to MLS Cup.  The lack of a team offensive strategy finally caught up to us.

General Impressions:
  • To dissect the goal it was a team failure from Watts and Sjoberg.  Watts headed a horrible ball right into the middle of the field 30 yards out.  With Watts forward playing the ball Sjoberg didn't pick up Morris running into the empty space.  MacMath didn't make a great play on the shot (honestly, Howard probably saves it) and that was that.  But the goal wasn't the reason we lost.
  • Hairston should have started over Le Toux in both games.  Sebastian didn't contribute anything beyond running up and down the field.
  • Gashi and Doyle each got a goal in the playoffs but one was a lucky deflection and one was a shot you could hit again 10 times and you'd miss all 10 times.  We needed more out of our big money players.
  • The officiating wasn't the reason we lost but it was incredibly inconsistent over the two legs.  Part of it is because there were different refereeing teams so what was seen as a PK in Leg 1 was much lighter than what wasn't a PK in Leg 2 but even in the games the refs were inconsistent.
  • In the end the team that played the best in the Western playoffs is the team going to MLS Cup.  You can't really complain about that.
  • I'll be backing Toronto now.  This is not an anti-Sounders move as some of my friends/family may believe (you know who you are) but its a move to back ex-Rapids Clint Irwin and Drew Moor.  I'd love to see Moor get another ring.  If the final ends up being Seattle-Montreal I'm not sure who I'll support.
Man of the Match: This was going to be Jermaine Jones for the effort he put in.  But an hour after the match he tweeted (and then deleted) the following:
Now it's time to enjoy family and in a couple weeks getting back to work!  We will see where!!  FREE AGENT BABY
Which is a tactless tweet and an insult to the fans who supported him all season.  We knew that JJ was essentially a mercenary for hire this year but show a little class.  If he had tweeted Wednesday that he's going to be getting back to work and looking for opportunities nobody would have complained but "FREE AGENT BABY" an hour after playoff elimination?  Lets just say he didn't win over many fans to support re-signing him yesterday.

Now that the season is done we'll be getting into Player of the Year awards, roster analysis, expansion draft discussion, and the Pablo question in the next few days.  Oh, and of course, the Pac-12 Championship on Friday night.  Bow Down to Washington!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

For All The Marbles

That's the cliche this week at least

At home facing a one goal deficit.  Didn't we just do this?  Things are a little different this time around as the Rapids do have a road goal in their back pocked to a repeat of the LA home game means skipping extra time and going straight to MLS Cup.  Of course I think Seattle is going to much harder to stop on offense than LA's geriatric stars.  Anything less than a win and Seattle goes to their first MLS Cup.  A 1-0 sends us through, a 2-1 win sends us to extra time.  Any other one goal win by the Rapids isn't enough as Seattle would go through on away goals.  Any multi-goal win by Colorado though wins the series without worrying about away goals.  Kickoff tomorrow is at 2 (2:18 to be exact) and the tailgate will start early at 10:30.  Those of you unable to make it (like some of my Sounder fan family members back in Seattle...) can watch the game on ESPN.

Player Availability:
OUT: GK Tim Howard (season ending abductor break) M Dillon Serna (season ending ACL tear)
SUSPENDED; M Sam Cronin (yellow card accumulation)

Dempsey is out and two other players are questionable for Seattle.  Yellow card accumulations don't carry into MLS Cup or next season, so the only suspensions we would have to worry about are from a red card in this match.  Missing Cronin is going to hurt but I think some in the media are making more of it than it really is.  Azira is fresh and played in that spot the majority of the season.  Other than that I expect everyone to be available to start, we have to leave it all on the field.

Starting XI Prediction:

I doubt we'll see a change in the back, despite how bad some people played in Leg 1.  Now is just too late to mix things up by bringing Williams in or something.  The middle of the field is the question mark.  We could see the same lineup as Tuesday except Azira inserted for Cronin but I think we'll see a little more of a change.  Badji was pretty much useless and I think Pablo, knowing he needs at least 1 goal (and probably more) will want to give Jones more freedom to attack.  Jones gets pushed forward, Powers and Azira fill the spots behind him, and Badji goes to the bench with Doyle becoming the lone forward.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Doyle.  I don't know why but I'm not feeling confident going into this one.  Seattle is clearly not the same team as they were the first half of the season and they're playing better than LA right now.  While we controlled the second leg against LA we still only won 1-0.  I feel like we'll need more than 1 goal in this one and I don't see us finding it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Rapids Lucky To Lose 2-1

We played worse than we did in LA and got a better result.  That's the way the ball bounces sometimes.  A poor game by many and a woeful game by a few really gave Seattle opportunities but luckily they weren't able to convert many.  We come back to Denver with a 1 goal deficit and an away goal which is a decent result all things considered.  Sunday we need just a 1-0 win to clinch a spot in MLS Cup.  That's been the result in 8 of our 18 home games this year.  In fact 9 of our home results this year would be enough to win the series and 3 others would force extra time.

General Impressions:
  • One popular topic last night was the officiating.  While Penso was inconsistent he got almost all the major decisions correct.  first Seattle goal was onside.  PK wasn't strong contact but it was a legit call.  The yellow on Cronin was a good one.  The only thing he really missed was not carding Alonso for persistent infringement as he did Doyle.  That keeps Alonso eligible for Leg 2 when he shouldn't have been.
  • A little luck on the shot that led to Doyle's goal but some nice ball work to get Doyle into that position.  A great start to the game.
  • Unfortunately we didn't hold it long.  Jones got beaten to a ball and didn't recover quickly.  Le Toux mad ea good effort to close down Roldan but he still got a strong shot off that rebounded off the post right ot Morris who leveled the score.
  • During that play Miller managed to hold Morris on side, then let him continue his run without marking him, then held his are up looking for an incorrect offside call.  Basically everything a defender is NOT supposed to do.
  • That was just about Le Toux's only positive contribution to the game.  While he ran all night it was largely ineffective.  His game was caped off by a great 2 on 0 where he never picked his head up to see a wide open Hairston for an easy tap in, instead shooting it right at the keeper.
  • Badji was also a waste.  This was more typical "run with no purpose" Badji than anything particularly bad though.
  • Lodeiro worked Burch all night.  First he baited him into a yellow card t hat with the wrong ref could have been red (and Lodeiro pulled off a nice flop to get it).  Then he suckered him into a pointless tackle in the box for the PK.  Lodeiro also sold that one but there was contact, it was the right call.
  • Cronin's yellow hurts.  We'll need Azira to step up big while replacing him.
  • Gashi clearly wasn't 100%.  Hopefully he was just taking it easy on the wet turf and we'll see the usual him on Sunday.
  • Other than the goal Doyle was fairly quiet.
  • One game for all the marbles.  Do what we've done all season and a trip to MLS Cup is ours.  You don't like being in a must-win situation but this is about the best version of that scenario we could get.
Man of the Match: Zac MacMath.  He might have been able to do better on the first Seattle goal but he came up huge after that.  Nothing he could do on the PK.  He should have settled some fears about losing Howard.

Monday, November 21, 2016

One Last Road Trip

One way or the other, this is the last road game

Ok, after two weeks off for international play (and international injuries) time to gt back to the MLS playoffs.  Down to the final 4.  Over in the east it will be the battle of Canada while here in the West its my current town vs, my home town.  Historically Seattle has been a very bad host for us but the last couple of time up to the Emerald City we've turned the tables on them.  Remember that this is once again the first of two legs and the away goals tiebreaker is in effect.

Player Availability:
OUT: GK Tim Howard (season ending abductor break) M Dillon Serna (season ending ACL tear)
QUESTIONABLE: M Shkelzen Gashi (ankle)
ONE YELLOW FROM SUSPENSION: D Jared Watts; M Sam Cronin; M Shelkzen Gashi; M Jermaine Jones, F Dominique Badji

Dempsey is out and 5 players, including Morris, are Questionable for Seattle.  There's also been talk during the break that Marco Pappa picked up a bit of a knock and may or may not be available.  Otherwise no real surprise from the injury list but we'll need guys like Cronin and Jones (and Gashi if he plays) to be careful not to pick up a second yellow and be suspended for the home leg on Sunday.

Starting XI Prediction:

I'm expecting Burling to start over watts in the back for two reasons.  First, with the loss of Howard adding some more veteran leadership in the defense will be helpful.  Secondly this is the center back pairing that MacMath was comfortable and successful with in the first half of the season.

I expect the Cronin-Azira pairing (instead of Powers) due to needing to shut down Lodeiro.  Seattle has been a different team (one we haven't faced) since his arrival and to keep the game (and series) close we'll need to take him out of the game as much as possible.  Cronin-Azira are better suited for that IMO.

Up front I'm kind of guessing.  Pablo said all hands on deck so I expect Jones to start but I'm not sure who will be flanking him.  It could be Hairston.  It could be Badji up front with Doyle coming off the bench..  Its a safe bet Gashi won't start, we might see him for the last 15 minutes or so off the bench but that's all I would expect.

Prediction: 1-0 loss.  Similar to Leg 1 in LA I expect Colorado to be very conservative and try to get back home with a scoreless draw.  Also similar to LA, I don't expect them to be successful.  I like our chances at home as long as we keep it to at most a 1 goal loss so 1-0 wouldn't be horrible.  2-1 with the away goal would be better though.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Howard Likely Lost For Rest Of Playoffs

Tim Howard had to leave Friday's USA-Mexico World Cup Qualifier in the 40th minute with what appeared to be a groin injury.  Today U.S. Soccer announced that it was an abductor injury and Howard would be returning to Colorado rather than going with the team to Costa Rica for Tuesday's qualifier.  ESPN FC is reporting that a source has told them that it will be months, not weeks, before the Secretary of Defense is healthy, probably into the 2017 preseason before he's 100%.

Welcome back to the starting lineup Zac MacMath!  In some ways the Rapids are better suited to handle this injury than any other team as MacMath is a starting MLS keeper in his own right.  He's going to have to get back into the groove quickly though as the trip to Seattle is only 9 days away.  If Howard is in Colorado getting treatment he can still be a leader in the locker room and help the team that way.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Rapids' Stars Outshine Galaxy

Howard.  Gashi.  Jones.  When we needed our big names to step up they asked "how high?".  Colorado outplayed LA over 120 minutes and then got the job done in PKs.  If you remember my prediction:
1-0 win, goal by Jones.  We then go into extra time and PKs and on the back of Howard we advance to the conference finals. 
Ok, the (jaw-dropping) goal was actually by Gashi but otherwise I nailed it.  Bring on the Sounders!

General Impressions:
  • Nice job by the FO to have Conor Casey there to be recognized on his retirement.  I assume he'll be back next season when we put his name in the Gallery of Honor.
  • It was interesting to see LA accept Colorado being the aggressor in this one.  Certainly not what I expected.
  • Jermaine Jones is a beast.  He didn't look like somebody starting his first game in 4 months.  He was in midseason form.
  • Part of that was probably because Jurgen Klinsmann was in the house specifically to evaluate JJ for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.  He apparently liked what he saw as he included Jones on the roster for this weekend's games.
  • He also announced after the game that Tim Howard has reclaimed the #1 spot for the Nats.
  • Also leaving for the international weekend are Doyle (Ireland) and Azira (Uganda).  Gashi was also called up but with his injury he won't travel (I assume).
  • Gashi's goal goes right into the all-time tier just below 'Celo's bike.  The swerve that ball had on it was amazing.
  • As the game went on the Galaxy were playing more and more for PKs it seems.  Taking Gordon, Donovan, and Magee out for Keane, Gerrard, and Larentowicz was very defensive and made it less likely they would score.
  • Both sides were somewhat lucky not to end with 10 men.  Van Damme could have seen red on that studs into the back of Badji and Cronin could have been ejected for that studs up tackle.
  • The first half of extra time was all Colorado.  LA was doing everything it could just to keep the ball out.  The second half was more even but at that point I think both teams were just trying to get to PKs.
  • Doyle got away with an iffy PK, but Le Toux and Pappa buried theirs.
  • You certainly saw a Tim Howard effect on :LA's kicks.  dos Santos knew he had to be perfect and hit the upper corner, but missed badly.  Then Tim took over.
  • Including the 4 yesterday Howard has faced 11 PKs this year and only 5 were scored.  IIRC the other 6 were 4 saves and 2 misses.
  • Great intensity from the crowd yesterday.  The only home game at DSG that came close was the 2010 Eastern Conference Final.
  • REally the only negatives were Gashi;s injury (initial reports are not serious) and the #10 position.  Both Doyle and Powers were somewhat invisible.
  • Next up, Seattle.  We play their on Tuesday Nov. 22nd at 8pm, on Fox Sports 1.  We'll play at home on Sun. Nov. 27th at 2pm on ESPN.  That's the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend BTW.
Man of the Match: Tim Howard.  Really there's about 5 players this could go to (Gashi, Jones,, Howard, Cronin, Le Toux) but when you stop 2 PKs and scare another one wide in the tiebreaker, you're the MOTM.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Win Or Stay Home For The Rapids

Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die

Apologies to Lord Tennyson for the paraphrase.  Sunday the Rapids either figure out how to score or the season ends.  Going in down 1-0 from the first leg Colorado must win, and if they allow LA to score they have to win by 2.  A 1-0 win will take the game to extra time and if necessary, penalty kicks.  Kickoff for our first home playoff match in 5 years is noon, which means an early tailgate kickoff at 9am.  The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

Player Availability:
OUT: M Dillon Serna (season ending ACL tear)
ONE YELLOW FROM SUSPENSION: D Jared Watts; M Jermaine Jones, F Dominique Badji

MLS actually updated the injury report this week.  Looks like Serna is the only one not available for the Rapids.  LA is missing Zardes still and Gerrard is questionable.

Starting XI Prediction:

I think this will be the lineup regardless of the strategy Pablo goes with.  There's really two ways I can see playing this game.  The first is to go out, push to find the goal that will tie the series early, and then try to get a winner while hopefully not opening up too much and giving up an away goal.  The second, and the one I expect the Rapids to use, is to play conservatively, prevent an away goal at all costs, make LA work hard, and wait for the altitude to kick in during the second half.  This is how we've played most of our home games this season and LA, being an older team, would seem to be even more susceptible to it.  Ones LA is on fumes then we push for the tying goal with the confidence that if we only get 1-0 and extra 30 minutes probably favors us and certainly we'd be the favorite in PKs with Tim Howard in the net.

That's what I expect Doyle to start over Badji as introducing Badji's speed when LA is tiring might be the way to crack them open.  The ke to this strategy though is Jones being able to go 90 or 120.  If he's not up to that we may see a lineup like last week where Powers starts and is replaced by Jones at half.

The downside to this strategy is that there isn't much room for error.  If the Rapids give up a goal suddenly we're three behind.  That will force Colorado to open up and attack the game and we may be looking at a 3-2 scoreline.  If we're successful at keeping LA at bay we're still limiting ourselves to really attacking in a limited time and that could result in a 0-0 draw.

Prediction: 1-0 win, goal by Jones.  We then go into extra time and PKs and on the back of Howard we advance to the conference finals.  Yeah, this is a bit of an optimistic viewpoint but I do think we can blank LA at home.  We've had 10 clean sheets at home this season, including one against LA.  Pablo will focus on that and JJ will pull one out of a hat to get us to extra time.  LA will push hard to win it in extra time but we'll barely get through to PKs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rapids Play For 0-0 Draw But Lose

Colorado went to LA looking for a scoreless draw.  When that didn't happen they had no Plan B.  Luckily they kept it to a 1-0 loss, which isn't the end of the world, but we're going to have to see a completely different team on Sunday if we're going to advance.

General Impressions:
  • Putting only 3 real attacking players in the starting XI (Gashi, Badji, and Doyle) was a real sign that this was all about defense.
  • Combined the starting lineup had 5 total shots, none on goal.  Our subs (Jones and Badji) had 3 shots between the two of them including our only shot on target (Jones' long shot that had to be palmed away).
  • For a large part the defensive tactic worked.  Howard had to come up big a few times but for the majority of play the Galaxy attack was stymied.
  • But it only takes 1 mistake, and LA got it in the 55th minute.  A long series around the LA box where Colorado couldn't clear ended in a dos Santos shot that was going in but would have likely been saved by Howard.  Sjoberg tried to head it over the net and instead redirected it to the opposite corner.  No official own goal but Sjoberg took away any chance of a save.
  • After that it was desperate attack with no result.
  • Gashi was invisible in this match.  Not nearly good enough from a DP.
  • We've now gone 3 games with only 1 goal.  That ties our worst offensive run of the season.  We'll need to change that quickly for the next game.
  • One thing we must absolutely do on Sunday is shut LA out for at least the first 90 minutes.  With the away goals rule, a LA goal would force us to score 3 to win the series and that's not something I think we can do.  (If and when we get into the extra 30 minutes then the away goals rule is dropped.)
  • Realistically our best option is to take a 1-0 lead into the extra time.  The longer the game goes at altitude the more tired an old LA team will get.  Plus if we get to PKs we have Tim Howard.
  • Maybe a 2-0 win is possible in 90 minutes.  I don't think 3-1 (or more) is.
Man of the Match: Jared Watts.  Yeah, I'm surprised too.  Other than passing when he should have shot in the first half though he did everything right.  He had some huge clearances in that first half.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Colorado-LA at Noon next Sunday

Its just been announced that the Rapids home leg against LA next Sunday will be a noon local kickoff.  This is a surprise because the early schedule showed an 8pm MT slot for TV which was almost certain to be the Rapids since the other hosts were Dallas and NY.  Looks like MLS got the networks to slide things around so Dallas could kickoff at 8pm CT.

Once again, we host LA at noon next Sunday, 11/6.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Rapids Face Galaxy In Western Semis Leg 1

Some love for a former Washington Huskies defensive coordinator

Its been 3 years since we've seen the playoffs and 5 since we've seen the conference semis but we're back!  Just to remind everyone the conference semis and finals are two legged affairs leading to the one game MLS Cup on Dec. 10th, hosted at the Dick if we make it.  The away goals ruels is in effect as a tiebreaker as well.  Coverage of Leg 1 starts on ESPN tomorrow at 3 with kickoff scheduled for 3:23.  Centennial 38 is having a big watch party at the Irish Rover and is picking up the first $1000 in drinks.

Player Availability:
OUT: M Dillon Serna (season ending ACL tear)

MLS has once again shown the pointlessness of the injury report by not updating it since the day before the last week of the regular season.  The Rapids game guide list Serna, Zardes, and Gerrard as "injured" but with no detail of if that means Out, Probable, or something in-between.  What I've been seeing is that Gerrard might be available but Zardes likely won't be.  Serna, obviously, will not be.

Starting XI Prediction:

I'm confident in about half this lineup.  Howard, Sjoberg, Burch, Cronin, and Gashi will start barring some unannounced injury.  The other half is a best guess.  I don't know how healthy Burling, Hairston, and Jones really are.  I think the first two are probably good enough to go and I expect Jones will come off the bench.  Because of that I think we see Doyle in the withdrawn striker/creative mid position he played inthe last couple of games with Badji in front of him.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Badji.  There's a lot of doom and gloom from some Rapids fans after seeing LA rip apart FSL on Wednesday but I think we're over-looking what the Rapids have done this season (and how bad FSL is).  The Rapids have only been beaten 6 times, equal to LA, and only by multiple goals twice (@NE and @NYCFC).  While some in the media are treating Colorado as the underdogs LA never beat us this season.  I don't think that changes tomorrow.  It will be a tough game but they're an older team and are on their 3rd game in a week+1.5 hours.  Even if we do lose if we can keep it to a 1 goal loss and score an away goal we'll still be OK.  I don't see the Rapids getting blown off the pitch tomorrow.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Conor Casey Rapids #9!

Today Denver South's Conor Casey, the best striker ever to wear a Rapids jersey, announced his retirement.  Casey started his pro career in Germany in 2000 after a year at the University of Portland.  He spent 7 seasons there before coming home (after a couple of months of being held hostage in Toronto) to play for the Rapids in May of 2007.  After a quiet first season with only 2 goals Conor lit the league on fire the next 3+ years, scoring 46 goals in 86 regular-season appearances.  The only player in MLS who scored more in that period was Landon Donovan.

Casey also scored 2 playoff goals in 2010.  His first tied the Eastern Conference semi-final series with Columbus at 2-2 in the 84th minute of the second leg.  He would go on to hit the first of the 5 PK's the Rapids would hit in winning the tiebreaker.  His second, of course, is one of the top 5 goals in Rapids history as he leveled MLS Cup at 1-1 in the first half.  He would also have an unofficial assist on the winning goal as it was his pass to Mac Kandji that let Kandji get in deep and force the own goal.  He was named MVP of MLS Cup (well, actually his twin Casey Conor got the award).

After blowing out his Achilles tendon on a grass overlay field in Seattle in 2011 he missed the rest of the season and part of the 2012 season.  At the end of that year the Rapids decided to go another direction and Casey moved to Philly, then Columbus for this past season before retirement.

Casey's 50 goals as a Rapid is a team record, 11 better than Bravo and Cummings who are tied for second.  Conor did it in 16 less games than Bravo though.  His strike rate of a goal about every 2 and third game is tied with John Spencer for best in team history.  He's 3rd in game winning goals (behind Bravo and Spencer), 2nd in multi-goal games (behind Bravo), and first in PK goals (by 1).  He's also in the top 10 for appearances as a Rapid.  From 2009-2011 his partnership with Omar Cummings (the C+C Goal Factory) was the most dynamic and exciting strike duo Colorado has ever had.

I fully expect that at a game next season we will be adding Conor Casey's name to the Gallery of Honor next to Balboa, Bravo, Henderson, Spencer, and Mastroeni.  To not do so would be ignoring one of the greatest to ever wear the jersey.

He runs as though his boots were lead
Conor, Conor!
He puts a razor to his head
Conor, Conor!
He used to play in Germany
But now he's back at DSG
Conor Casey
Rapids #9! 

Since we're talking about MLS Cup here's a brief update on the 14 players who played for the Rapids in that game:

Matt Pickens - Currently with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in (as of 2 days ago) the USL
Kosuke Kimura - Currently with Rayo OKC in the NASL, though there's a good chance the team won't make it to next season
Drew Moor - Currently in the playoffs with Toronto FC
Marvell Wynne - Currently with the San Jose Earthquakes
Anthony Wallace - Currently with the Jacksonville Armada in the NASL
Jeff Larentowicz - Will be suited up on the other sideline in Sunday's Colorado-LA playoff game
Pablo Mastroeni - Will be wearing a suit on our sideline in Sunday's Colorado-LA playoff game
Brian Mullan - A community ambassador and assistant coach for Colorado
Jamie Smith - Youth Academy Director for Trevian Soccer Club outside Chicago
Omar Cummings - Currently with FC Cincinnati in the USL
Conor Casey - See above
Julian Baudet - Last update was a while ago when he was coaching an amateur side in France
Wells Thompson - Retired and running soccer camps in North Carolina
Macoumba Kandji - Free agent after leaving his Finnish team at the beginning of 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Affiliations, Transfer Rumors, and Playoff Opponent

An eclectic list of news and rumors today:

The Rapids renewed their affiliation with the USL Charlotte Independence for another season today.  This is a little bit of a surprise as it seemed like Colorado was leaning towards a relationship with the Switchbacks.  Maybe they still have different viewpoints on how the relationship might work or maybe the Rapids are just happy staying with Charlotte given Hinchey's relationship with the Independence owners.

Two interesting transfer rumors surfaced from MLS Transfers today.  They're track record is a little hit or miss so I wouldn't put much weight into these:

Axel Sjoberg:
I'm hearing Axel Sjoberg has been gaining interest from Djurgardens (his youth club) and Ostersunds FK.
I'm not sure this would be a great move for a player like Sjoberg except for him it would be going home.  I don't think a mid-tier top league team (Djurgardens) or a recently promoted team (Ostersunds) in Sweden would be a step up but you can't downplay the appeal of playing in your home country,

Dillon Powers:
Source tells me Dillon Powers has interest from Blackburn. May trial in the offseason.
As a Blackburn fan I'm not sure how I feel about this one. :D  If Jones re-signs for the Rapids or hey plan to bring in another Jones-type player its certainly time for Powers to leave.  As we've seen he doesn't really have a starting spot with Jones or that type of player here.  He was probably going to move to a Championship side last season until Reading made a managerial change.  Its the right level for him and would probably be a good move for everyone involved on this side of the pond.

Now I don't see Powers saving Blackburn from relegation so this better not be the only big move they're considering in the winter transfer window. ;)

Finally, LA beat FSL tonight 3-1 so we're headed to the StubHub Center for our first playoff game on Sunday.  Time is still to be announced.  During the season we played 0-0 and 1-1 draws in LA while beating them here 1-0.  Those results would get us through to the conference finals if we repeat them.  Its a little concerning how LA has turned on its offense tonight but that could jusst be because FSL has been a bad team for two months.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Draw Clinches 2 Seed, Undefeated Home Season

Awarding Axel Sjoberg the C38 Defensive Player of the Year

Opening lineups announced with Jones not listed on the bench

Rapids play down to the Dynamo's level in the first half

Dynamo score from an uncovered far post run

Is it halftime yet?


Meanwhile in LA

Gashi scores his first home goal

Jones subs in:

Both teams push for another goal

Meanwhile, back in LA

Rapids get the draw, the undefeated home season, the #2 seed, and home field in MLS Cup

Obviously we wanted the Shield but I think we all knew that was a lost cause after last week's loss.  The undefeated home season is nothing to sneeze at though.  Only 4 other teams have ever done that.  We also set a new record for lowest goals allowed/game at home and tied the record for total goals allowed at home (7).  Looking at those stats arguably there hasn't even been a tougher place for a visiting team to play than at DSG Park this year.

Next stop, the playoffs.  If FSL upsets LA on Wednesday we'll travel to the winner of Thursday's Seattle-KC matchup.  Otherwise we'll travel out to LA to play the Galaxy.  Regardless the game will be next Sunday, time still to be announced, most likely 5 or 7:30pm MT.

Man of the Match: Shkelzen Gashi.  Mainly for finally getting a home goal.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Still A Lot To Play For Tomorrow

Will we finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd overall?

Last game of the regular season tomorrow and the Rapids still have a few things to play for.  Breaking it down:

1 point or better gets us a top 2 finish and clinches MLS Cup at home if we make it
1 point or better makes us the 5th team to go undefeated at home for a season
3 points and a win by LA gets us the Supporters Shield
1 goal or less allowed sets a new league record for lowest goals per game allowed at home
0 goals allowed sets a new league record for lowest total goals allowed at home (6)

Kickoff tomorrow of all 10 games is at 2pm.  The tailgate starts at 11 for this one.  The game will be on Altitude for those who can't make it.  We'll all be keeping an eye on the LA-Dallas and RBNY-Philly scores (Rapids can also clinch a top 2 finish if NY doesn't win) while watching this one.

Player Availability:
OUT: M Dillon Serna (season ending ACL tear)
QUESTIONABLE: D Bobby Burling (toe); M Marlon Hairston (leg); M Jermaine Jones (quad)

(Any player who picks up his 5 yellow in this game will be suspended for the first regular season game next year.  Suspensions due to accumulations do not transfer to the playoffs.  Suspensions due to a red card do however.)

Rumor has it both Jones and Hairston will get time tomorrow and we saw Burling last game.  Houston has 2 players out with injury.

Starting XI Prediction:

Not going to make a prediction this week.  Its really hard to tell what Pablo is going to try to accomplish this game.  I'm sure he'll go for at least the draw, clinching the 2nd spot overall and the undefeated home season but will he really push guys to get a win?  I think he wants to get some guys like Jones and Burling playing time to get them ready for the playoffs more than he's worry about the unlikely chance of getting the Shield.

Prediction: 1-0 win, goal by Gashi.  Dallas and LA get a draw and the Rapids lose the Shield on the total wins tiebreaker 17-16 (we're also losing the next two tiebreakers).  The Rapids will do enough to win but they'll try to take it easy and rest up for the playoffs.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Playoff Analysis With A Bit Of Player News

Before we get into my planned analysis of possible playoff opponents here's a bit of player news from today.  Reports are linking the Rapids with Irish striker Daryl Horgan.  He's 24 years old and has been a pro in the League of Ireland since 2010.  Seems like the Irish pipeline between the Emerald Isle and the Mile High City is getting stronger.

Now, onto the playoff analysis.  I figured going into the weekend we should take a look at who we want to play and who we might avoid.  To do that I looked at all our games against the 6 other possible Western opponents, both home and away (since both Western Conference playoff rounds we could be in are 2-legged affairs).

As things stand right now, barring an upset either this weekend (giving us the Shield) or in the wild-card round (knocking off LA) we will play the Galaxy in the Western semifinal round.  This year we beat LA 1-0 at home and tied them 0-0 and 1-1 on the road.  That would be good enough to win the playoff series.

If its not LA then it could be any of the other 4 teams.  FSL, Seattle, KC, and Portland can all finish anywhere between 4th and 7th (out of the playoffs).  Our records this season:

FSL: 1-0 win at home, 0-1 and 2-1 losses on the road.  Those results would be good enough to get us through on the away goals tiebreaker, or at least get us into an overtime at home.

Seattle: 3-1 win at home, 1-0 win on the road.  A great set of results

KC: 1-0 wins at home, 2-1 win on the road.  Due to the away goals rule, this would be our best set of results

Portland: 0-0 draw and 1-0 win at home, 1-0 loss on the road.  This would be the only set of results that could eliminate us, or at best force us into an overtime.

So we really want to face Seattle or KC, LA would be ok, FSL and Portland we'd like to avoid.

Assuming we get past the semifinal round, the Western final would most likely be against Dallas.  Results this weekend would determine which order the home and away game would go in.  Overall this year we had a 1-1 draw at home and a 1-0 win on the road, which would get us through to MLS Cup.  Not that I'm confident in a scenario when we're playing Dallas but history does favor us. :D

Should we make it as far as MLS Cup we could face any of 6 teams from the East.  There's a slight chance (if RBNY wins and we lose this weekend) that we could go to Red Bull Arena for the game, otherwise we'd play it at home.  We only played half the Eastern playoff teams at home this year, including Red Bull.  Our results:

RBNY: 2-1 win

Toronto: 1-0 win

Philly: 1-1 draw

The other 3 we played on the road, but they would come here in the case of MLS Cup:

NYCFC: 5-1 loss

Montreal: 2-2 draw

DC: 1-1 draw

If you assume that the home advantage would help us and going on the road to RBNY would hurt us then we want to avoid going to New York and we want to avoid Philly and NYCFC coming here.  We should feel pretty good about RBNY and Toronto coming here and we should like our chances getting the home advantage against Montreal and DC.

So bottom line, we'd like to see FSL, Portland, and NYCFC eliminated quickly (of course we want that every year with FSL) to avoid our biggest challenges based on our regular season results.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Rapids Show They're More Interested In Cup Than Shield

The Rapids rolled out a lineup and a level of play yesterday that showed that they think the Shield is a "nice to have" achievement.  The reason for this (presumably) was to rest players for the Cup run.  Portland on the other hand was playing for their playoff lives, drew 2 PKs in the first half, converted 1, and that was enough to get the win.  Combined with Dallas' win the Rapids Shield hopes are slim at this point.

General Impressions:
  • If the Rapids don't want to focus on the Shield and rest players for the Cup run that's fine but there are two points:
    • It better work.
    • The Front Office really should have played down the Shield talk over the last couple of weeks, not played it up with things like the #ShieldHunting hashtag and such.
  • Both PK's were legit despite protests.  I assume nobody is complaining about the second.  Burling did get ball on the first but when you bring your trailing leg through the ankle of thee attacking player "getting ball" doesn't matter.
  • Nice job by Howard keeping us in the game with the PK save.
  • I'm guessing Pappa won't be back next year.  He's clearly not bought into Pablo's system.  That said, he should still have gotten more playing time this year than he did.
  • We figured out why Williams hasn't been starting, yuck.
  • Calvert looks good for his age.  He doesn't look good as a starter.
  • I understand why Le Toux and Burch were sat in this game (though given Williams level of play it might have been worth pushing Burch).  I don't understand why a 25 year old Sjoberg and 24 year old Badji were sat with the Shield on the line.
  • Next week we need to see a lineup about what we expect to see in the playoffs so everyone can get a game under their belts working together.  I don't expect Calvert and Williams to get much playoff time.
Man of the Match: Tim Howard.  Duh, he stopped a PK.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rapids Clinch CCL, Fall Behind In Shield Race

Full recap tomorrow but here's where today's results put us.

With NYCFC's loss we are guaranteed a top 3 overall finish and with it, a spot in the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League.  For the current edition the draw was held on May 30th and the first games were in the first week of August.  I would assume similar scheduling next year for the 2017-18 edition.

We have not yet clinched hosting MLS Cup if we make it.  If RBNY beat Philly and we lose to Houston, then end up facing RBNY in MLS Cup we would play at Red Bull Arena.  Any other combination of results in those two games next week or any other opponent should we make it to MLS Cup and it would be played at DSG Park.

We have lost control of our destiny in the Supporters Shield race.  With Dallas' win and our loss Dallas now has a 2 point lead in the race.  In order to win it we have to beat Houston next week and LA has to beat Dallas.  The problem with that later requirement is LA clinched the #3 seed in the West this week.  The only thing they have to play for is a chance as a CCL spot by finishing ahead of NYCFC and hoping the MLS Cup winner (if not them) is one of the 3 teams already qualified or a Canadian team.  Long odds.  More likely they realize they host a wild-card game 3 days later and they rest as much as they can against Dallas to prepare for that winner-take-all match.  Dallas does go to Guatemala before the LA game and stranger things have happened but right now Dallas is now the heavy favorite to win.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Into The Storm

Sink the Timbers!

Next to last game of the season and all to play for.  A win tomorrow afternoon combined with a Dallas loss at the same time and the Shield is ours.  Odds are very good of winning the Shield as long as we match Dallas' result tomorrow, what with a last-placed Houston team coming to Commerce City next week.  If Dallas' result is better than ours tomorrow though it gets very difficult.  Dallas will likely go to LA (via Guatemala) and play a Galaxy team that is locked int to a 3/4 finish and may want to rest for their mid-week wild-card game so expecting them to get a result against Dallas to help us is a big ask.  So tomorrow is really the key day in this Shield battle.  Coverage starts at 3:15 on ESPN tomorrow, with actual kickoff expected around 3:25 or so.

Player Availability:
OUT: D Bobby Burling (toe); M Dillon Serna (season ending ACL tear); M Jermaine Jones (quad)
QUESTIONABLE: M Marlon Hairston (leg)
ONE YELLOW FROM SUSPENSION: D Axel Sjoberg (1 game until good behavior reduction); D Marc Burch; F Dominique Badji

I've talked about the inaccuracy of the injury report before and I question this one considering Burling was in the 18 on Thursday night.  All I can figure is that the Rapids have decided its not worth him making the trip to Portland with their turf field (wet turf tomorrow) coming off an injury so they just ruled him out.  The Rapids official preview lists Hairston, Jones, and Serna as out and the same 3 Timbers as Questionable or worse as the official injury report does.

Starting XI Prediction:

There's been some consternation among Rapids fans over Pablo's comments earlier this week that he would rotate players for this game.  With the Shield so close they've also talked this week about wanting to win it.  Those two things don't go together.  My prediction is that we will see some rotation.  Cronin is back from suspension and will obviously start.  Doyle is just back from injury, went 90 minutes on Thursday night, and this game will be on wet turf.  Odds are he won't start.  Le Toux had a heavy run on Thursday and is one of our older players, so I could see him getting a rest.  Maybe we make a change on the back line letting either Miller or Watts sit and Williams play but maybe not.  Beyond that though, I can't image any major changes.  Pablo won't throw away a chance at the Shield by starting Castillo and Calvert.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Badji.  Portland has scored in every home game this season and if they score in this one they'll be only the 2nd MLS team to not be shutout at home in a season.  With the wet turf and tired legs I'm going to assume they get one.  The Rapids have seemed to have a fire over the last couple of games that makes me think they won't go quietly though, and we steal a point and hope for some help from Seattle.

If there was ever a game for Tim Howard to stand on his head and get us a win though, this is it.  If we see the Secretary of Defense back there looking like the game where he earned that title a win might be possible.

Friday, October 14, 2016

One Down, Two To Go

Colorado got the first of the three wins they need to claim the Shield last night but it wasn't without controversy.  A pair of poor PK calls (one for each side) made for an interesting second half before the Rapids got their 11th home win of the season and went back to the top of the table.  A table that first time in months has an eual number of games played for every team.

General Impressions:
  • Outside of Doyle's goal (more on that below) the first half was largely ugly forgettable soccer.
  • That said, Doyle's diving header, from a purely aesthetic point of view, was one of the best goals in Rapids history.  It wasn't 'Celo's bike but outside of that there are only a few other goals I can remember that looked as good.  (Cooke's over the back pass to himself for the assist for example).  A almost fully horizontal Doyle makes perfect contact with the ball and puts it in the upper corner.  Gorgeous.
  • The celebration knee slide needs work though. :D
  • The Rapids came out to absorb pressue to start the 2nd half and it cost them.  The other option would have been to try to catch them on the counter and end the game there, might have been a better choice.
  • That PK call on Miller was a joke.  If anything the foul was Wondo on Miller, not the other way around.  Either way it was so light that given what else the ref let go I don't know what he was thinking calling it.
  • That did wake the team up though, from that point on the Rapids outplayed San Jose and wanted it more.
  • The Rapids PK call was also bad, just not as bad as the one SJ got.  I think when you look up the definition of "makeup call" now you'll see that PK call.
  • Badji and Calvert were both unlucky to have balls cleared off the line.  Wynne's headed clearance on Calvert's shot was particularly impressive.
  • Using Doyle as the central attacking midfielder was a surprising move but one that paid off.  We might want to consider that more going forward if Jones continues to be unavailable.
  • Badji has quietly turned  in a solid second half of the season.  He's still not my first choice to be starting up top when everyone is healthy but he's rounded into a solid utility option.
  • Le Toux was the Energizer bunny out there, hopefully he has something left for Portland on Sunday.
  • A lot of the offense went through Burch last night.  He deserves a no as a unsung hero this season, especially for somebody I didn't expect to be a regular starter back in March.
  • 4 games ago no Rapid had scored multiple goals in a game this season.  Since then Gashi, Badji, and now Doyle have all done it.
  • Doyle just tied Badji for second in the team golden boot race with 6 goals.  Gashi still has the lead at 8.
  • With one more point or one point dropped by either NY team the Rapids will clinch a spot in the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League.  With that point or a point dropped by both NY teams they'll clinch hosting of MLS Cup if we make it to the final.
  • The Rapids can win the Supporters Shield with a win in Portland on Sunday and a win by Seattle in Dallas (games are played simultaneously).  Any other set of results and the Shield will come down to the final day next Sunday.
  • With Houston in town next week you have to like our odds to win that game so really what the Rapids need to do Sunday to tip the odds in their favor is to at least match whatever Dallas does against Seattle.
Man of the Match: Kevin Doyle.  We'll be seeing the first goal in highlight reels for years.