We are, roughly, a third of the way through the season and after a busy week last week this would be a good time to do a quick review of the year so far.
In my season preview I had the following predictions:
Yeah, about that... :D I missed badly on my early season predictions. Of course, so did everyone else. Colorado has gotten off to the best start in their history and currently sits on top of the table after earning 24 points in the first 12 games. This week on the MLS Extratime podcast the hosts declared that the Rapids have already punched their ticket for the playoffs and its hard to disagree. It would take a pretty epic collapse at this point not to get to the upper 40s and likely into the playoffs.
- 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
In my defense I also predicted this:
The day after I made that post the Rapids traded for Jermaine Jones. :D
- The Rapids make one more notable signing (name player, not necessarily DP) this season
Breaking it down by position group:
MacMath has done a good enough but he's had some big mistakes. In the end he's cost us the 2 points in DC is all (the point against FSL wasn't his fault. He let the goal in but FSL had a legit goal called offside anyway) but I'm not real confident with him back there. We've got 4 games left though before an obvious improvement in the arrival of Tim Howard.
I really don't know how to grade this group. Individually only Williams has really been above average but as a team they've got the lowest goals against average in MLS. They're also the lowest paid group of defenders in MLS. Clearly the defense has done its job but again I don't have 100% confidence in them. Also the lack of depth in center in appalling. B+ might be a bit harsh but I can't look at these players and feel like they deserve a A-/A based on their play.
This is the core of the team's success. That B+ for the defense gets upgraded when you add in what Cronin and Azira have done to keep dangerous situations from occurring. Azira would be in running for the pickup of the year in the league if it weren't for his teammate. Jermaine Jones is the pickup of the year so far and is the MVP of the first third of the season for the Rapids. That role looked like it was going to be filled by Marco Pappa, who was directly involved in every goal the team scored before his injury. Gashi hasn't lit up the scoreboard yet but his service has been better than we've seen in some time.
Doyle and Solignac have combined for 5 goals and 3 assists which is a pretty good total considering Doyle's injury. The injury allowed Solignac to show how well he can fill that hole, something that will be necessary after this weekend's game. With support coming from Pappa and Jones the pressure to be the only source of scoring is gone but I would like to see Doyle's number go up a bit more given his price tag.
We've seen Burch (or Miller, depending on who you think is the "starter"), Watts, Powers, Solignac, and Badji get significant minutes off the bench. The only one of those that you really question is Badji, especially since Serna could fill most of the positions Badji's been filling, though I'm not thrilled with Watts being the primary CB sub. Solignac and Burch/Miller in particular have been great in filling holes due to injury. Serna's lack of playing time is really the only negative here.
Clearly Pablo's doing something right given the results. I believe a lot of what that is is psychological, not tactics. There's an attitude about this team we haven't seen in a while, a belief in each other that they;re never out of it and they won't be stopped. Pablo has also, finally, settled on a core group of players and is making minor changes in the lineup from game to game which has brought some stability to the play. His big issue continues to be in-game adjustments. He hasn't made any significant tactical changes that have reversed a result yet this season. His substitution pattern has been particularly poor, averaging just 2 subs a game and only using all 3 subs 25% of the time. In a long season we need to rest players and get our bench players more time early to be ready to step in as the season goes on and the starters miss games.
Front Office: B
At this point I think the FO (Bravo) gets more credit than Pablo for the results, mainly due to the gigantic increase in talent they pulled together this offseason. They left it very late and I think they got a bit lucky (Howard) but credit to them for getting the job done. There's more skill on the field then we've seen in a long time. Gashi, Jones, Pappa, Azira, and Williams might be the best group of five signings as you can find on a team this offseason. The lack of a true center back reserve player until the signing of Casillo was criminal though. I don't see how anyone thought that was a good idea. We're also seeing that the original plan of bringing in MacMath making Irwin expendable was not a good one.
So the average of all those grades would be a B+ but I think we would all agree this team deserves an A. This is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, something best exemplified by our defense. While there are some tweaks around the edges I'd like to see (more subbing, more CB depth, Serna getting more playing time) mainly I just want to see this run continue. If it ain't broke...