Saturday, May 27, 2017

Colorado Hopes Lightning Strikes Against KC

Sporting KC is in town tonight and it could be a wet one.  Rain and thunderstorms are forecast this afternoon but right now it looks like they might move off before kickoff.  This is Colorado though, so you can never really trust the forecast.  A very wet tailgate will start at 3 for the odd kickoff time of 6 (not the usual 7).  KC is bringing a large travelling contingent so it should be a spirited tailgate.  For those who can't make it the game is on Altitude.

Its hard to predict any type of starting lineup at this point.  We know Boateng is injured and Calvert is suspended but everyone else should be available for selection.  Watts is listed as questionable but who knows what that really means.

Prediction: 2-0 loss.  SKC is one of the best offenses in the league and has a pretty good defense.  We  have the worst offense (by far) and our defense is questionable.  This won't be pretty.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Relegation and Champions League: Overseas Roundup

Back a few years ago when the Rapids had less to discuss on a daily or weekly basis I used to have a weekend roundup of the various overseas teams I follow.  With the fall-to-spring seasons ending I thought I'd at least do a season recap of the teams.

Blackburn Rovers (English Championship) - Rovers made the stunning choice of hiring Owen Coyle away from the Houston Dynamo before the season started and he immediately managed them into a relegation fight.  In mid-February after 33 games Blackburn realized its mistake and replaced Coyle with Tony Mowbray.  He led them to the best win percentage of any permanent manager since the Mark Hughes days but it wasn't enough as Rovers were relegated to League One based on a 2 worse goal differential than Nottingham Forest.  This coming season will be the first time Blackburn has been in the 3rd division since the 1979-80 season and only 6th season ever at that level (the other 5 were all in the 1970s).

Queen of the South (Scottish Championship) - The Doonhamers have "found their level" in Scotland, settling in as a mid-table Championship club that occasionally makes a run at the promotion playoffs.  We saw that again this year as a stable "drama-free" season led them to 6th place in the Championship, 9 points off the playoff pace.  The club probably hoped to be a little close to 4th place than they were but with Hibs (Hibernian) going up and Thistle (Inverness Caleadonian) coming down the league should be a bit easier next season.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (German Bundesliga) - Hoffenheim had probably the most successful season in their history.  They finished 4th in the Bundesliga, their highest ever finish, and were undefeated at home.  The 4th placed finish got them a spot in next year's Champions League qualifier playoff stage.  The winners at that stage go into the Champions League group stage, the losers go to the Europa League group stage.  They'll know their draw on August 4th with the two-legged playoff series played in mid-August.

Melbourne Victory (Australian A-League) - The Victory finished 2nd in the league this season while hated rivals Sydney FC ran away with the regular season, finishing 17 points ahead of the Victory running in first place wire-to-wire.  Both teams took advantage of their playoff byes to move easily into the final, where Sydney beat the Victory on penalty kicks.  The Victory will play in next year's AFC Champions League after their 2nd placed finish.

CD Tenerife (Spanish Segunda) - I saved Tenerife for last because their season isn't done yet.  Spain takes a longer winter break than most leagues so CDT still has 3 games left and is currently in 4th place in the division, which puts them in a promotion playoff spot.  Levante has already won the league and Girona could clinch the 2nd automatic promotion spot this weekend with the right results.  Tenerife is 4 points behind 3rd and 4 points ahead of 7th (the first non-playoff spot) so really they are looking at holding down 4th unless 3rd placed Getafe trips up.  Then there's a shot at promotion which would mean going through probably Cadiz and likely Getafe.

On my trip to England in March we spent a wonderful day in Chester where I was able to pick up a Chester FC scarf.  So I've been keeping an eye on them as well.  After a good start to the season the team went into free fall and finished just 2 points from the relegation spots in the English National League, the 5th rung of the ladder.

Here's the collection of scarves I had in England after my trips to Chester and Blackburn:

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wheels Come Flying Off For Rapids


Just when you thought the Rapids couldn't get more embarrassing there were the 60th-80th minutes on Saturday nights.  If this were a college football game we'd be saying the Rapids Couged it.  Complete meltdown leading to a PK, red card, and going from 1-0 to 2-1 down.  Going through some of the "highlights":

  • The lineup with players like Hamilton, Gatt, Ford, da Fonte, and Calvert makes me think the idea that we're playing for 2081 has more behind it than they want to admit. 
  • I'm not sure what Andre Blake was looking at on Calvert's goal but he just watched the ball as it sailed by him into the net.  Nice strike by Calvert but most keepers at least make a play on the ball, some save it.
  • Glad to see Sjoberg back but he could and probably should have been called for a PK in the first half by shoving Sapong down at the top of the box.
  • The moment we scored we started time wasting, leading to at least two warnings from the center ref.  This becomes important later.
  • Lots of talk from some fans about the PK.  Its a clear PK, the ball hits his hand at least two times and arguably a third.  There's even a case to be made that Ford could have been red carded for Denial of an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity but that would have been harsh IMO.
  • Calvert lost his mind for 60 seconds and it cost him a red card.  Here's the text from FIFA's explanation of Rule 5.  Calvert broke all 3 of these rules in less than 60 seconds.  The dual yellow cards were absolutely justified:
    • "as soon as the referee has authorized doctors to enter the field of play, the player must leave the field of play, either on a stretcher or on foot. If a player does not comply, he shall be cautioned for unsporting behavior"
    • "irrespective of whether the ball is in play or not, only the referee is authorized to allow a player to re-enter the field of play"
    • "when the ball is in play, an injured player must re-enter the field of play from the touch line. When the ball is out of play, the injured player may re-enter from any of the boundary lines"
  • When Howard builds a wall he's probably expecting more than one player to jump.  Sjoberg did his job.  Doyle tried to get fancy and time his jump perfectly and missed.  Ford raised up on his tiptoes but never left the ground.  The ball went over Ford's head and into the net.
  • Once again, as we have in 6 of 8 of our losses, the opposition had equal or more goals than we had shots on goal.  In this case Philly had 2 goals to our 1 shot on goal.  Pitiful.
We've got 4 in a row at home at home plus the Open Cup match.  Realistically to get this season back on track we need 3 wins, a draw, and we should beat whatever USL team we play in the Open Cup.  Anything less and this season will be all but officially lost.

Man of the Match:  For this mess?  Please.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Rapids Hope To Split Union

Two weeks ago this game looked like a chance for the Rapids to pick up points.  Philly had as bad a start to the season as Colorado did and you had to like the chances of at least getting a point on the road.  In the last 3 games though Philly has picked up 9 points to the Rapids 3 and suddenly this game looks much harder.  Kickoff in Chester is at 5pm MDT tomorrow and the game is on Altitude.

The Rapids are still without Boateng while Sjoberg is travelling with the team and could be used at some point.  I doubt he'll start but we could see him as a sub.  Otherwise everyone should be available.

Prediction: 2-0 loss.  Prove me wrong Rapids.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rapids Smoked By Fire

Back to the animated gif recaps!

Rapids start with the same 4-4-2 they used successfully on Saturday

Chicago scores 15 minutes in after dominating the game

Rapdis get no shots on target in the first half:

57th minute and and shoddy defense leads to another Fire goal

63rd minute, Josh Gatt and Sam Hamilton, getting his first professional minutes, sub in
Yes, I made a Broadway reference, try not to faint

70th minute, Doyle in for Badji

74th minute, Fire get a 3rd

Game ends 3-0, Rapids have a total of 3 shots on goal

USOC Draw

Today the draw was made for the 4th round of the U.S. Open Cup, the round the Rapids enter.  They were drawn to host the winner off the Colorado Springs Switchbacks - Oklahoma City Energy 3rd round match.  If the Switchbacks win it will be the 3rd year in a row that the Rapids host them at home in the 4th round.  Colorado Springs hosts OKC on May 31st with the winner coming to Commerce City on either June 13th or 14th.  Exact date, time, and ticket info will be announced shortly.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rapids Hope To Be A Firebreak


So after breaking our losing streak its a quick turnaround with a midweek game tomorrow in Chicago and then the trip continues to Philly on Saturday.  The Rapids will face one of the biggest new names in the league in Chicago, Bastian Schweinsteiger.  Game time tomorrow is 6:30pm and the game is on Altitude.

The Rapids will be down Boateng for sure and probably Sjoberg.  Axel is back in training but I don't expect him to be in the 18 yet.

I'm not going to try to  predict a lineup for this one.  With the new formation and 3 games in a week I have no idea what Pablo will do.  I hope to see the 4-4-2 again and I hope Hairston stays at right back.

Prediction: 1-0 loss.  Short rest, travel, and w'ere still not a good team.  We'll look better than we have, especially if we stay in the 4-4-2, but it won't be enough.

Monday, May 15, 2017

4-4-2? I Don't Understand Those Numbers


So the Rapids ran out on Saturday is this formation I couldn't quite comprehend.  A 4-4-2 which must be the new hotness or something, I haven't seen the likes of it for many years.

All joking aside I don't believe it was a coincidence that the new formation corresponded to the best play we've seen from the team this year and the biggest win since the USOC match against the Switchbacks in June of 2015 (in the league you have to go back to the April 2015 game in Dallas where we blew them out 4-0).  The last time we beat a MLS team at home by 3 was almost 3 years ago when we beat Chivas USA 3-0.

Colorado has unintentionally developed a decent 4-4-2 roster while being unsuccessful building a 4-2-3-1 roster.  Matthew Doyle does a pretty good writeup in the middle of his Armchair Analyst column this week.  In short, the move of Hairston to RB and the change in formation allowed us to hide some weaknesses and play to some strengths in a way the 4-2-3-1 didn't, especially since our greatest weakness was a player who could play the key #10 position in that formation.

I don't think the formation change was the only reason we won but it represented a change in the mentality of the team.  Instead of defending with at least 6 if not more the team was set up with 5 defenders (the back 4 + Azira), a box-to-box guy (Powers), and 4 attacking players.  Hairston at RB was also a more attack-minded fullback than Williams.  Also by having two in the box (Gordon & Doyle) the San Jose defense was forced to do more than collapse on the lone striker which gave our attack room to work with.

Going forward I think the team needs to stick with the 4-4-2.  Hairston should have played Williams to the bench, I know Hairston wants to play further up but right now the team needs him at fullback.  I'm not sold on Gordon partnering Badji up front, I think Doyle should get a legitimate shot there and I expect he will, his being on the bench was probably partially driven by the 3 games this week.  Boateng will take Powers' spot and Sjoberg will take Burling's when they're healthy.

Man of the Match: Shkelzen Gashi.  Gets on the score list for the first time this year and follows it up with a second.  You do you Gashi.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Rapids Host Ex-Clash

I'm not up to doing a full featured game preview yet, but yesterday's response in the podcast is a step in the right direction to get me to reengage.

Today the Rapids host San Jose at 2pm.  Its expected to be 82 degrees and bright sun for this afternoon kickoff, so those on the East side (like me) are going to broil.  I expect to spend the second half finding shade on the concourse.  Those who can't make it (or decide to hide from the sun) can watch the game on Altitude.

Its going to be hard to know what kind of lineup Pablo runs out.  We're missing Williams due to red card so that means playing Serna at left back or moving Miller to left back and playing Hairston at right back.

Prediction: 1-0 loss.  Sadly this lineup just isn't good enough to compete, especially down two of the more talented players (Sjoberg, Boateng) on the roster.

Friday, May 12, 2017

USOC Omission and Padraig Smith interview

Game preview later tonight (or maybe in the morning).  First I had an omission in my Open Cup results last night.  The Colorado Rush also played in the USOC Wednesday and lost to FC Tucson 3-1.  That's why Tucson is travelling to the Springs to play the Switchbacks in the next round.

Now, on to the first real response from the Rapids to the FourFourTwo article, the C38 letter, and the general poor results from the team.  On the official Rapids podcast Richard Fleming interviewed Sporting Director Padraig Smith.  The 12 minute interview is from about 16:30 to 28:30 of the podcast and there's a rough written transcription here.  I urge every to listen to it if you can but at least read the transcript.  Here's my reaction though:

  • Short-term we're going to see more of the same. Smith says its about having a more attacking mentality. Which is the same line we've been hearing for years. So I don't expect our attack to change before July.
  • Once again the excuse of the transfer window not lining up with Europe comes out. Yet most other MLS teams managed to improve in the offseason. Also, news flash to the FO, there's a lot of the world not on the European schedule. Maybe look their for players if Europe isn't working out?
  • He thinks we can make the playoffs with the summer additions. The team is going to have to play a lot better in the next 10 games before those additions for that to happen.
  • He completely ducked the question about the high turnover in the assistant coach position (Metgod, Spencer, Casey).  I think that's a fair question for fans to wonder about.
  • He also spun the question about how the Rapids always start the preseason late leading to starting the season behind.  I'd be annoyed by that but that issue predates even Paul Bravo, much less Smith.  Its institutional inertia at this point.
  • He was up front that they're hiding/being circumspect about injuries. Fine, I don't agree, but now we know "officially" that the injury report is largely useless.

I was actually happy to hear him come on and I thought Fleming asked great questions. I can't think of a major question he left out other than why Paul Bravo left (which he was never going to ask).  Smith's answers are still all talk though and their actions have yet to back up their talk. Until that happens I don't see the fan's opinions changing.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

News and Notes, May 11, 2017

A couple of odds and ends from around Colorado soccer.

  • Most importantly, the home game against Portland on Sunday June 18th has been moved to Saturday June 17th, still at 7:30pm.  Originally this game was scheduled to be broadcast nationally on FS1, it will no be shown locally on Altitude.  I'm assuming FOX told the league they weren't interested in televising a game from a likely half-empty stadium featuring the wooden spoon leaders.
  • Rapids draft pick Jaime Siaj made his first appearance with the Charlotte Independence tonight.  here's been no word that he signed with the Rapids so I assume this is not a loan and the Rapids suggested he sign with Charlotte with the hope he can eventually move up to MLS.
  • Azteca FC lost their first round Open Cup match to FC Wichita last night 1-0.  They had a player red carded in the 12th minute and still forced extra time after the first 90 finished scoreless.  In the 105th minute Wichita finally broke through for the only goal, and Azteca went down a second man shortly after the break.  That leaves just the Rapids and Switchbacks left in the Open Cup from the state of Colorado.  Colorado Springs will host FC Tucson in Round 2 while the Rapids wait to see who they'll play in their first game in Round 4.

Monday, May 8, 2017

When All Else Fails, Change Nothing

From Thursday:
This will be a dour game between the two teams with the least amount of shots on goal this season.  In the end Vancouver has better players and will get a 1-0 win.
Which is exactly what happened.  After 5 losses and 3 straight shutouts though the Rapids decided to stand pat as the transfer window closed today.  They apparently believe that we have the talent we need to compete for the next 2 months before the secondary window opens.  Padraig Smith talked to the Denver Post about the decision:
“We’re not going to do anything,” Smith said of the transfer window, which closes Monday night. “We had a couple of discussions last week and over the weekend with a number of clubs, but nothing ended up working out in a way that we wanted. One of the challenges of this transfer window is that it closes while a lot of leagues are still playing. Teams aren’t quite ready to let players go, players aren’t quite out of contract.”
Smith is right...about the end of the window.  Of course the beginning of the window is in February and players can leave their clubs and join the Rapids in preseason training in January (they just can't play in a competitive match until the window opens). That's also when windows for most teams are open, which gives them a chance to sign a replacement.  That's why most MLS teams make their moves in the offseason, but the Rapids decided to just sign Boateng and call it good.  So its somewhat misleading to claim no that we can't find any teams to agree to the moves we need, since we wasted the prior 2 months of the window.
“We’ve seen a lot of games recently and a number of players we were watching repeatedly, but it’s just a challenge with those teams still playing and still competitive in their leagues,” Smith said. “A lot of this is geared toward making sure we’ve seen players multiple times before we make any move in July.”
You know, like trading for Josh Gatt,  Who had 0 games in 2017 before the trade, 6 in 2016, 1 in 2015 and 0 in 2014.  All due to his injury history.
“Everybody is very frustrated here, because at the end of the day, we’re here to win and that’s the most important thing,” he said. “We do see some positive things on the field in terms of how we move the ball, how quickly we’re moving it, the spaces and the positions the players are taking. Our ability to retain the ball and drive forward is better than it’s been in the past. But at the end of the day, we need to finish. We need to take the chances we’re creating. We need to score more goals. It is difficult to sleep, but we know the direction we’re going, we know how we want to get there. The key thing now is executing on that strategy.” 
The results of that strategy have gotten worse since the big trade.  We earned 4 points, scored 3 goals, and conceded 3 in the 3 games before the trade.  We've gotten 0 points, scored 2 goals, and conceded 9 in the 5 games since the trade (small sample size caveats apply).  We aren't close to executing on this new attacking strategy and from observing the game on the field it appears the players don't even know what the strategy is.

But, the Rapids brain trust has spoken.  We're going with what we've got for the next 10 games.  At the end of it we'll be just past the midpoint of the season.  To be on pace for the playoffs we need 20 points in those 10 games, which is ahead of the best pace we were on last year....

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Colorado-Vancouver Game Prediction

With no response from the Rapids from the events of the last week (FourFourTwo article, another loss, C38 letter) outside of an off the cuff interview from Pablo on a local radio station I'm not really feeling the desire to spend a lot of time on a game preview for this team.

This will be a dour game between the two teams with the least amount of shots on goal this season.  In the end Vancouver has better players and will get a 1-0 win.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Centennial 38's Thoughts On The Direction Of The Rapids

Copying this from the C38 Facebook feed.  I fully support this statement:

Centennial 38 would like to publicly express its concern and disappointment over the direction the Colorado Rapids has been taking over the last six months. Coming off of a historically successful 2016 season, supporters were buzzing with excitement. Everyone was looking forward to 2017 and how the team could be refined, improved, and be a legitimate contender for trophies.
However, the trajectory of the club appears to have strayed far from the course it charted last year. We understand that bad results happen and the team can't win every time, but the poor performance of the team is not the only concern. The results themselves are part of a broader series of troubling events. These other events specifically include:
1) Minimal player acquisitions and a general lack of overall activity during the offseason, especially if rebuilding is the actual plan for 2017.
2) The unbalanced trade that sent Sam Cronin and Marc Burch to Minnesota in exchange for unproven prospects and vague promises of future acquisitions.
3) Comments by Pablo Mastroeni in an April 28th article published by FourFourTwo magazine, in which he effectively stated the 2017 season is being sacrificed for 2018.
The third item is particularly concerning; because it gives supporters the impression that being competitive in 2017 is not important to the club.
Centennial 38, as the single largest group of organized season ticket holders, believes that the entire Rapids fan base is owed an explanation for the club's current direction. We believe it is unfair to increase ticket prices, based in large part on the success of 2016, and then seemingly scuttle that team under yet another premise of rebuilding. In addition it is unfair to the players wearing the badge, and to the fans who have stuck with this club through more lows than highs, to announce that this season isn't important less than two months into the campaign.
We would like to emphasize to everyone: our members, the Rapids staff, the players, the press, and the greater Colorado soccer fan base as a whole, that there is a very important distinction to be made between being critical of the club itself, and being critical of the people that run it. Players, coaches, management, and even ownership all come and go. In the end the only thing that remains is the identity of the club, and the community that surrounds it.
We encourage everyone to continue to wear the colors of the club proudly, and to show their true passion for the Rapids and the beautiful game. Without supporters, soccer is nothing.
Respectfully Submitted,
Centennial 38