Friday, May 28, 2010

Home Town vs. Current Town

35 plus years ago I was born in Seattle, and I lived in the greater Seattle area for the first 28 and a half years of my life. Alas, when MLS started Seattle didn't get a team, local boys Chris Henderson and Marcus Hahnemann went to Colorado, and thus I'm a Rapids fan. Now I live in Denver.

Tomorrow, my tow cities face off at the Dick. The Rapids have yet to beat the MLS version of the Sounders in either the league or Open Cup play. Kickoff is a 7pm, with the Supporters Group tailgate starting in the West lot (new location for this game only)at 5pm.

Injury Report:
OUT: DF Kosuke Kimura (L ankle stress fracture); MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear); DOUBTFUL: None; QUESTIONABLE: DF Julien Baudet (L knee sprain); MF Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain); PROBABLE: DF Scott Palguta (L calf strain)

DC has 6 players out or questionable, including two of their better defenders. Having Koz, Baudet, and Palguta on the injury list is a bit of a concern, if none of them can start it leaves our back line very thin. I'm going to guess that Baudet is good enough to play, since he played the full game on Wednesday, but if none of them can go we're looking at Holody or something. My lineup guess:

Wynne - Moor - Baudet - Earls
Pablo - Larentowicz
Cummings - Ballouchy - Clark

I really hope Clark has won the left back spot from Thompson, because Wells hasn't looked great the last couple of games. If Baudet isn't available though, we might see something like a 3-6-1 with Thompson or Moor taking the extra spot in midfield.

Key To Look For: Freddy Ljungberg vs. Pablo. Ljungberg has lost focus this year, spending more time complaining to the officials than playing. If Pablo can get in a couple of hard but legal tackles on Freddy early in the game he'll probably go down the same road, which will take away the Sounders midfield general.

Prediction: 2-0 win, goals by Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. Seattle's offense has been woeful this season, and I think our defense can finally get back-to-back shutouts. Seattle's defense has big gaps due to injury and I think the Dynamic Duo will take advantage.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thanks, That Was Fun

The Rapids defense decided to take the night off, and combined with our B offense (Amarikwa as a lone striker) the Rapids bowed out of the USOC before actually making it to the full competition by losing 3-0 to NY's reserve squad. This is the third year in a row the Rapids have lost in the final play-in game, so that's one more trophy we can't win. Drew Moor had an awful game, seemingly marking nobody on the first two goals and the unmarked man scored both, then losing the ball in a dangerous spot that let the Red Bulls player waltz right into goal on the third.

On to the league match on Saturday. Resting the likes of Casey, Pablo, Pickens, and 'Cummings (for all but 20 minutes) better have been worth it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Final USOC Play-In Tomorrow

The Rapids will get their first look at Red Bull Arena tomorrow as they take on NY for a spot in the U.S. Open Cup. The winner of tomorrow's game will enter with the other MLS teams in the Round of 16, while the loser is home for the season. In the Rapids case it would be the 3rd season in a row they would be eliminated one step from the full Cup.

The good news is that New York will be streaming the game live on their website. Kickoff is 6pm Mountain.

Its hard to really preview this game, since teams often use reserves or a mixture of reserves and starters. Gary Smith has said that he wants to win it though, so hopefully we'll see more starters than reserves. NYRB played Juventus over the weekend and has a game this coming weekend, so there's a bit of fixture congestion for them (though the friendly is hardly the same as a league match), while the Rapids have been off for a week and a half.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Overseas Wrap-up

I dropped the weekly update on my non-MLS teams, but now that their seasons are over I thought I would do a final wrap-up of where they finished this year.

Queen of the South: Queens had quite an odd season as they had a long break in mid-winter as the heavy storms in the UK made it impossible for them to play their scheduled games. This lead to a congested fixture list int he second half of the season. The Doonhamers weathered it well though, but nobody in the 1st Division could stand up to the just-relegated Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Thistle won the league, and promotion, by 12 points. QoS won the tiebreaker over Ross County for 4th place, 17 points behind the leaders, but only 5 points behind 2nd place Dundee. Next year Falkirk drops down from the SPL and Stirling Albion and Cowdenbeath get promoted from the Second Division to replace Ayr United and Airdrie United. Not having the long road trip to Inverness should help a bit.

Blackburn Rovers: The Rovers improved significantly from last year. After the season got started they were never in real threat to be relegated. Despite being shellacked by the 'Big 4' Blackburn held its own against the rest of the league and hovered around mid-table for most of the season. The high point of the season was probably the two victories against their East Lancashire rivals Burnley, which lead to Burnley being relegated by 5 points. They also beat Bolton both times, another rival. Finishing the season with two victories moved them up to 10th place, giving the team something to build on for next year.

CD Tenerife: CDT got a lesson in La Liga this year. They struggled in their first season in the top flight and spent most of it just inside or outside the relegation zone. The team never really got a good run going, and didn't have much to hang their hat on. Still with two weeks to play their chances of survival were still looking fairly good, with a game at home against a weaker team before ending at 3rd placed Valencia, who had nothing to play for. Unfortunately they only got 1 point out of the 2 games and were relegated by 2 points. They'll return to the Segunda Division next season hoping for a quick rebound back to the top. Hopefully they'll return stronger.

Melbourne Victory: Melbourne continued to be one of the best teams in the Australian A-League. They constantly battled with their rivals, Sydney FC. for first place. The season ended with the Victory playing in Sydney with the regular season title on the line. A win or a draw for Melbourne gave them the title, a loss gave it to Sydney. Unfortunately Sydney won 2-0 to take the championship, but the Victory would look for revenge in the playoffs. The two teams were matched up in the first round and Melbourne won the first leg and the two teams battled to a draw int he second leg. This advanced Melbourne to the Grand Final, while Sydney had to get through the losers bracket. They did, and for the 4th time in 5 weeks the two teams met for the A-League Championship. Victory legend Archie Thompson was injured early in the first half and that may have been the difference as the teams had to settle it on penalties. With a reduced strike force for Melbourne Sydney took advantage, winning 4-2 on penalties and leaving their rivals with nothing to show for their great season.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rapids Get First Win In DC This Millennium

The Rapids did something they hadn't done since 1999, won in the nation's capital. Unfortunately I'm not sure they played significantly better than they did in their prior two 1-0 losses. The breaks just went Colorado's way Saturday night.

As it has for the last 3 games the Rapids 4-5-1 formation allowed the Rapids to control possession for long stretches. Unfortunately once again they could not turn the possession into goals. Colorado did not have a shot on goal in the first half, with their best chance being a great cross to Casey's head that somehow Conor whiffed on, not even forcing the DC keeper to sweat.

The second half started much as the first, with more possession with no shots. Finally at the midway point Ballouchy decided to take it upon himself and dribbled a ball into the box, rounded a defender, and beat the keeper near post in a nice display of skill. After that the gates seemed to open for the Rapids chances. Both Clark and Ballouchy hit the posts on shots and Cummings had a goal stolen from him by a miracle kick save from DC's keeper. The continued pressure was enough to protect the 1 goal lead and get Colorado the 3 points.

My key to the game was the ability of the forwards to turn our possession into good chances. It didn't happen. Casey had on real good look and blew it, and Cummings only had the one good look (which admittedly would have beat the keeper 9 out of 10 times). Once again the forwards were bailed out by the midfielders, like they were in New England a month ago.

Other Observations:
  • The rapids have now won more games on the road in their first 5 this year than they won all of last year.
  • The defense looked pretty lax most of the game. They had no problem stopping DC's attacks, but then they were happy to sit on the ball or wait for the ball to come to them, which led to a number of close calls.
  • I've heard third-hand that there's no health problem with Colin. If so, why isn't he starting? Clark came on for Thompson right after the goal, and suddenly the Rapids were much more dangerous.
  • Cummings is needed on the right because we don't have a better option, but it really hurts his ability to get to goal.
  • We played well enough to beat DC, but DC is a bad team. We still need to do better to beat Seattle and Columbus, our next opponents.
Player of the Game: Mehdi Ballouchy. Its not often that he has that good of a game so I have to give him the nod. Honorable mention to Marvell Wynne who looked great back on the outside.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Battle Of The Eagle Mascots

In one corner we have Talon, DC United's eagle mascot! In the other corner we have Edson the Eagle, one of the Rapids mascots! Lets have a clean fight!

Yeah, when the Rapids changed their mascots they stole DC's for one of the new ones.

The Rapids are in the nation's capital for tomorrow night's game. They haven't won a league game in D.C. since 1999 and tomorrow might be their best chance to break that streak. Game time is 5:30pm MDT and the game will be shown on KWGN. No official supporter's group watch party but I'm sure the regular spots will have plenty of fans.

Injury Report:
OUT: DEF Kosuke Kimura (L ankle stress fracture); MID Ciaran O'Brien (L hip strain); FWD Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
DOUBTFUL: DEF Scott Palguta (L calf strain); MID Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain)

DC has 6 players out and 2 players questionable. The big losses for the Rapids are Koz and Smith and with Koz out Palguta's injury really hurts our depth. Still we're in better shape than DC. Given our injuries my guess at the lineup:

Moor - Wynne - Baudet - Earls
Pablo - Larentowicz
Cummings - Ballouchy - Clark

I think the experiment of Thompson starting over Clark ended with the poor performance by Wells in the LA game. On the road I expect Gary Smith will want to keep the 4-5-1 that's helped our possession game, even if its costing us on the attack. Everyone else is a fairly obvious starter.

Key To Look For: Can our attackers turn our chances into dangerous shots? In the last couple of games we've controlled the ball, made dangerous runs, and Casey and Cummings haven't converted them to goals. Our plan for this season was getting our forwards those chances, and if they can't convert them then we don't have many other options.

Prediction: 2-1 win, goals by Conor Casey and Colin Clark. I expect our set piece issues will still lead us to giving up a gaol, but DC has been a bad team this year, especially on defense. I think Casey comes out with something to prove and gets his first non-PK goal of the season. Then Clark finds his shooting boots for the winner.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Midseason Review

We're approximately 25% of the way into the season. Lets do a recap of how we're looking so far.

Goalkeeping: Matt Pickens has been solid but not spectacular. He's had one goal in Kansas City that was really his fault and the rest that, while a top goalie might have stopped, you can't really blame Pickens for not stopping. He's been less sure about his catches this year though, punching balls that other keepers would normally catch. The new ball seems to be playing havoc with all the keepers though, so this may be a symptom of that. While I have no issue with Pickens as our keeper, I don't feel like he's going to win a game for us like Cannon or even Bouna Time did in the past.
Grade: B

Defense: The defense has been fairly strong this year, except on set pieces. The Rapids are 4th in goals allowed with 7 goals given up in 7 games, and 6 of them were on set pieces. The 7th was actually offside, so you could claim that the defense has yet to give up a legitimate goal from the run of play. They've done this despite Julian Baudet being injured and using Scott Palguta in a substitute role. Marvell Wynne has looked much better than expected at center back, Danny Earls is starting to figure out the balance between offense and defense, and Drew Moor has quietly been the MVP of the group. The injury to Kimura looks like it could keep him out a while unfortunately but hopefully with Baudet being back in the starting lineup we'll get some leadership on set pieces. If we could figure those out it seems like it will be very hard to score on us.
Grade: B

A tale of two formations. We started the season with a 4-4-2 and the midfield couldn't connect at all. A couple of games ago we switched to a 4-5-1, sliding Cummings back on the right and moving Ballouchy to the central playmaker role and suddenly our movement and possession game appeared. Larentowicz and Mastroeni have made the central midfield almost impassible for the opposition but thee wings have been interesting. Colin Clark got benched for 2.5 games, until Wells Thompson somehow lost his forward gear against LA and Clark returned at halftime. Hopefully that experiment is over and Clark will start again. On the right side we've seen Ballouchy (ineffective), Jamie Smith (injured) and Cummings rotate into that spot. Cummings has been the best, but it removes him from the attack. Hopefully Claudio Lopez can regain form and take the starting spot, or Jamie Smith can stay healthy for more than 2 games in a row. Gary Smith is going to have to figure out if he can find 4 midfielders that can link the offense and defense or if he needs to stay with the 5 man midfield at the cost of some attacking power.
Grade: C-

Where did the Dynamic Duo go? Cummings has 2 goals and Casey has 3, but all from the spot. The team has 8 total, tied for 11th in the league, and the lack of finishing has cost us at least a draw in each of the last two games. With the new 4-5-1 formation we're generating plenty of chances, but Cummings and Casey suddenly can't find the back of the net with shots going everywhere but in the goal. The diminished scoring appears to have cost Casey his shot at the World Cup. It will be important that Gary Smith gets Casey focused on regaining his scoring touch and not allow him to spin off so he loses focus and motivation. If Casey and Cummings can get back to their form of last season we've got a top notch strike duo. If they can't it will be a long season.
Grade: D

The Rapids have done a good job of putting together a solid bench. Kimura, Palguta, Thompson, and Lopez give the Rapids numerous options for defense and midfield. At forward the team is weaker, with rookie Andre Akpan and second year player Qunicy Amarikwa as the only backups. Amarikwa has had a couple of looks and has the hustle and drive but has yet to show the ball skills needed. The Rapids could probably use a forward with some more experience, especially to push the under-performing Casey and Cummings, but other than that the bench is in good shape.
Grade: B-

Gary Smith has been hit and miss. His decision to fix the problem with the midfield by going to a 4-5-1 seems to have been a good one, but one wonders why it took so long to figure out that the 4 man midfield wasn't working. Benching Clark on the turf in New England made sense, but keeping him benched for two games after that didn't. Acquiring and starting Wynne as a center back looks like a great move right now, but leaving us with only a rookie forward as backup to start the season wasn't good. There's a big challenge ahead in getting the attack back in line, especially with Casey coming off the disappointment of missing the World Cup. In the end though it will come down to the playoff chase, and a lesser extent the Open Cup. for now he's just an average MLS coach.
Grade: C

The Rapids have made good player moves in picking up Wynne and Lopez, and dealing for some more backup in Amarikwa. The downside is that we needed to make those kind of moves at the beginning of training camp so that the players were available when we needed them at the start of the season, not playing their way into the squad in mid-season. The addition of the Supporter's Terrace is a huge plus, instantly changing the dynamic of the stadium for the better and helping with home field advantage. Right now the majority of the rest of the league and even two D-II teams have announced friendlies against major European opposition while the Rapids have been silent, which is a bit of a bummer for the fans and probably the players too. So its a real mixed bag from the Front Office right now.
Grade: C

The team is at .500, with a good defense and a bad offense. They are tied for 4th in the West but 6th overall in the league, in the next to last playoff spot. The Rapids have one game in the current 24 day period, and then 3 games in the 12 days before the start of the World Cup. We'll find out a good deal about this team by the end of that time. Right now I think the Rapids look much like they have the last 3 years, a team good enough to stay in the playoff hunt until the very end and either make or miss the playoffs in the last game or two. Since half the teams make the playoffs this year, that makes them a distinctly average team.
Grade: C

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No Rapids At The World Cup

For the first time in team history* it appears there will be no Colorado Rapids at the World Cup. Conor Casey was left off the roster for the pre-World Cup training camp that was just announced by Bob Bradley. Instead Robbie Findley, who's done less than Casey on an individual level in both MLS and with the Nats, was called up. There's a slight chance that Casey could be called up if someone were to be injured between the naming of the 23 man roster on June 1st and the start of the World Cup but that chance is so slight its not really worth talking about.

*In 1998 Marcelo Balboa represented the Rapids. In 2002 and 2006 Pablo Mastroeni represented the Rapids

Friday, May 7, 2010

News & Notes

Some tidbits to get us through this bye weekend:
  • Yesterday was the 4th anniversary of the last regular-season league game the Rapids won when the opposition scored first. While its been a little over a year since we came from behind to win its been 4 years since we won after giving up the first goal. In that time we have won 32 games, 23 of them by shutting out the opposition. Obviously we don't play well when we let the opponent score.
  • The Wednesday July 21st home game against Philadelphia has been rescheduled for Wednesday Sept. 29th at 7pm. This was done to allow the Union to host Manchester United on July 21st. Previously our game in Chicago on May 22nd was rescheduled for June 9th so that Chicacgo could play the championship of their Sister Cities Cup which includes Paris Saint-Germain, Red Star Belgrade, and Legia Warsaw. When does one of our games get rescheduled so we can play a big European team?
  • Backup goalkeeper Steward Ceus, on-loan to the USL-2 Charlotte Eagles, broke his wrist this week. That's a picture from his Twitter feed above. He said he got good news today, so hopefully he won't be out long.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rapids Felled Again By Their Kryptonite, Set Pieces

The LA Galaxy showed why they're the class of MLS this year, but the Rapids also showed that they could hang with them. The only problem was that our forwards left their shooting boots in the locker room.

LA came out and looked dangerous from the opening whistle, generating two good chances int eh first 5 minutes. For the first 20 minutes the Rapids were back on their heels, but could have changed the game. Ballouchy sprung Cummings with a 1 on 1 and nobody close. Rickketts charged out and somehow Cummings couldn't even get a shot on target despite Ricketts not getting a touch on it. That set the tone for the rest of the game.

In the 21st minute Baudet reached around PrimaDonnavan and caught his elbow with his leg, which Landon sold for everything it was worth and got the foul call. On the ensuing free kick the combination of Wynne, Moor, and Baudet only managed to cover 2 of their 3 men, leaving Alan Gordon free to put a diving header past Matt Pickens. Once again, as we've seen in 6 of the 7 goals we've given up, we got burned on a free kick.

After this point though the game was much more even, and I would say that the Rapids controlled the game more after that. The problem was though that most of our dangerous chances either went off target or right at the LA keeper. Ricketts only had to work for 2 saves. That was the difference in the game as while LA got a couple of good chances the defense was up for them.

My key to the game was Edson Buddle, and the defense did a great job keeping him off the board. He had one good chance that he bottled, but otherwise he wasn't much of a threat. The only other team to stop him this season was KC.

Other Observations:
  • LA is now 9 points ahead of everyone in the West. We won't be seeing them get close to us for a while.
  • Kimura was a pregame scratch from the lineup, which might explain the confusion on the free kick.
  • Earls started in Kimura's place, and I hat to say it since I love Koz, but I think that Earls has taken his spot int he starting XI
  • Can we end the Thompson over Clark experiment? For the whole first half I don't think Thompson made a single run when Earls had the ball.
  • Casey played well, when he had help to play off of. Too often he got the ball with nobody around.
  • Lopez didn't look great in his 20 minutes. At one point Clint Mathis made him struggle.
  • Just under 10K in attendance was a surprisingly high number.
Player of the Game: Julian Baudet. Even though he committed the foul that set up the goal he was a Beast in central defense last night. Not only that but he got forward a couple of times and was a dangerous man on corner kicks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shootout At The DSG Corral

The two best striker duos in MLS, Donovan and Buddle for LA and Casey and Cummings for Colorado, face off at the Dick tomorrow night. Its a big game for both teams as LA is currently 6 points clear at the top of the West, with Colorado tied for second. A win by LA will make it difficult for them to be caught any time soon, while a win by Colorado puts the Rapids right back into it. Game time is at 7:30pm, and the best tailgate in MLS starts in the East VIP lot at 5:30pm.

Injury Report:
OUT: MID Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain), FWD Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
DOUBTFUL: MID Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain)

LA has 4 players questionable so they're hurting a bit. They also have another game in Seattle on Saturday, while the Rapids are off for a week and a half after this game. I don't expect many changes from Gary Smith:

Kimura - Wynne - Moor - Earls
Pablo - Larentowicz
Cummings - Ballouchy - Clark

The only change I expect is the return of Colin Clark in place of Wells Thompson. Thompson has had a good run, but its time for Clark to get back into the starting XI.

Key To Look For: Edson Buddle. Buddle is on fire, with 9 goals in the first 6 games. The rest of the Galaxy have 1 goal between them. Nobody has been able to stop Buddle yet, and its going to take good team defense for the Rapids to shut him down tomorrow night.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Conor Casey. I can actually see the Rapids losing this one, with as hot as the Galaxy are. Still I think being at home again will be enough to get the Rapids a point. Buddle will get one goal, but Casey will match his competitor for a World Cup roster spot.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Earthquakes Leave Rapids Calling Mayday!

This week's game looked much like last week's game, except last week two of our midfielders scored and this week they didn't.

The Rapids came out in the same 4-5-1 lineup from last week, and once again it helped their possession game. Unfortunately Colorado could not convert the possession into goals. San Jose would take advantage by scoring against the run of play, with some help form the refs. Chris Wondolowski either beat the offside trap barely or was a half a step offside, took a ball out wide, and pinged it off the crossbar and into the net past Matt Pickens. A great shot, but helped by the flag not going up on a very close decision. The Rapids had a hard time generating shots the rest of the match. Colorado outshot San Jose 12-8, but they only forced Cannon to make two saves, one form Danny Earls and one from Wells Thompson. That was their downfall as the Rapids could not find a way to break through and lost a game they probably deserved to get a point from.

My key to the game was midfield dominance, and it wasn't as strong as last week it was still an improvement from the early season play. Dominance is nothing without goals though.

Other Observations:
  • Colorado is now tied for 2nd in the West and 3rd overall. We're 6 points behind LA already, which makes Wednesday's game a big one to not fall 9 points back.
  • Colorado finally gave up a goal form the run of play, our first this season.
  • Kimura may have reached the end of his rope. He had a hard time syncing up with the rest of his team.
  • Ballouchy regressed somewhat this week. His passes weren't bad, but there was no spark like last week.
  • Wells Thompson over Colin Clark? Thompson has been playing well, but Clark is the long-term solution at left mid. There's no reason not to play him if he's not injured.
  • I don't get the subs. Defender for defender down 1-0. Young attacker for our best offensive threat over the last two seasons down 1-0. The Lopez on with only 15 minutes to gel with the team. If anything those subs should have been reversed.
  • That said, good to see Lopez finally playing. Hopefully he can work up to a starting spot.
  • Casey had moments, but needs to do more if he wants to go to the WC.
  • Worst game we've seem from Cummings in a long time. That will happen from time to time, but its disappointing nobody stepped up.
  • I'm glad the small fields of San Jose and Kansas City are in the rear view mirror for the season, barring a playoff matchup. It really changes the style of play, and not in a good way for Colorado.
Player of the Game: Pablo Mastroeni. Back to back MOTMs, for completely different reasons. Last week he got it for his game winning goal. This week he gets it for locking down the defense and stopping any serious San Jose attacks.