Sunday, August 31, 2008

Well That Was Garbage

No game review this week. If the players aren't going to bother showing up for the game, I'm not going to be bothered to analyse it. Suffice it to say that every time I've thought we hit rock bottom this season, we've done worse. With the results this weekend the Colorado Rapids are not only last place in the conference, but they are last place in the league. With a game on ESPN2 in Dallas on Thursday night, I don't see that changing soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Football isn't a matter of life and death - it's much more important than that"

Bill Shankley could have been talking about tomorrow's game when he said those words. The Rapids travel over the Continental Divide on their annual trip to SLC. Not only are the Rapids playoff chances at stake, but the Rocky Mountain Cup could be decided tomorrow night. The Rapids currently have a 3 point lead in the competition with only 2 games to play, so a win tomorrow means the Cup comes home to Denver. A number of fans are making the trip to RES to cheer on Colorado in person, but those that aren't will be meeting at the British Bulldog as normal. Kickoff is at 7pm MDT.

Here's the injury report:

OUT: MF Mehdi Ballouchy (concussion); MF Terry Cooke (L hamstring); MF Greg Dalby (R ankle); GK Justin Hughes (L groin); DF Ugo Ihemelu (concussion); MF Pablo Mastroeni (R hamstring); PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (R knee); DF Jose Burciaga Jr. (R hip); MF Jacob Peterson (L hip)

DISCIPLINE: Suspended after 1 more yellow card - Colin Clark, Pablo Mastroeni

My lineup prediction:

Bouna Time!
Erpen - Gibbs - Petke - Harvey
Peterson - C.Gomez - LaBrocca - Clark
McManus - Casey

After a long stretch relatively injury-free the Rapids are the walking wounded this week. I expect that Gomez will find his way back into the starting 11 with Ballouchy and Dalby injured. I think Burciaga proved himself a liability last week and will be replaced by Harvey. Finally I expect Smith to switch back to a 4-4-2 to get Casey some help up front.

Critical Matchup: Rapids midfield vs. the RES turf

FSL plays its home games on the worst surface in the league, a turf field sitting on top of concrete. They've been able to take advantage of this by learning the play of the pitch and riding that to an undefeated home record this year. Its vital that the Rapids keep possession in this game, and they do that by the midfield being able to handle the turf and adjust accordingly.

Keys To Look For:

  • Gomez will be coming off the bench after two games of not playing. Can he reintegrate himself into the team?

  • Is it Bouna Time or Burpo Time?

  • Controlling the passion. The RMC is a heated rivalry and we've seen FSL lose it in the past and make the game more about taking out the Rapids than winning. Whichever team plays with passion without losing control will have the advantage.

  • Will Peterson do something with the ball when he gets the chance?

  • Making our chances count. For the last month to six weeks the Rapids have created chance after chance without finishing them. At some point we're going to have to start putting those chances away.

Prediction: 1-0 win. The Rapids have a winning record in RES, so they don't face the same road problems there that they do everywhere else. We'll squeak out the win and bring the Cup back where it belongs!

Another Verse, Same as the First

Keepin' It Real has made another attempt to trash talk before tomorrow's game. I'll give them credit for improving from their first attempt, but still pretty weak. The statement that "Statistically speaking, they should have won something/anything just by sheer dumb luck of the draw" might have meant more if a quarter of the league hadn't failed to win something in that time. Hard to say dumb luck should get you a championship when 1 out 4 failed to do so.

And they do a nice job of cherry-picking stats from the current year for comparison. What they left out was Goals scored, Rapids: 29, FSL: 25, Goal differential, Rapids: -1, FSL: -2, Total wins, Colorado: 7, FSL: 7, along with FSL's worse road record I mentioned on Tuesday. I'm not seeing much to seperate Colorado and FSL this season, and when we win tomorrow Colorado will pass FSL in the standings, just like they've done every year.

But no surprise that FSL fans like to divert attention from how bad they've been by focusing on the failures of the Rapids. Anyone who's read this blog knows that I'm the first to say that the Rapids have been a complete failure at getting one of the 3 major MLS trophies, but as bad as we've been, look at FSL in comparison.

  • Rapids first 4 years: 3 playoff appearances, 1 MLS Cup appearance, 1 US Open Cup final appearance, overall record of 61 wins in 128 games.

  • FSL first 4 years: 0 playoff appearances, 1 USOC game won (game, not trophy), overall record 28 wins in 115 games

  • And to deal with the whining from the FSL fans that comparing 1996-1999 to 2005-2008 isn't fair, here's the Rapids list for 2005-2008

  • Rapids last 4 years: 2 playoff appearances (Including 2 Western Conference Final appearances), 2 USOC games won (Including beating FSL), overall record of 40 wins in 115 games. Oh, and finishing in front of FSL each of the last 3 years.

  • So to answer the question posed by Keeping It Real,

    So if Salt Lake is fake, what does that make Colorado?

    Better than you

    Wednesday, August 27, 2008

    MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup, Supporter's Shield - Where do we stand? Part 3

    This was originally scheduled for last Wednesday,m but with the news of Clavijo's departure I pushed it off to this week. We're two-thirds of the way hrough the season, so let's reexamine where we stand. My last analysis is here.

    USOC: Out after loss to KC
    MLS Cup: To be decided at the end of the season, currently we are out of a tie for the last playoff spot by 2 points.
    Supporters Shield: Goes to the best regular season record

    Right now that's Columbus, with 37 points from 21 games and the goal differential tiebreaker. We're at 24 points from 21 games. Lets do some figuring to see some best case/worst case scenarios.

    Best case:

    • Nobody played better than .500 ball the rest of the way, or 1.5 pts/game. That would put Columbus on top.
    • That gives them 13-14 points the rest of the way.
    • Added to their current 33, that's 50-51points.

    • Lets say the Rapids play really well and only get 1 draw the rest of the season.
    • That means they would have a maximum of 49 points (8-0-1) and would miss the Supporter's Shield.

    What's all this mean? The Supporter's Shield is lost to us. We would have to win every remaining game and hope that both Columbus and New England play no better than .500 over the last 9 games. That's not going to happen. Our only hoe for hardware this season is MLS Cup.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Weak attempt at trash talking from the West side

    Yep, that time of year again when the Rapids head over to SLC to put a beat-down on FaKe SaLt LaKe. Some people may have seen the weak attempt at trash talk by the FSL blog Keepin' It Real. Let's look at their list of "trash talk".

    • Clavijo - Like every Rapids fan wasn't talking trash about Clavijo

    • Roof at the Dick - Well FSL fans have never been creative, no wonder they can't see any point in having a unique roof. Given the stadium they play in, FSL fans really shouldn't try to talk trash about the Dick.

    • KSE/Rapids FO's attempt to kill the atmosphere at the Dick - Again, something the Rapids fans have complained about all year

    • Pablo - Yeah, sucks for FSL that the Rapids have a player better than any 3 FSL players put together

    • Nuggets - NBA? Who cares.

    A weak attempt from West of the Rockies, much like their soccer team. Its been the same list of trash talk for 3 years. Clavijo, Dick jokes, atmosphere sucks, and Pablo. You'd think they would come up with something new, but that would require FSL fans to wake up and realize that its no longer 2005, even if their team hasn't changed at all since then.

    As bad as Clavijo has been the Clavijo-led Rapids have finished in front of FSL each of the last 3 years, and we'll move ahead of them when we beat them on Friday. For all the talk about the "great fans" in SLC, its the Rapids fans you hear on the telecasts of RMC games from RES games and its a Rapids fan who heard us from the other side of RES and came to join us. And unlike the FSL fans, Rapids fans don't resort to throwing bottles and pipe bomb threats when the Rapids lose. The FSL hated Beckerman as much as Pablo, claiming that they never wanted to see him play for FSL, but a soon as the trade happened they flip-flopped and started supporting him. You'll never see me supporting Carlos Ruiz (My least favorite MLS player), even if he pulled on a Rapids jersey. FSL fans are a joke, no wonder they root for the team they do.

    FSL's good season is a mirage built on playing on that concrete mess they call a field. Too bad for them that the Rapids have a winning record in RES, going 3-1-2 (W/D/L) over the last 3 seasons in SLC, so they can't expect that to help them this week. Meanwhile they are worse than the Rapids on the road, an impressive achievement, getting only 4 points in 10 games away from Utah. So even if they get a miracle draw on Friday there's no way they'll get the 2 goal win they need in the Dick in October. Might as well just give us the Rocky Mountain Cup now guys, and save yourselves the effort of hauling it to Denver for us at the end of the season.

    Monday, August 25, 2008

    Weekend Roundup 8/23-8/24

    Colorado Rapids - I have not had time to watch the game, did not have the game available on Saturday night and my travel yesterday prevented me from watching it. From all reports we laid an egg in DC with our biggest loss of the season. I have to question leading Christian Gomez on the bench in his first trip back to Dc and I wonder if there's something else going on.

    What do you think, should I take the time to watch the game?

    With the loss the Rapids are still tied with LA for 4th in the West having missed a chance to move up to 2nd with a win. They are 8 points behind leading Houston. They are 11th overall in the league, 2 points out of a tie for the last playoff spot. Colorado is in a tie with New England, Dallas, and Houston for the 4th best offense and the 11th best defense.

    Queen of the South - The Doonhamers match against Ross County over the weekend was postponed due to Queens congested fixture schedule and their need to travel to Denmark for the second leg of their UEFA Cup round. In midweek QoS travelled to Dunfermline Athletic for a Challenge Cup match, and came home with a 2-0, putting them into the quarterfinals vs. Morton.

    On Tuesday Queens will take the field in Farum, Denmark down 2-1. That's the bad news. The good news is that the BBC Scotland will cover the game live on TV, radio, and online. The game will kickoff at 11am MDT.

    Blackburn Rovers - Rovers had their first home game of the season and only managed a disappointing 1-1 draw with Hull City. It was a bath and forth affair with both teams generating chances. The two goals came within 2 minutes of each other right before half, but neither side could find the winning goal in the second half. With the result Blackburn sit in a 4 way tie for 3rd in the EPL.

    Kildare County FC - Kildar County's FAI Cup fixture was rearranged for Tuesday, but apparently the Thoroughbreds didn't get the memo, being crushed by the Premier Division's Derry City 6-0. After that blow news was leaked about the club being forced to defer wages for some players, a rumor that the club confirmed and in their statement said that all back debts will be resolved by Sept. 13th.

    On that news County took the field at home against Sporting Fingal, one of the teams in the upper half of the table. Kildare rallied from their midweek crushing and eeked out a 1-1 draw. Unfortunately other results went against them and the Thoroughbreds dropped to the bottom of the table, 1 point from the safety zone with 12 games to play.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    The Gary Smith Era Begins

    While Smith did lead the team in the game against KC last week, this is his first game as interim head coach. Its a new era in Colorado Rapids soccer, and lets hope its a good one. The Rapids face DC at 5:30pm tomorrow night and as always the supporters will be gathering at the British Bulldog to watch the game.

    I, however, will be at a wedding out of town. That's the reason the game preview went up a day early, and you may not see a game review this week. I'm going to try to catch the game on, but we'll see.

    Here's the injury report:

    OUT: GK Justin Hughes (R shoulder); DF Ugo Ihemelu (concussion); PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (R knee); DF Jose Burciaga Jr. (R hip); MF Jacob Peterson (L hip)

    DISCIPLINE: Suspended after 1 more yellow card - Colin Clark, Pablo Mastroeni

    My lineup suggestion:

    Bouna Time!
    Erpen - Petke - Gibbs - Burciaga
    Cooke - Pablo - C.Gomez - Clark
    McManus - Casey

    According to reports from people who talked to the players last week, the lineup for the KC game was picked by Clavijo. Given that I have no idea who Smith might start in his first lineup as the head coach. So I just threw up what I think our best 11 is, we'll see what Smith thinks. You may be surprised to see Erpen on that list, given how I've pummeled him recently, but I noticed that when he was played out wide last week and had support inside he made less stupid mistakes.

    Critical Matchup: Petke & Gibbs vs. Emilio & Moreno

    DC's offense is contained in their two forwards, outside of them nobody has more than 4 goals this season. We have to make the rest of DC beat us. If we can do that we have a chance to get a result out of this game.

    Keys To Look For:

    • Of course the big key to this game is Gary Smith and how the team responds to the new leadership. Is there a new attitude around the team?

    • Gibbs and Petke went 90 minutes in their first game of the season last week, are they fit to do it again?

    • How does Christian Gomez react to his first game back in DC?

    • How tired is Pablo after his midweek game against Guatemala in Guatemala?

    Prediction: 1-1 draw. I think the coaching change gives the team a spark, but not enough to get a win on the road.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2008

    The End of the Clavijo Era

    Well it took less than 24 hours for the Rapids to prove me wrong with my prediction that Clavijo would be here until the end of the year. Clavijo resigned this morning, reportedly to spend more time with his family and dealing with their current medical crisis. I hope everything works out for him and his family.

    That said, the rumors leaking out today make it sound like Clavijo was going to be Head Coach In Name Only for the rest of the season. Supposedly player moves had already been taken out of his hands to be handled by Plush and Wright, a rumor today said that Smith would have control of lineups for the rest of the season even if Clavijo was still in charge. It seems that the Rapids didn't want to fire Clavijo, but they wanted him to leave on his own. If that's the case, goal reached, but KSE should have just pulled the trigger themselves.

    In an odd coincidence Clavijo leaves after 114 games in charge, the exact name number the man he replace, Tim Hankinson, coached. Their respective lines:

    Hankinson: 39-45-30, 1 Western Conference Final, Playoff Qualification 3 of 4 seasons, 2 winning seasons

    Clavijo: 40-49-25, 2 Western Conference Finals, Playoff Qualification 2 of 4 seasons, 0 winning seasons

    I think its safe to say that based on results, the Rapids took a step back with Clavijo.

    Looking to the future, Assistant Coach Gary Smith gets the interim Head Coach tag for the rest of the season. The Rapids plan to ride it out with Smith and then make a full-time hire in the off season. This is who I think the Rapids will look at in order of most likely to least likely, as of right now.

    1. Gary Smith - Interim Head Coach
    Smith was given the reins for the last third of the season today. Gary Smith came to us from England after being the scout in Spain for Rapids partner club Arsenal FC, currently partly owned by Stan Kroenke owner of the Rapids. GS was brought in by Jeff Plush without input from Fernando Clavijo, so he is Plush's guy through and through. He holds a UEFA "A" coaching license and has experience as the interim coach of Wycombe Wanderers for the final 4 games of the 2004 season, as well as coach of the Watford reserve team for 2 years.

    Because of his ties with Jeff Plush and Arsenal, as well as the fact that he was picked to be the interim coach for the rest of the season, I think Gary Smith is the early leader for the full-time job. The play of the team over the next 10 games will go a long way in determining his fate. If he cans how improvement in results and play style then he will make it hard for Plush to choose anyone else. If he can't get the team turned around it may be time to look elsewhere.

    2.a. John Murphy - Director of Player Development
    Murphy was the expected heir to Clavijo over the last couple of years, but that outlook changed after he and Fernando had some type of falling out and JM was promoted to the Director of Player Development role. John has 9 years of experience in MLS, having joined the Rapids with Fernando Clavijo who he worked for in New England. He also holds a UEFA "A" badge and has been credited with the strong drafts of good young talent that both the Revolution and the rapids had in his time at each club.

    Murphy was brought in by Clavijo, not Jeff Plush. He has also been absent for long stretches as he has travelled to Scotland to earn his coaching badges, and he has said that continuing that learning experience is a priority for him. Because of these factors I think he is less likely to be offered the job over Smith. I expect that if Smith is offered the job that John Murphy's role may grow into one of a true Technical Director or he'll get added responsibilities in scouting and the expanded youth teams.

    (I'd also love to get one of his Rapids jackets, since we share initials ;) )

    2.b. John Spencer - Assistant Coach, Houston Dynamo
    Spenny is the fans favorite for the coaching job. One of only two Rapids league MVP candidates (along with Joe Cannon) Spencer was one of the most well-liked Rapids in team history. He played for the Rapids for 3 seasons, leading thee team in goals twice and making the Pepsi Best XI team once. After retiring he has been an assistant coach with Houston for the last 3 years, helping to lead the team to 2 MLS Cups.

    Spencer is one of the most loved players in Rapids history, mainly because of his attitude and passion. There's no doubt that a team he leads would leave it all out on the field. Rumors say that he is very interested in returning to Colorado, possibly even passing on the Fire job last year in order to be available for the Rapids position. He would also be a good PR move for KSE, and the only choice likely to sell tickets based on his name only. However KSE already passed on hiring him once, before he joined the Dynamo, and he would probably expect more money than KSE has been paying Clavijo. Because of that I think he ranks with Murphy in the second tier of choices.

    4. Paul Mariner - Assistant Head Coach, New England Revolution
    Mariner has been the Revolution Assistant Coach for the last 5 seasons, helping to lead the team to 3 straight MLS Cup appearances. He is expected to be the next MLS assistant to make the jump to a head coaching position.

    Mariner is a long shot who's mainly on the list because of the feeling he will be a head coach somewhere soon. He has no real ties to Colorado or the Rapids, and its unlikely that he would want to leave the Revs for a organization that is in a bit of a rebuilding mode. Also, like Spencer he would probably expect a higher salary than some other options. If the Rapids don't find their guy in the first three choices though, he would be the next logical candidate.

    Clavijo gone!

    More later, but the Denver Post is reporting that Clavijo resigned today.

    The dreaded Vote of Confidence - UPDATE

    Since my post last night I've heard from other sources that the Vote of Confidence never actually happened, something Steven Goff also reported after his initial report. Its somewhat surprising for Goff to miss on a story that badly, obviously he's getting bad information from somewhere. I don't think the lack of a Vote of Confidence really changes the likelihood of Clavijo keeping his job after this season though. The team has not performed anywhere near its potential over the last two seasons, and there's still the talk that he and Plush don't see eye to eye.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    The dreaded Vote of Confidence

    Anyone who's played the addictive Football Manager (Worldwide Soccer Manager here in the U.S.) sports sim game knows that when you get the "Vote of Confidence" from your board, unemployment isn't far away. Last week Steven Goff reported that Fernando Clavijo got the real-life version from the Colorado Rapids Front Office.

    What does this mean? Well for one it almost certainly means that we're stuck with Clavijo at least until we're eliminated from playoff contention or the end of the season, whichever comes first. KSE has obviously decided that making a change at this point doesn't get them much benefit, which probably means they're writing this season off. I can't blame them given how the team is playing lately (Though they did look good against Kansas City).

    Long-term this is probably as close as we'll get to confirmation that Clavijo's contract won't be renewed until he's actually let go. There were already rumors that he and GM Jeff Plush didn't see eye to eye. Now with this news I think its safe to say that Plush is ready to part ways. Who takes his place? The fan's short list consists of current Rapids assistant coach Gary Smith, current Rapids Director of Player Development John Murphy, current Houston Assistant Coach and former league MVP candidate as a Rapid John Spencer and current New England Assistant Coach Paul Mariner. The fact that they didn't replace Clavijo mid-season with either Smith or Murphy leads me to believe that they may be looking outside the organization for the next coach. Spencer has been linked with the job for over a year now, so I'd consider him the leading candidate.

    Monday, August 18, 2008

    Weekend Roundup 8/16 - 8/17

    Colorado Rapids - My game writeup is here. The Rapids are tied with LA for 4th in the West, 5 points behind leading Houston with a game in hand. They are 11th overall in the league, 1 point out of a tie for the last playoff spot. Colorado has the the 4th best offense and the 8th best offense (tied with Kansas City and Chivas).

    Queen of the South - The Doonhamers faced FC Nordsjælland of Denmark in their first UEFA Cup game on Thursday. This was QoS's "home" game in the 2-leg series, being played at the Excelsior Stadium in Airdrie, about 100 miles from Dumfries. Apparently the new "home" surroundings confused the Queens defense, as they gave up a goal just 2 minutes into the game. They battled back though, levelling the game just after the half hour mark, only to go behind again shortly thereafter. After that there was a good deal of back and forth but no further scoring. Queen of the South will now go to Denmark needing at least two goals.

    Over the weekend the Doonhamers hosted Partick Thistle back at their true home of Palmerston Park. The match was a wide open affair that Queens carried to a 2-0 win, but the match could have easily ended 4-3 in favor of QoS. They got their first win in the league and are currently 5th right now, 3 points back of the leaders.

    Blackburn Rovers - The Rovers got their seasons started with a trip to Everton on Saturday. Everton is still facing the injury crisis they were dealing with when they visited the Dick two weeks ago and their bench for this game was made up of teenagers from their youth squad. David Dunn got the season off to a good start with a great shot from just outside the box that curled into the far corner for an early lead. New signing between the pipes Paul Robinson did not impress at the end of the first half, getting beat on the near post from a free kick right before the break.

    Everton came out the stronger side to start the second half. The pressure would pay off after 20 minutes, giving Everton an unlikely lead. Blackburn would fight back though with Roque Santa Cruz beating American Tim Howard just 90 seconds after Everton took the lead. This right on the stroke of full time Rovers sent a free kick into the box that former MLS player Ryan Nelsen headed against the post, but Andre Oojer was there to clean up the rebound and give Blackburn the 3 points they wanted to start their season.

    Kildare County FC - Kildare County's FAI Cup game against Derry City was postponed due to field conditions.

    Sunday, August 17, 2008

    Ding Dong The Witch is Dead

    in this case the house that dropped on the Wizards was Conor Casey who broke his 2 game scoreless streak by scoring both goals for the Rapids.

    Colorado started the game off with a bang, pushing Kansas City right from the start. The Rapids were the more aggressive team and it paid off with three early chances. Hartman came up big on the first two, but Case was allowed to get free inside the 6-yard box on the third and got to the Cookie cross before anyone else, giving the Rapids a 1-0 lead. Colorado would keep the pressure up for the next 20 minutes, getting another 3 great chances that forced Hartman to make a save, or missed the goal by less than a foot, including a header by Pablo of all people that went just wide.

    However the Rapids tendency to relax before halftime came back to bite them again, The Wizards beat the offside trap and the Colorado defense did a good job closing down on the ball, but failed to clear it from the box. The ball pinged around until Victorine got a shot off that Burpo saved, but the rebound fell to Harrington who put it away to tie the score right before half. Its the 8th goal the Rapids have given up int he last 15 minutes of the first half this season (out of 27 total goals given up).

    Credit to Colorado though, they didn't allow it to get them down. They came out after halftime and pushed the game again, getting the winning goal after just two minutes. The KC defense had their own mental lapse and were a little too casual with a ball in the box. Casey charged in and won the ball, then got a shot off while being pulled down. Hartman got a hand on it but couldn't push it wide and the Rapids went back up 2-1. After that it was just a matter of holding on and keeping possession, something the team did very well. The Wizards had a couple of chances but couldn't convert, and Colorado got their first win since the 4th of July.

    Keys to the Game review:

    • Fernando Clavijo was called away back to his home country of Uruguay on a family medical emergency this week. My best wishes go out to him and his family. He's not expected to be back for the game tomorrow night and Assistant Coach Gary Smith will be leading the team. Will we see any significant difference in play?Well we have to be careful about falling into the post hoc ergo proctor hoc trap, but the team did display an urgency that has been missing for a while. Was it just because they felt like they needed to get a win at home, or did the new voice leading the team have something to do with it?
    • Looks like it will be cool and wet tomorrow, which team adapts better?
      The Rapids handled the conditions much better than the Wizards did. It seemed like the Wizards didn't account for the slick conditions in their play.
    • Other than that, the real key is can the Rapids score? If we outplay the Wizards and come up scoreless again I'm not sure when we'll get our next goal (or win).
      Well we managed to find the back of the net, and find it early. The team seemed to loosen up a bit after the first goal, so maybe it reduced the pressure a bit.

    Critical Matchup: Casey & McManus vs. their mental blocks - Well McManus didn't get in until the final minutes, but Casey certainly got through his mental block last night.

    Fact of the Match: We still have yet to lose when we score the first goal.

    Random Observations:

  • Interesting roster choices for this game. While Clavijo was in Uruguay I'm hearing (secondhand) that he still set the starting line, formation, and tactics. That starting 11 included Bouna being sat down for Burpo and Christian Gomez sitting out in favor of Ballouchy, two moves I don't understand. It worked, but we traded our DP slot and a first round draft pick for the most expensive bench rider in the league? Burpo's a decent keeper, but Bouna's got the skills to be a top MLS keeper if he could get some consistent coaching and direction.

  • Ballouchy is a hole in midfield at this point. Most balls that come to him either get turned over or end up getting played backwards.

  • Nice job by Class VI getting into Claudio Lopez's head. It only took 30 minutes before he was yelling at us.

  • Gibbs and Petke looked good in their first action of the season, and both went 90 minutes without looking gassed at the end. If those two can anchor our back line we're in very good shape.

  • Pushing Erpen out wide really helped his game. I think the fact that he had help inside really let him relax. If he plays he needs to stay outside.

  • Peterson appears to be a lost cause while Clavijo is in charge. At this point he's been so screwed up that he can't get his head on straight.

  • I wasn't fond of the 4-5-2 formation, but it seemed to work. Still I think you need to find a way to get McManus into the starting lineup.

  • Pablo has looked very good the last couple of games. I don't know if its been his move back to d-mid or his decision that he wants to try to go to Europe next season, but he's elevated his play.

  • Man of the Match: Conor Casey - two goals, one unassisted, how could you choose anyone else?

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    You're Not In Kansas Anymore

    Don't be confused, that's Lord Voldemort, not Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad. The Rapids take on Kansas City at the Dick tomorrow, kickoff at 7:30pm. In the first road game of the season the Rapids travelled to KC and gave up two goals to Jimmy Conrad on corner kicks before coming back to tie the game, only to lose it in the last minutes.

    Here's the injury report:

    OUT: GK Justin Hughes (L groin); DF Jordan Harvey (R knee); QUESTIONABLE: DF Ugo Ihemelu (concussion)

    DISCIPLINE: Suspended - Colin Clark
    Suspended after 2 more yellow cards - Pablo Mastroeni

    My lineup prediction:

    Bouna Time!
    Petke - Erpen - Burciaga
    Cooke - Pablo - C.Gomez - LaBrocca - Peterson
    McManus - Casey

    Not at all the lineup I would like to see, but given what's been reported I think this is most likely. I'd still prefer to see Pablo pushed back and Erpen taken out, with DiRaimondo in Pablo's d-mid spot. Try one of the young guys like Colaluca or Dalby out wide instead of the ineffectual Peterson.

    Critical Matchup: Casey & McManus vs. their mental blocks

    A bit of a different matchup this week, as I think the real key to this game is the forward's ability to get a goal. We've gone two league games scoreless while seriously outshooting our opponents. Somebody is going to have to step up and break through the invisible wall we've apparently erected in the goal. Nothing else really matters in this game.

    Keys To Look For:

    • Fernando Clavijo was called away back to his home country of Uruguay on a family medical emergency this week. My best wishes go out to him and his family. He's not expected to be back for the game tomorrow night and Assistant Coach Gary Smith will be leading the team. Will we see any significant difference in play?

    • Looks like it will be cool and wet tomorrow, which team adapts better?

    • Other than that, the real key is can the Rapids score? If we outplay the Wizards and come up scoreless again I'm not sure when we'll get our next goal (or win).

    Prediction: 1-1 draw. This team has just looked so ineffectual over the last 9 games, other than the 4th of July, that I don't have any expectations of a win tomorrow.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008

    Bouna Time, Cummings, and Pablo to play for National Teams

    2 World Cup Qualifiers and a friendly will send some Rapids around the globe on Wednesday. The longest trip will be Coundoul's, who will travel to Tripoli, Libya to join the Lions of Teranga as they face Libya in a warm up for the end of the current round of World Cup Qualifying in CAF. There's a good chance Bouna will see some playing time, as there's not much the Senegal National Team coach needs to learn about the #1 keeper, Tony Sylva.

    Forward Omar Cummings will head north to Toronto to join the rest of the Reggae Boyz as they face the Canucks in the first game of CONCACAF's semi-final round of World Cup Qualifying. Omar made his debut for Jamaica last month when they played El Salvador in Dallas, getting a full 90 minutes in for the team. Jamaica is in a tough group, along with Canada they also have the heavily favored Mexico and Honduras,. The top 2 in the group make it to the final round of qualifying.

    Pablo Mastroeni will join the Yanks in Guatemala City as they open the round of qualifying against Guatemala. Coach Bob Bradley will be choosing between Pablo and his son, Michael Bradley, for the starting spot at defensive midfielder. In prior games Bradley has gone with two defensive midfielders so its possible they will both start. The U.S. is in a group with Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago, along with Guatemala. The U.S. will face Guatemala again in the final round of games of this stage on Nov. 19th at the Dick.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    Cory Gibbs Move Finalized and more Nats Time for Bouna?

    The Denver Post is now reporting the Gibbs deal as done, so that's official enough for me. I think this is a solid move by the Rapids. Its not the reliable striker we really need up front unfortunately, but it does help solidify our defense. Currently we're 4th in offense and 10th in defense in the league, so going for a defender isn't a crazy idea. Our offensive starts are skewed by our two 4-0 wins, considering we haven't scored more than 2 in any other game, but it shows that we could use something to settle down our defense, mainly the Keystone Kops duo of Erpen and Ihemelu.

    Gibbs is high-risk, high-reward. He's been injured pretty much all of the last 2 years, and even off and on before then. If he can stay healthy he has the skills to be one of the best central defenders in MLS. hopefully the Rapids were smart enough to structure his contract with a low base salary and lots of incentives. If he stays healthy he'll be worth a high salary number, but if he doesn't I don't want to be on the hook to pay somebody to sit in the training room.

    In other player news, Fox Soccer Channel reported during last week's game that Bouna Time! has been called up for Senegal's friendly against Libya in Tripoli on Aug 20th. I haven't found confirmation of it anywhere, but I wouldn't be surprised as I expect him to be the backup GK for their World Cup Qualifier on Sept. 5th. I know some of my fellow Rapids fans feel like Bouna shouldn't be let go for a friendly unless we're officially out of the playoff running, but I disagree. Bouna is going to be more likely to stay with the Rapids if we're willing to work with Confederation of African Football's (CAF) unusual schedule. Plus as Americans we are used to having our players in Coundoul's spot, since CONCACAF isn't aligned with Europe., With all the complaining we've done in the past it would be hypocritical of us to start demanding that Bouna stay here.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Cory Gibbs to Colorado?

    Soccer By Ives is reporting that the Rapids have signed Cory Gibbs with their allocation. Gibbs is a 28 year old central defender that has bounced around Europe and MLS. He's spent time with Dallas, Feyenoord in Holland, St. Pauli in the German Bundasliga, and most recently Charlton Athletic in England. He didn't play a single first team game with Charlton Athletic, despite signing with them over two years ago, due to injury. Gibbs has also been capped 19 times for the U.S. National Team, most recently in March when we played Poland.

    I'll have a longer post about my thoughts on this move if and when it becomes official.

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Weekend Roundup 8/9 - 8/10

    Colorado Rapids - My game wrapup is here. The Rapids continue their slide down the table, currently 6th in the West, just 3 points ahead of San Jose in last place. They are next-to-last overall in the league, but only 4 points out of a tie for the last playoff spot. Their offense is tied with Chicago and Dallas for 4th overall and their defense is 10th overall.

    Queen of the South - Apparently Queen of the South was looking ahead to Thursday's UEFA Cup match as they dropped points yet again to Dunfermline Athletic. After taking the early lead the Doonhamers lost their focus and allowed not one but two second half goals to the home side. 2 games into the league and QoS is still without a win, leaving us 8th in the table. hopefully they're saving it up for the match against FC Nordsjælland.

    Kildare County FC - The Thoroughbreds got a much needed win on Saturday, getting an early goal and holding on for a 1-0 win over Longford Town. While most of the Irish League fixtures were wiped out due to torrential rains the Longford region escaped the worst of it and was able to get the game in. With the win Kildare County gets of the bottom of the table by a point, sliding past Wexford Youths.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008

    If they're going to show us the same game, why can't I use the same ticket?

    Wow, that was some really bad soccer. more of the same from the Rapids, lots of possession, lots of chances, 0 goals. At this point the season is over, if you lose at home to Toronto who was missing 6-7 starters, you have no chance of making the playoffs.

    The game started with Casey having a perfect chance in front of net. The goalkeeper was beat, Casey had a perfect header from 6-7 yards out, and somehow didn't even put it on net. That should have been taken as a sign. Following that there was 90 minutes of Rapids futility in front of goal, with only a few notable occurrences.

    Right before half Uhemelu took Rohan Ricketts to the ground. Unnecessary foul, but Ricketts made of meal of it. On the ensuing free kick Chad Barrett stepped up and placed a perfect ball into the upper corner of the net. Bouna Time! had a good read on it, but the ball was placed so well he had no chance to stop it. The Rapids went to the locker room down 1-0, and on the way off the field Colin Clark decided to get into an argument with the refs and received a yellow card for his trouble. That would be important later.

    In the second half Facundo Erpen had his weekly brain fart and sent a bouncing ball back towards Bouna. Coundoul has no choice but to palm it away as the bounce was taking it over his head and into the net. This led to a indirect free kick from the edge of the 6 yard box. Lucky for the Rapids, TFC was incompetent and Pablo actually got to the ball after the first touch before any of the Toronto players.

    The last real "highlight" of note was Colin Clark and Nana Attakora-Gyan chasing a ball out of play on the Toronto endline. As they crossed the line Clark apparently decided to get some payback for Marvell Wynne sending him into the boards in Toronto, an he hip checked Attakora into the boards. combined with nan's momentum he crashed into the signage with a great deal of force. While Wynne got away with his charge on Clark in Toronto, Clark was not so lucky and saw his second yellow of the game, and thus red. He'll miss the next game on the automatic one-game red card suspension, and he'll miss the game after that for acquiring 5 yellow cards so far this season. Have a good vacation Colin!

    Other than that the Rapids had no passion or desire. They looked like 9 players who had given up on the season plus Pablo and Bouna (and for the last 20 minutes, McManus). Clavijo has lost the game, season, and team, and we shouldn't expect anything out of the Rapids until changes are made.

    Keys to the Game review:

    • Can we avoid giving up the stupid goal? I can't remember the last time I watched somebody score against he Rapids and thought it was good play instead of a bonehead move by us, usually by Erpen or Ihemelu..
      The foul was unnecessary, but not a complete boneheaded move. TFC earned it with good possession and a great free kick..
    • Please score in the first half, I beg you.
      Yeah, not so much.
    • The next two weeks are must win games. After the KC game we go on the road to three tough places to play. Does the team play like it realizes the urgency of the game?
      They didn't even play like the game was as important as a preseason game. Its obvious that most of the team has stopped caring.
    • Casey needs to move more in the box, especially when Cookie or Clark are lining up crosses.
      He moved more, with the same results. At this point I'm pretty sure the goal could be 50 feet wide and he'd either miss it or hit it right to the keeper.
    • Is Bouna Time! back, or is he still struggling?
      Bouna was called on 3 times, the free kick that he could do nothing about, the Erpen back pass that he had to play or give up a gaol, and 1 other shot from TFC. Hard to judge him on this game.
    • Clavijo needs to realize that a draw isn't good enough, and push for a winner late if necessary.
      Well he did put McManus in when we were down a gaol and a man, but the problems started long before that.

    Critical Matchup: Casey & McManus vs. Toronto defense - Well we controlled play, and managed 10 shots on goal. Of course they were all at the keeper. I think he had to dive maybe twice all game.

    Fact of the Match: Over the last two league games we've out shot the opposition 44-13 (17-5 in shots on goal) and have been outscored 3-0.

    Random Observations:

  • Clavijo subbed out Christian Gomez in the 60th minute when we were down 1-0. This is what we gave our DP slot up for?

  • Two stupid yellow cards by Colin Clark. They were so stupid that I would strongly consider sitting him for an extra game if he weren't already facing two games on the bench. I have no idea what he was thinking.

  • I can't believe Pablo will be on this team after this season unless Jeff Plush can convince him that he plans to do something major to turn this around. Pablo looks like an EPL player out there compared to what the rest of the Rapids are doing.

  • Erpen is an idiot and has no business on the field. Unfortunately Ihemelu and Burciaga didn't play much better so the Rapids options are somewhat limited.

  • Tom McManus needs to start every game for the est of the season. He brought the passion and desire that was missing for the first 75 minutes of the game.

  • The Rapids had 4-5 shots that were well created and nicely taken, but had no pace on them so they were easy saves. Try actually putting some effort into the shots guys.

  • Omar Cummings hasn't seen a shot he wouldn't miss. He still needs 4-5 chances before even getting a halfway-acceptable shot off.

  • Man of the Match: Pablo Mastroeni - He played like he actually cared, and did better with the ball than anyone else on the team. Honorable mention to McManus who tried to put the team on his back but just didn't have enough time.

    Friday, August 8, 2008

    Blame Canada!

    Coming off a booing of the Star Spangled Banner by the Toronto fans at the All-Star Game Toronto FC comes into The Dick tomorrow. Special early kickoff at 2pm.

    Here's the injury report:

    OUT: GK Justin Hughes (L groin); DF Jordan Harvey (R knee); PROBABLE: FW Tom McManus (L knee)

    DISCIPLINE: Suspended after 2 more yellow cards - Colin Clark, Pablo Mastroeni

    My lineup prediction:

    Bouna Time!
    Ihemelu - Petke - Erpen
    Cooke - Pablo - C.Gomez - LaBrocca - Clark
    McManus - Casey

    I agree with those who think Clavijo believes he has to have 2 holding mids behind C.Gomez. I think with Petke off the DL and ready to go we'll see Pablo back in his natural d-mid position. hopefully McManus is ready to go, otherwise I think we'll see H.Gomez. I'd rather see DiRaimondo in as the second holding mid, with both Pablo and Petke on the back line and Erpen on the bench.

    Critical Matchup: Casey & McManus vs. Toronto defense

    Toronto has no offense at this point. Dichio is questionable for the game, Guevara is suspended, Edu is in Beijing, Cunningham was just traded to Dallas, and Barret just got to the Great White North. There's no reason to get anything but a shutout in this game. The key will be putting goals into the back of the net, something the Rapids have struggled with in past games. We need one of the forwards step up and get more shots on target.

    Keys To Look For:

    • Can we avoid giving up the stupid goal? I can't remember the last time I watched somebody score against he Rapids and thought it was good play instead of a bonehead move by us, usually by Erpen or Ihemelu.

    • Please score in the first half, I beg you

    • The next two weeks are must win games. After the KC game we go on the road to three tough places to play. Does the team play like it realizes the urgency of the game?

    • Casey needs to move more in the box, especially when Cookie or Clark are lining up crosses.

    • Is Bouna Time! back, or is he still struggling?

    • Clavijo needs to realize that a draw isn't good enough, and push for a winner late if necessary.

    Prediction: 2-0 win. I'm not sure Toronto will have the legs to survive at altitude, especially considering their injuries, suspensions, and international absences. If we can't win this game then we might as well start playing our reserve team for experience, because this season is over.

    Thursday, August 7, 2008

    The Rapids Front Office

    Recently the tension between the Rapids Front Office and the supporters groups, particularly the Centennial Firm and NCC, has increased. This is mainly due to a number of incidents between security and the fans in section 100 at The Dick. Smoke bombs have been lit, fans have been targeted, and the situation is deteriorating rapidly (No pun intended). That's not really the focus of this post though. I have my opinion about what's happened and what needs to happen to solve the problem but as I'm not directly involved its not my place to push my agenda on the parties. Class VI hasn't had nearly the issues that the other groups have had, and its best that those groups solve the problems themselves.

    What I did want to talk about came out of my conversation with Rapids Sales Rep Marcus Myrick at the Everton game on Sunday night. I've known Marcus for a couple of years, he's helped me get tickets when I would fly in to Denver to see Rapids games while I lived in Arizona and we've spent time talking at the last 3 MLS Cups. He said that while the fanbase is currently anti-Front Office, for numerous reasons, just saying we're anti-FO is doing a disservice to those people in the Front Office who are getting the job done. I thought about that for a little while and realized he was right.

    Now don't get me wrong, there are still a number of decisions that come out of the Rapids FO that I strongly disagree with, first and foremost the decision to keep Clavijo for the 2008 season. I think the fans have gotten into the habit of blaming the FO for everything though and assuming they can do nothing right. That's not fair to them, and it probably dilutes our feelings in the FO's eyes when they do screw up. If they think they can never make us happy then what incentive do they have to try?

    There are some good people in the front office. Marcus has gone to bat for the supporters groups in the past. Kieran Cain was very helpful working with the Committee of 10 as we were getting the Rocky Mountain Cup off the ground, and they have continued to work with us in promoting the competition and arranging for us to have the trophy on the field during the games. Even Jeff Plush, who's decisions I question often, went out of his way to respond to my email after Clavijo's tirade in Columbus, despite it being a Sunday and he had just gotten home from the game himself.

    Does this mean that the Front Office should be considered perfect in the eyes of the supporters? Of course not. I think the only time that happens is the week after a team wins a major trophy. I think that in general the fanbase should try not to assume the Front Office is completely clueless, and while we should stand up and point out when they screw up we should also recognize when they get it right.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008

    Weekend Roundup 8/2 - 8/3

    With Queen of the South starting their season and Kildare County FC in the middle of theirs its time for the return of the Weekend Roundup. A little late this week, but its better than nothing. ;).

    Colorado Rapids - With the week off the Rapids lost some ground but they are still in the running. The Rapids are 6th in the West, 6 points behind leading FSL (so wrong) with a game in hand. They are 13th overall in the league with the 4th best offense (tied with Dallas) and the 9th best offense (tied with San Jose).

    Queen of the South - For my second favorite team after the Rapids I somehow missed the start of the season last week. They opened up with a 5-1 victory in the Challenge Cup (League Cup) over Berwick Rangers. That put the Doonhamers into the second round where they will travel to Dunfermline Athletic on Aug. 20th.

    This past weekend QoS opened league play with a disappointing 0-0 draw in at home to newly-promoted Airdrie United. Queens really never looked dangerous in the match. They also have to travel to Dunfermline this coming weekend for league play, but all eyes are on next Thursday as Queen of the South make their UEFA Cup debut in the second qualification round against FC Nordsjælland of Denmark.

    Kildare County FC - Kildare County was going for back to back wins for the first time this season as they hosted Monaghan United. Unfortunately much like the Rapids they can't seem to put together a string of consistent performances and fell 2-1. The Thoroughbreds gave up the first two goals, not scoring themselves until the 70th minute. After that they could not create another good chance and in the process lost a chance to climb out of the basement with a win. Kildare County is on the bottom of the 10 team league, 2 points behind Wexford Youths in 9th place. There are still 14 games to play, so there is time for Kildare County to get out of 10th and avoid a playoff with the best team from the lower divisions, with the winner claiming a place in the Fist Division and the loser falling out of the football league of Ireland.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    Why (and why not) Ebbsfleet United?

    Another in my occasional series of posts about why I follow the teams I do. I've done previous posts about the Colorado Rapids, Queen of the South, and Blackburn Rovers. This post is a little different however because I was following Ebbsfleet United FC but I've lost interest.

    About a year ago Class VI Grand Poobah Mark Bodmer sent out an email about the My Football Club (MyFC) project. Simply it was an idea to give fans the ability to buy a vote in a professional soccer team and have a say in everything from sponsorship deals to picking the starting 11 for the team. It was founded by a group in England that was tired with seeing the big money in soccer take the game away from the fans. They set up a organization that would allow the average fan to pay 35 pounds to buy in, and with the combined money they would buy a professional team in England. In return for supporting the project each person that bought in would get an equal say on decisions. This would include sponsorships, player contracts, transfers, and yes, picking the starting lineup.

    I thought it was an interesting idea and decided to sign up. After a few weeks the group announced that they had enough interest to start the process of buying a team, and by December they announced that MyFC would purchase a controlling interest in Ebbsfleet United FC. Immediately I started following the Fleet, and added them to my list of teams I kept regular track of.

    The problem was that what brought me to Ebbsfleet is also what drew me away from them. Since I had no real attachment to the Fleet, other than through MyFC, when I started losing interest in MyFC I also lost interest in Ebbsfleet. Reading the website about MyFC before buying in and all the talk leading up to the team was how we would know everything and make all the decisions. What actually happened was very different.

    Instead of having a say in sponsorships the membership was presented a vote that amounted to "Vote for Nike providing the kits, or we won't have a kit sponsor next season". No financial details, no competing offer, just Nike or nothing. The organizers told us that due to confidentiality agreements that Nike required, we couldn't have that information. This would continue through all the early votes, from transfer fess to player contracts. Many times the votes would be presented as "this choice or no choice". As opposed to actually being asked to make a decision we were being asked to rubber stamp the decisions of a few leaders. not only that, but we were being asked to rubber stamp them without having all the information we needed. When asked to decide the weekly player budget we were given 5 numbers and asked to choose one for a weekly budget. It wasn't until months after that we found out that the number we voted on would have to be increased by about 35% to cover player bonuses and other occasional expenses, so when we voted for 10K a week we were really saying 12.5K a week.

    While this was going on, the long-promised "Pick the Team: wasn't happening. The tag line for the project is "Own the Club, Pick the Team" but it was decided, again by the leadership, that adding voting for the starting 11 in the middle of the season, especially while Ebbsfleet was in a Cup run, would be "too disruptive". My frustration culminated with a vote near the end of the season where the membership was essentially told that due to confidentiality agreements we were not able to be involved in transfer decisions, and instead we would vote on what procedure the board would follow in their choices for transfers. At this point I felt like any idea that the membership would control the club was gone, and we were now just an extended silent partner in the club.

    Given all of that, I just stopped being interested in Ebbsfleet United FC. I didn't find myself looking for match reports, player signings, etc. like I do for my other clubs. Rather than continue to try to stay interested I wrote the 35 pounds off as an interesting experience and decided to move on. to be fair to the MyFC team, I know they have gotten better in the last month or so. They've now hired a Chairman who is communicating directly with the members, and they set up "Pick the Team" for this new season. Still for me it was too little too late.

    I think I'll take the 35 pounds I was planning to use for another year of membership and put it towards buying some shares in Queen of the South. Its a team I've been dedicated to for 10 years, and buying a share is a one time cost instead of a yearly membership like it is with MyFC.

    Not to leave you with less to read though, I've added a new team to my list of teams. I'll now include the results for Kildare County FC, in the Irish First Division. I know everyone is probably going "Why a team at the second level of a third level European league?", but explaining that will have to be another post. ;)

    Monday, August 4, 2008

    Rapids Left in a Sticky Mess, Losing 2-1 to Everton

    The Colorado Rapids played well but had nothing to show for it as they fell to Everton 2-1 on an 87th minute goal. The Rapids ran out 9 of their starting 11, with the only changes being Burpo instead of Bouna Time in the nets and Pablo reclaimed the defensive midfielder position from LaBrocca, with Erpen moving into the middle of the defensive line and Burciaga took his spot on the left.

    The combination of Erpen in central defense and Burpo in the nets would pay dividends for Everton quickly. Mikel Arteta got the ball 30 yards from goal and charged right at the defense. Erpen backed off, backed off some more, backed off some more, and by this time Arteta was in the box. He sent a ball past an on-rushing Burpo for a 1-0 lead in the 7th minute. Without a good replay it was hard to tell, but the general opinion was that it was the type of shot Bouna Time would have likely stopped.

    After that the Rapids took control of the game. Plenty of midfield possession and crosses into the box, crosses that nobody got on the end of. As one Everton supporter wondered about #9 (Conor Casey), "What's the deal with that guy, he gets the ball in space, makes some good moves, but doesn't make any effort to get to crosses int he box?". terry Cooke was obviously on a mission to get a goal, as any time he had a sliver of a look between the pipes he wound up and shot.

    At half the Rapids made 3 subs, taking out Cummings, Ballouchy, and Burpo and replacing them with H.Gomez, LaBrocca, and Bouna Time!. Cookie didn't get a goal, but he did get an assist on a cross that Conor Casey finally got to. 3 minutes after halftime Terry floated one of his trademark crosses in front of goal and Casey got up to head one past U.S. Nats Keeper Tim Howard. Really the only mistake Howard made all night, and he could hardly be blamed for the goal. Much like Hesmer for Columbus last week, the 3-4 times the Rapids offense managed to break through Howard came up with the big save.

    The Rapids controlled the second half, but got unlucky on one of the few attempts Everton had right before full time. Jose Baxter got free on the right and brought the ball all thee way down to the end line. This forced Bouna to cover the near corner, and Ihemelu left his man, Leon Osman open. Baxter crossed to Osman, who put the shot on frame. Erpen managed to deflect it, but not enough, and Everton escaped with a 2-1 win.

    Much like last week against the Crew the Rapids out shot Everton 19-4, but had problems getting them on target. Howard was forced to make 5 saves, the best on a 30 yard blast from Herculez. There's no shame in losing to a team that finished 5th in the EPL last season, preseason or not. The real drawback to the game is that we're seeing more of the same problems from the Rapids, no finishing.

    As I mentioned, I took the opportunity with this friendly and the lower attendance to wander around the stadium a bit more than usual. I was going to check out the Cantina, but there was a line to get in. Looking inside I couldn't see any reason to go in though, just as I could tell from my other glimpses and the pictures it looks like a Chipotle, no character at all for the "soccer pub" atmosphere we were hoping for. I'm in no hurry to spend any time there. I tried to go into the Team Store, but I wasn't allowed to bring my water bottle in so I had to pass on that as well. No big loss, I'm on a strict "no merchandise" policy until the team makes some changes. Wandering around the concourses I saw GM Jeff Plush, but it took me a second to realize who he was and by that point he had already passed me by. If I had thought faster I would have taken the opportunity to thank him for his quick response to my email a month ago.

    I ended up watching the first 25 minutes of the second half from the elevated bridge above the locker rooms. Its a great view and you really get a good feel for the spacing on the field. When the action is at he other end of the field though its hard to make out some of what's going on though. And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to stand for the full 90 minutes. Still its worth going up there occasionally just to get a new perspective on things. I also had a good talk with Account Executive Marcus Myrick, ranging from ticket sales, supporters clubs, and general catching up since we last talked. I'll have a post related to this later in the week.

    It was a great time out there last night. I hope some of the local soccer fans who haven't followed the Rapids were encouraged to come out (you know who you are ;) ). Now its time to start focusing on the league again, with the hosers form the Great White North in town on Saturday.

    Saturday, August 2, 2008

    Everton vs. Colorado

    Well its the big international matchup of the season, Everton FC vs. our Colorado Rapids. Since this is a friendly I'm not going to do a full game preview, but I at least wanted to mention it.

    I'm really looking forward to the match. This will be my first time seeing an EPL team live, and even with Everton only having 16 or so healthy players I expect an entertaining game. Of course the big star for us US Nats fans is the starter in the nets for both Everton and the U.S. National Team, Tim Howard. I expect that he may be back at The Dick in November when the U.S. plays Guatemala in the final game of the semi-final qualifying round for World Cup 2010.

    I also hope to take some time to watch the game from other parts of the stadium. I've been so focused on all the league games that I've gone to that I've just been happy in my seat in 108 watching the game. Heck, I haven't even gotten into the Cantina or Team Store yet! I'm going to go out of my way to spend some time watching the game from other vantage points.

    The game is at 6pm tomorrow and as of this afternoon there were still plenty of tickets left. If you're still trying to decide if you want to come (Chad, I'm looking at you) come on out. Tailgating starts at 3pm in Lot AA.

    Friday, August 1, 2008

    60% Of The Way There. Where Are We?

    We're 60% of the way through the season, so time for another update to my last review. We're coming up to do or die time so we need to get things working.

    I've gone back and looked at the first 18 games for the last 3 seasons. I chose 2005 as a starting point because it was the first year of the Clavijo era and because the only player remaining with the team from prior to that is Pablo Mastroeni. It should be noted that in 2005 and 2006 MLS played a 32 game season, so these numbers aren't quite at the 60% mark.

    Over the last 6 games the Rapids have dropped from one of their better seasons to one of their worst. We had less points at the 18 game mark only in 2001 and 2007, two of the three years we missed the playoffs. We're tied with 2005 for our third worst season to this point. We are right on the mean in the Clavijo era for goals against at this point, but way ahead on goals scored. This is largely due to our two big 4-0 wins.

    Looking at the team position by position:

    Goalkeepers: What happened to Bouna Time! post-Senegal? He doesn't look like the same Bouna Coundoul from earlier this season. I don't know if he's trying to integrate new skills he picked up in National Team camp, if Clavijo's comments about his absence have unnerved him, or if his youth is just catching up to him, but his game has downgraded in the last couple of months. Still an MLS-caliber keeper, but he's lost a bit.

    Defenders: Erpen and Ihemelu have become liabilities on the back line in a 3 man defense. Erpen more so than Ihemelu, but most of the goals scored against us in the last 6 games have come from mistakes they made. Pablo meanwhile has been a rock on the back line, and with the play of LaBrocca in midfield I see no reason to move him. If Petke can get his fitness back I would put him in for Erpen immediately, between the two of them they should be able to cover for Ihemelu's lapses. Even better would be a 4 man back line where Ihemelu can be pushed out wide where his mistakes won't hurt so much.

    Midfield: The midfield has settled down somewhat over the last few games. The Jacob Peterson experiment seems to be over and Terry Cooke has regained his starting spot, which he never should have lost. Colin Clark is solid on the right, and LaBrocca and C.Gomez make up the midfield. The only remaining question is the 3rd central spot, which has rotated between Pablo, DiRaimondo, and Ballouchy. If we must stay with a 5 man midfield I would consider putting DiRaimondo out there and playing a high possession game. The real key is to stop the defenders (and I'm looking at you Erpen) from bypassing the midfielders with long balls. Also if we keep 5 in the midfield we need to take the shackles off of Cooke and Clark and give them the freedom to go forward.

    Forwards: Our forwards have gone AWOL again. We're getting very little consistency up front. One game McManus will be on, the next game its H.Gomez, the game after that its Cummings. we need somebody to step up and be the go to guy. McManus looked like he was turning into that before his injury, but until we get that guy its going to be a crap shoot every game.

    Bench/Reserves: The reserves still give us plenty of options off the bench in defense, but we don't have an attacking super-sub of any strength. Ballouchy, Peterson, Cummings, etc. have all had their chance to be a force off the bench, and have not delivered. Still the drop between starters and bench players isn't a large one, which is a positive when we get hit by the injury bug.

    Coaching: Clavijo has been up and down this season. At times his tactics have been strong and he's been patient with the lineup. At other times he's played the "Spin-A-Wheel" lineup game and he seems happy to settle for a draw when we should push for the win. More than anything though, his lack of foresight in getting a striker is coming back to bite the team right now. Add to that his embarrassing comments after the loss in Columbus and its (still) time for a change.

    Overall the Rapids are on pace for 29 points this season, which for the last 3 years would be good enough for between 4th and last place in the West. 29 points would not have made the playoffs in any of those seasons.

    At this point almost every game is a must win for us if we want to make the playoffs. Luckily we're only a point out of a tie for the last two playoff spots, but there are so many teams competing for those spots that its going to take a real effort to get there. Certainly we must win our pair of upcoming home games to have any hope.