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.