Sunday, April 30, 2017

Reasonable Next Steps From The Front Office

Yesterday's game was more of the same.  Well, actually it was less since we allowed above our average in goals (now 1.57/game), scored below our average in goals (.71/game), and had below our average in shots on goal (2.28/game).

The Front Office needs to take action right now.  This is still MLS and soccer in America so our expectations should be reasonable, but realistically what moves the FO should make starting today and into next week? We've got a coach that just threw the season under the bus, a team that has literally no offense at this point, and a 6 game winless streak. What's our next move?

Obviously I'm just a fan on he sidelines and I don't know all the limitations that the Front Office has on it.  But based on my knowledge of how MLS and the Rapids work, what the costs are of making changes. and reasonable time frames, here are my suggestions:
  • Prepare a statement to release tomorrow explaining what the plan was for this season, why its not working, and what steps are now going to be taken to recover
Honestly this probably should have been done already but really needs to be done now.  Everyone makes mistakes.  The key is to show you've learned form them and made changes so the mistake doesn't happen again.  Normally saying that you've done that is enough for an outsider but the Rapids have claimed to have done this many times and the results haven't changed.  Now they need to be open with us about what they've learned and what's going to change, just saying you've figured out isn't enough.
  • Announce that they will immediately start a search to hire a quality GM/TD within the next month. That new person will be given full freedom (and responsibility) for all on-field planning including staff, coaches, players, and the youth academy
Really until this happens, nothing else matters.  The history of this team after the leadership change in the 2011-12 offseason has been two playoff appearances and one series win.  Outside of those two years the other three seasons have been among the five worst in team history, and this season is currently looking like its going to end up in that pile.  Clearly things aren't working.  The FO has always been less than transparent about what responsibilities the Technical Director (Bravo), the Sporting Director (Smith), and the head coach (Pareja/Pablo), really have  Its time to give one person the power to set this team right.  KSE needs to be willing to spend to get a quality competent person to fill this role.  The one exception from giving this person full control would be a DP-level player that KSE would have to pay extra for.  It would be completely reasonable for somebody above this position to have final say on a signing like that, but their decision-making should be focused on the financial health of the transaction, not the on-field health.
  • Announce that the futures of the technical staff, including Smith and Pablo, will be determined by that person.  Smith should be considered for the position but since the goal of this hire is to hit the reset button his current employment by the Front Office shouldn't give him any particular advantage over any other candidate
The first step in getting this train back on the tracks is to have one leadership team going in the same direction.  Its not fair to whomever is going to make the on-field decisions to be saddled with the keeping or firing of a coach before they get here.  The new person needs to make the call, even if that means Pablo continues to run the team for a few more games.
  • Tell the fans honestly that in light of this plan it makes no sense to try to make a major move now before the window closes without this person in place. Recognize that this means this season is probably toast but also tell the fans that this new person will have the ability to make whatever moves are necessary in the summer window to stabilize this team for the future
Again, much like the staff decision, the new leader needs to put the team together, not be stuck with a major player contract that doesn't fit his direction.  The Front Office needs to commit to making significant moves in both the summer and new winter transfer windows to support this new direction though.
  • Announce a rebate policy for current season ticket holders. Something like everyone gets $100 back in cash or credit towards the 2018 season ticket purchase (ticket holder's choice)
With this season lost practically before it started the fans were sold a bill of goods.  There were multiple reports of fans being told the goal this season was a trophy and unfinished business from 2016.  Instead Pablo at least believes this season is about rebuilding.  In order to gain some trust and respect back from the fanbase the FO needs to take the financial hit and make good to the people that make this club a priority in their life.  By allowing a credit to be applied to next year's tickets it reduces the immediate financial hit of giving a refund and gets those fans to buy in for 2018.
  • Announce that season tickets next year (for one year only) will be reduced by a percentage equal to the difference between our 2016 and 2017 point total. So if we finish with 31 points this season compared to 58 last year season tickets would be reduced by 27%
I picked this idea up from a Burgundy Wave poster.  This is as much a gimmick as anything else but it would be an olive branch to fans, it would generate some positive PR for the unique deal, and it would at least be a silver lining on what looks to be an awful 2017 season.  It would also be an incentive for everyone in the organization to continue to do as good as possible this season as every point is a 1% increase on the ticket revenue next season.

Now obviously I don't expect the Rapids to do all of these.  With my viewpoint from outside the organization these probably seem easier than they really are.  Honestly I'd be surprised if something similar to more than 1 or 2 of them actually happen.  If the Rapids really want to change the conversation though, this checklist would go a long way with the fanbase.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Not A Game Preview

Normally this spot is where I put up a game preview for today's game.  After yesterday's article in FourFourTwo magazine though, I'm not bothering to.  Instead I want to talk about the article.  First let's start with the article title:
This might already be a lost season for the Rapids...and that's part of the plan
Um, what?  Well, this could just be a click-bait title, lets read on.  Pablo's first quote in reference to the Burch/Cronin trade:
 “Obviously, if we want to continue on the same path [as last year], we keep two experienced guys who have more than 20 years of MLS experience on board. But the direction we want to move in as a club, we felt like if we couldn't do this now, we'd be kind of in a precarious situation moving forward.”
I don't know about you, but a year where we down to the final day with a chance at the Supporters Shield and qualified for the CCL by finishing 2nd overall in the league seems like a path we'd want to stay on.

And now for the kicker:
Mastroeni acknowledges that a lot of what they're doing won't reach fruition this year. “We're definitely looking at 2018; there's a lot of great opportunities in 2018,” he says,  and that much will depend on whom the Rapids acquire in the summer transfer window. They are targeting someone who can bring a “bit of culture in the attacking third.” That could be a playmaker, a steady goal-scorer or something in between.
That sound you just heard was Pablo punting the season away.  This is a ridiculous statement to be making in APRIL after only SIX games.  You're telling us, your fanbase, that this year isn't important.  To be clear, here are some other quotes from the article to reinforce it:
“I think it's not so much about playing sexy football,” Mastroeni said. “It's about evolving and expanding the way we think about the game and the way we want to play the game, and all that takes time.”
“You have to start sowing the seeds of 2018 today, so that way you can reap the fruit of all the planning, all the foresight in 2018,” Mastroeni said. “So 2018 is critical for us. We're going to continue doing what we do, but everything is done with the mindset of putting ourselves into position to really be able to utilize all the cap space, all the different transactions we're making today, in the future.”
This article is mind-boggling for two reasons.  First, the most obvious, how can you be looking towards 2018 after less than 20% of 2017 is complete?  They clearly are based on these quotes.  Secondly, if that's actually your plan, how can you publicly admit it at this point of the season?  What kind of Media Relations process are they running over in Commerce City?  You want to kill interest, ticket sales, merchandising, etc. for the rest of this season?  Well, you just did it.

Almost as bad is that these quotes don't make me think they have a plan yet.  They're targeting somebody who could bring "a bit of culture in the attacking third".  Um, one attacker isn't going to change this team's problems.  At minimum we need a central mid who can get the ball to t he attackers and an attacker who can put the ball in the net reliably (we also need at least one outside back as well).  So they appear to be throwing away this season without understanding what they need to do to make 2018 successful.

There's also the question of what they spent this whole offseason doing?  If they needed "a bit of culture int he attacking third" why was our only attacking signing in the offseason Alan Gordon?  If we wanted to move away from our tough defense-first mentality why did you spend the offseason signing defensive players, then wait until 3 games into the season to trade away two core components of the defense you built around in the offseason?

Right now I'm thinking I want my money back for my season tickets.  If we're not going to care about 2017 then why should I be paying for 2017?  It certainly sounds (and appears from our play) that we're going to be using 2017 as a year-long training camp for 2018, but I don't need to pay regular season prices for what we're treating as preseason games.  I expect the Rapids to have some sort of response to this early next week.  I also want to see Centennial 38 (who I get my tickets through) have some sort of formalized response to this as well, and I've been told one is in the works.

I said after the KC game at the beginning of the month that it felt like for the 3rd time in 4 years the organization was playing the fans for suckers (and I fell for it).  This article confirms it.

Oh, today's game?  Orlando is going to run us out of the stadium.  2-0 loss at least.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Moving On From Minnesota To Salaries

And that's really all we need to say about that game.  It was that bad.  At this point other than Howard, MacMath (who was MOTM), and Sjoberg the Rapids look like a team of replacement-level players with a replacement-level coach.

So we'll move on to something a bit more interesting.  The annual salary release.  Here are the Rapids salaries.  The first number is the base salary, the second number is the 2017 guaranteed compensation.  Neither one are the true "salary cap" number but that number is usually somewhere in-between the two.

Adjei-Boateng Bismark M $300,000.00 $341,246.00
Azira Michael M $110,000.00 $116,625.00
Badji Dominique F $65,000.00 $65,000.00
Berner John GK $66,150.00 $66,150.00
Burling Bobby D $120,000.00 $126,000.00
Calvert Caleb F $100,000.00 $107,500.00
Castillo Dennis D $54,075.00 $54,075.00
Da Fonte Mike D $65,004.00 $65,004.00
Doyle Kevin F $1,000,000.00 $1,045,000.00
Ford Kortne D $69,996.00 $76,996.00
Gashi Shkelzen F $1,575,000.00 $1,668,750.00
Gatt Joshua M $175,008.00 $193,508.00
Gordon Alan F $180,000.00 $180,000.00
Hairston Marlon D-M $110,004.00 $110,004.00
Hamilton Sam M $65,004.00 $65,004.00
Howard Tim GK $2,000,000.00 $2,475,000.00
MacMath Zac GK $150,000.00 $150,000.00
Miller Eric D $75,553.75 $86,553.75
Perez Ricardo M $53,004.00 $54,254.00
Powers Dillon M $295,000.00 $325,000.00
Ramirez Juan Edgardo M $100,000.00 $100,000.00
Saeid Mohammed M $160,000.00 $170,000.00
Serna Dillon M $72,600.00 $85,600.00
Sjoberg Axel D $108,350.00 $123,350.00
Watts Jared D-M $75,000.00 $75,000.00
Williams Mekeil D $110,000.00 $115,000.00

Howard, Gashi, and Doyle only hit the cap at $380K, the rest being covered by TAM and DP money.  There are (at least) two caveats.  One, we know Minnesota is picking up part of Gatt's salary, reportedly a large part.  Second, TAM was used to purchase Boateng so we don't know how much of the $300K plus transfer fee is really hitting the cap.

Assuming Minnesota's contribution cancels out whatever additional Boateng is costing we're at about $3.6M against the salary cap of $3.85M.  So we have a bit of wiggle room after the trade with Minnesota.  All combined the Rapids have the 9th biggest salary total in the league, which is surprising, especially for the (lack of) quality w'ere getting.  Boateng's $300K is higher than I expected, I figured he'd be closer to $200K.  Azira got a deserved bump to 6 figures this year.  No real surprises anywhere else on the roster.

Some notes from the rest of the league.  Burch is making $135K and Cronin $300K this year which makes the trade $100K in our favor plus whatever Minnesota is paying of Gatt's salary.  So it did free up cap room, though we have not used it yet.  Also Jermaine Jones has the same base salary as last year but LA are giving him and addition $75K guaranteed over last year so somehow after only playing 8 games he got a raise.  Its hard to argue with the Rapids not re-signing him given that.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Rapids Face Old Friends

Looney Tunes' Shirley "the Loon" McLoon

Back at it on Sunday with our first ever trip to the state of Minnesota to take on one of the expansion Uniteds.  The news this week was not good with the report that Boateng will miss 8-10 weeks minimum with a back fracture.  Combined with our other injuries and suspensions we'll see a very different lineup this weekend.  Of course, on the other side, we'll see Cronin and Burch again.  Two players we could realy use now.  Kickoff is Sunday at 4 and the game is on Altitude.

Player Availability:
Injury Report:
OUT: GK John Berner (wrist); D Axel Sjoberg (hamstring surgery); M Nana Boateng (back)
DOUBTFUL: M Dillon Serna (calf); F Alan Gordon (hamstring)

Suspensions: GK Tim Howard (2 more games); D Jared Watts (1 game)

This week on the ever changing injury reports shows either 2, 3, or 5 Rapids listed depending on which one you read.  None are a surprise at this point.  Minnesota is missing 4 players it appears.  My guess at the XI:

To be honest though there are very few names on the roster I couldn't create a scenario for Pablo starting.  This seems the most likely but nothing really would surprise me Sunday.  Well, a non 4-2-3-1 formation would surprise me.

Prediction: 2-1 loss, goal by Badji.  Minnesota's defense is awful so we should be able to score, but our defense is a shell of what it was so I doubt our ability to stop much of anything.  Add in travel and the turf field and I don't see any points in this one.

Monday, April 17, 2017

And before you know it, we're flying backwards

Bonus points to anyone who can name the series above (which this post's title comes from)

Yep, another game, another defensive meltdown, another loss.  We've gone from a historic home defense (7 goals allowed in 34 games, a league record) to one that's allowed over half of that in just 3 games.  Meanwhile the defense averages almost a shot on goal per game less than any other team and half of the best team (approx. 2.5 to 5).  This is a team that's gone backwards on defense and offense from last season, which has lead to the worst start of Pablo's tenure with the most goals allowed in the first 5 games since 2007.

This game encapsulated the issues we're seeing this season.  Once again we had multiple chances and couldn't finish more than one of them. Full credit to Doyle for a great header for the goal off of some nice work by Boateng and Hairston.  The lack of an attack allowed FSL to push further and further forward in the last minutes of the game and our weakened defense broke.  A clear handball lead to a PK and red card for Jared Watts, followed by slopping defending from the defensive midfield and FSL waked out as the first regular season road winners at the Dick in about 18 months.

The worst part about it is that this wasn't a poor performance by the team as a whole.  The team played fairly close to their abilities.  They got sloppy late but generally this team isn't built to win in MLS this year, especially after the trade.  Pablo's coaching isn't helping but at this point we just need to accept that's not going to change.  In fact nothing is going to change until the Front Office does.  This team is suffering from the FO's decision to sit on their hands in the offseason, then dismantle the defense just a few games into the season.  Until the FO can come up with a stable long-term plan they are capable of executing this team is going to need moments of fluke runs to have any chance of being anything more than a "squeak into the playoffs" team. 

Man of the Match: Centennial 38.  The fans deserved better in a home Rocky Mountain Cup match than they got.

Friday, April 14, 2017

First Round Of The 2017 Rocky Mountain Cup

FSL, I hate these guys

Well the Howard news certainly puts a damper on this game.  Its pretty much a must win game for the hopes of this season though.  A flat game like we saw in KC and you have to start questioning what our chances really are this season.  At home against our rival I expect to see fire and better play.  Kickoff tomorrow is at 7pm so the tailgate starts at 4.  If you can't make it the game is on Altitude.

Player Availability:
Injury Report:
OUT: GK John Berner (wrist); D Axel Sjoberg (hamstring surgery)
DOUBTFUL: M Dillon Serna (calf); F Alan Gordon (hamstring)

Suspensions: GK Tim Howard (3 games)

The injury report continues to be a joke.  Gordon is on the Rapids report but not MLS's, erner is on MLS's report but not the Rapids.  One uses questionable, one uses doubtful.  Needles to say, I don't think we'll see any of those 4.  I wonder if Mizell is getting an emergency callup for 3 games.  FSL has 8 players questionable or worse.  My guess at the XI:

The only real change I could see would be if Ford gets the start again but after last week I think Pablo will go back to Burling.

Prediction: 1-0 win, goal  by Hairston.  This seems really optimistic but FSL might be worse than us and their banged up and on the road.  Regardless I'm not expecting stunning soccer tomorrow.  This could be very ugly regardless of the score.

Howard Suspended 3 Games

MLS has just announced that Tim Howard has been suspended for 3 games.  The Rapids have issued a statement accepting the decision.  I won't link the video here, but there is footage from the supporters section behind Howard's goal in KC of him telling a fan he had...relations...with the fan's mother.

3 games is in line with MLS's actions in the past around incidents like this.  Colin Clark, while in Houston, got 3 games for swearing at a ball boy.  Alan Gordon, while in LA, got 3 games for a homophobic slur.  I'm sure a number of fans are upset with the league for this but really the only one at fault, and the only one to be upset with, is Howard.  It was unprofessional and stupid and he's cost his team dearly.

UPDATE: Apparently MLS has unreleased footage of Tim getting into a physical altercation with a fan in the tunnel after the game.  So, yeah, really nobody to blame on this except Tim.

Get Better Soon Drew and Marvell!

Sending good thoughts out to Drew Moor today after the news of a cardiac arrhythmia being discovered.  Good thoughts also continue to go out to Marvell Wynne who dealt with something similar a couple of weeks ago. #ForeverRapid
GREAT NEWS-Successful 9 hour open heart surgery for yesterday. Looks fantastic today & plans return next season!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Other Colorado Soccer Teams and the Open Cup

With the release of the first two rounds of Open Cup pairings for 2017 I thought this was a good time to review some other soccer teams in Colorado.  We'll start from the "bottom" and work our way up through the leagues.

Azteca FC - Colorado Premier League - Azteca FC is one of 10 teams in the top level of the CPL.  The league plays their games in Broomfield and Dove Valley.  Azteca beat fellow league sides FC Denver and Harpos FC in qualifying rounds to be one of the local qualifiers in the 1st round of the Open Cup.  They'll travel to Wichita to take on NPSL side FC Wichita in the first round of the Cup.  If they win they'll travel to St. Louis to play USL side St. Louis FC in the second round.

Colorado Rush - Colorado Premier League - The Rush CPL team is the top level of the Colorado Rush club organization.  Rush beat FC Boulder of the 2nd division of the CPL and Oregon side IPS/Marathon Taverna (on the road) to make it to the first round of the Open Cup as a local qualifier.  They'll take on FC Tucson of the PDL in Tucson in the first round of the Open Cup with a trip to Colorado Spring to take on the Switchbacks awaiting the winners.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks - United Soccer League - As a member of the USL the Switchbacks automatically qualify for the Open Cup and get a bye to the second round.  They'll get the winner of the Colorado Rush - FC Tucson first round match.

Colorado Rapids - Major League Soccer - Likewise as a member of MLS the Rapids automatically qualify, and they get a bye to the 4th round.  The last two years they've hosted the Switchbacks in that round and I would expect that to continue should the Switchbacks (or any of the Colorado teams) make it to that round.

Veering away from the Open Cup for a sec I wanted to give a shout out to one other lower league team.  Kingston Stockade FC is based in Kingston NY in the Hudson River Valley.  They play in the North Atlantic conference of the Northeast region of the National Premier Soccer League.  The NPSL is roughly equiavlent to the PDL and unofficially they both kind of fill the 4th level of the U.S. soccer pyramid.  The reason I wanted to mention them that this season (their second) they're coached by former Rapids media director David Lindholm.  Stockade FC didn't qualify for the Open Cup this year sadly but there's always 2018.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Game One Of Our Rebuilding

We're not going to spend a whole lot of time talking about last night's game.  Pretty much everybody sucked and the 3-1 scoreline probably flattered us.  Our offense consisted of a good header from Badji followed by a weak roller from him in the second half, before he finally drew the PK that Doyle scored at the end of the game.  On the defensive side the loss of Cronin and Burch was seen in the disorganization of the back line.  This was compounded by the decision to start Ford over Burling, leaving Watts as possibly the most "experienced" defender.  Ford showed some good play but got burned on a couple of the goals and showed that he's still a very raw rookie.  Miller and Williams were over-matched on the wings and Howard made an uncharacteristic mistake on the second goal getting beat near post.

Instead I want to focus on something that announcers John Strong and Alexi Lalas said about their discussions with Pablo.  Paraphrasing they said that Pablo told them his new offensive scheme could take up to a year to implement.

What?  Are you kidding me?  How can Pablo think that's an acceptable thing to say at this point, and how can the organization think that's an acceptable thing to allow him to say without cleaning it up? After what the fanbase has gone through with Pablo in charge we're supposed to accept another year of "rebuilding"? Not to mention we're 6 months removed from almost winning the Shield but now we need to change our system, in a way that could take up to a year? Oh, and if we're going to change to a more offensive system, shouldn't we have, you know, signed some offensive players?

At this point it feels  like Smith and/or Pablo (more likely  Smith) wants to change the roster.  From Smith's POV it makes sense as he was working with the now-departed Bravo and didn't have full control.  He probably has a different player type in mind than Bravo did.  However this team isn't in position for another rebuild, and certainly not in the middle of a season.  We had a great (historic in some ways) defense last year.  The next step was to cement that defense and build on it, not break it up by trading off two components for the hope of young players in future years and the possibility of another signing.

Based on last night's game this team is a long ways from contending.  Great youth prospects but not a team that's going to contend this year.  For the 3rd time in Pablo's 4 years it appears the organization is playing the fans for suckers and I (and many others) fell for it.

Man of the Match: Micheal Azira.  No major mistakes, good play, and looked like he belonged on the field.  The only other placer that came close was Badji, because he actually tried to take a shot.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Border War Week Starts Sunday

Kansas to the East, Utah to the West

Hey, we're actually playing soccer again.  Its been so long I almost forgot the season started.  Its a par of border clashes in 7 days.  First on Sunday we invade Kansas, then on the following Saturday we defend our turf from Utah.  Game time on Sunday is 5pm, with the Rapids getting national exposure against Sporting on FS1.  Centennial 38 is celebrating the reopening of the Celtic at their new location (14th & Market) for their watch party.

Player Availability:
Injury Report:
OUT: GK John Berner (wrist); D Axel Sjoberg (hamstring surgery)
QUESTIONABLE: F Alan Gordon (hamstring)

This is the (now) "unofficial" injury report from the league's site.  It could be updated when the Rapids release their game preview tomorrow.  Gordon is the only surprise on this report.  The SporKCs have one player out and one questionable.

Predicting the starting XI after the Burch/Cronin trade will be a little difficult but here's my take:

I don't expect either of our new acquisitions to start but I wouldn't be surprised to see them on the bench.  There was a rumor floating around that Boateng was nursing an injury, if so Saeid could step into that role.

Prediction: 0-0 draw.  KC has only allowed 1 goal this year and we've only allowed 3, 1 by PK.  This has the makings of a very boring, defensive battle.  If I'm going to predict one team scoring its more likely KC.

Monday, April 3, 2017

DSG Park To Host USA-T&T World Cup Qualifier

After being long-rumored the USSF made it official today.  DSG Park will host the 5th round World Cup Qualifier between the U.S. and Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday June 8th.  Kickoff will be at 5:50pm.  This will be a long trip for Mekeil Williams who will have to walk to the visitor locker room instead of the Rapids locker room.  Tim Howard just gets to show up like its a normal day of work. :D

This game is on Thursday and not Friday because Round 6 game where the U.S. will go to the Azteca to face Mexico is on the following Sunday to allow Mexico to travel to the Confederations Cup that starts on June 17th in Russia.  The other two Round 6 games will take place on Tuesday June 13th like normal.

 Of course the last time the Nats were in Denver was the now-famous Snow Clasico in March of 2013.  Unlike the 30,000 other  people who in 20 years will claim they were there, I was actually there in section 108.  I have every intention of being at this one as well.

Ticket prices have not been announced yet but the presale for American Outlaws members will be on Wednesday while Rapids season ticket holders will have a presale on Thursday.  Tickets that are left at that point will go on sale to the general public at 10am Friday morning.

EDIT: General public sale is 10am Friday the 14th, not the 7th.