Saturday, August 19, 2017

A New Rapids Era Starts Tonight


The Post-Pablo/Steve Cooke era starts tonight with a battle with a wooden spoon battle.  DC is last in the league with .79 pts/game, Colorado is second-to-last at 1 point/game.  Both teams made major changes in the last month, DC in acquiring new players, Colorado in changing coaches.  Nobody really knows what we're going to see tonight but it should be interesting, if not good, soccer.  Game time is the normal 7pm so the tailgate starts at 4 and those who can't make it can watch on Altitude.

The Rapid will be without the injured MacMath and the suspended (for yellow card accumulation) Da Fonte.  Burling is also Questionable for this one.  Otherwise the whole roster, including Aigner, s available for section for Cooke's first game in charge.  I expect Aigner will be on the bench but not start.  DC is missing 5 players to injure including former Rapid Deshorn Brown, who's currently undergoing the league's concussion protocol.

I have no idea what to expect from the lineup under a new manager, other than Howard will start in goal.  Assuming we're going to stay with something like the 4-4-2 I think we can assume the backline will include Miller and Sjoberg and Azira will probably be in midfield.  Beyond that though, you're guess is as good as mine.

Prediction: 2-1 win, goals by Doyle and Gashi.  I think the Rapids come out more energized with a more attacking focus.  This hurts them a bit in the back but the team doesn't feel constrained to win 1-0 so they go out and outplay DC to get the win.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

New Direction From New Leadership

Over the last two days we've heard from the Front Office about their plans in two different ways.  First,, in a Op-Ed published by the Denver Post yesterday.  Second, in a YouTube Twon Hall held this afternoon that can be rewatched here (starts at the 11:10 mark).

I was going to do a rough transcript of the Town Hall but I gave up after a few minutes as I realized most answers where just going to be talking points from the editorial the day before.  I did get the second question of the Town Hall, asking for a realistic time frame to see actions that match the goals set out in the op-ed but Smith said he wasn't willing to set an unrealistic deadline or artificial time frame.  Really not the answer I was looking for.

The more concrete items I took from the Town Hall:
  • The Juan Ramirez "situation" will be resolved shortly.  Somebody on Facebook pointed out that he's no longer listed on the Rapids roster on MLSsoccer.com.  My bet is that they are crossing the t's and dotting the i's on a mutual termination contract that was agreed to ad submitted before the window closed.  That would allow Ramirez to join any team outside the window (as he was a free agent before the window closed) and would get him off the Rapids books, probably for a lower number than keeping him around to the end of the season.
  • Smith said the decision to remove Pablo was his, with the support of the rest of management.  No surprise but its always good to hear somebody tep up and take responsibility for a major decision.
  • They expect to be a playoff team next year.  That's the minimum I think we should expect but at least they aren't selling us a line about next year being a rebuilding year.
  • They are looking forward to the CCL and are going in with the intent to win it.  I mean, yeah, they pretty much weren't going to say anything else but there was no hedging of the goal or skirting around the issue, so I assume we're at least going to take it seriously.
Overall for both of these events I was more impressed with the delivery than the message.  We've never seen the FO come out with an Op-Ed in the Post to reach out to fans.  The Town Hall has been done before but given the short time frame and the fact that this was new leadership getting their plan out to the fans and not existing leadership doing damage control the fact that they had a Town Hall is a positive sign.

The message itself is nothing more than we've heard in the past.  Smith has talked a lot in the last 48 hours or so about the "Rapids Way" but we heard a lot from Hinchey about "OneClub" in the past.  We've heard the Rapids say they want to play dynamic, attacking soccer, and then roll out Pablo-ball.  Its hard to put much stock into anything the Front Office says without seeing actions to back it up.

Smith did make it clear that the next "big" step will be the hiring of the new coach.  That will really tell us if what Smith has been saying is talk or a true new direction for this club.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pablo Removed

Interim head coach Steve Cooke

Well I can't say I saw this coming.  About 7 hours ago the Rapids announced Pablo Mastroeni has been removed as head coach.  Assistant coach Steve Cooke will be the interim head coach with Chris Sharpe and Conor Casey staying in their current assistant coach roles.

This move has been a long time coming.  Only his status as the greatest player to wear the badge and his unwavering loyalty to this club kept him in the role after the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and it seemed his wonderful season last year had bought him at least 2017 and probably into 2018.  Everyone was wrong on that assumption.  With a career average of 1.2 pts/game, barely better than Fernando Clavijo, this couldn't last.  Despite that he was just 4 games from Mooch's all-time team record for games managed.

After all that, I still feel bad for how this happened.  Pablo is and will always be a club legend and he was tossed into teh deep end of a sink or swim operation.  We can talk about what support he did or did not get but this isn't how you want to see the Rapids GOAT leave the club for (likely) the final time.  He didn't deserve to remain coach, but he didn't deserve to get into the situation he was in.

The timing of this move is quite odd.  Right after the transfer window closed and without a major incident precipitating it.  There have been a number of theories floated already and I think they all have a piece of the truth.  The first one is that the season ticket opt-out window is closing and they're seeing a higher than expected number of opt outs, so they felt they had to do something.  While this is probably true, I'm not sure this move changes anything since it comes so late in the opt-out window.  Second (and my contribution), is the changes in the front office over the last 6 weeks.  Hinchey left, the window opened, Smith became interim GM, the window closed last week, and Smith has now been able to turn his attention from deal-making int he window to other parts of the GM job, such as Pablo's tenure.  The third is that they have more moves coming and they waited until those were in place.  We'll see what happens in the next couple of weeks but there's some rumors something might happen.

Looking forward from here, Steve Cooke takes over for some amount  if interim time.  Reports are that Cooke has been the one putting in the work for years, running practices, etc. so it sounds like he's certainly earned this opportunity.  I know nothing about his style or what to expect so its going to be interesting to see what changes are made..  Sometime between now and next March the team will sign a new head coach.  The question is, will they have a real budget and do a real coaching search for the first time in KSE history or will we continue getting the MLS retreads and rookie coaches that the last 4 hires under KSE have been?  If its the latter, I suggest Robin Fraser.

As part of this news the Rapids have also announced that there will be a town hall on YouTube after practice on Thursday at 12:30.  More details to come but I've heard that this will be a true open forum and questions will not be pre-screened or otherwise eliminated.  I will have a recap of the forum Thursday night.

For more discussion on today's news check out the Voice of C38 podcast when it gets posted tomorrow.  The reason this blog entry is so late is that I was already scheduled as a guest on the podcast and had a good time recording it with the Voice gang.

Monday, August 14, 2017

So...That Happened


So I did something this game that I don't think I've ever done.  Since I was at my company picnic when the game started I couldn't watch from the beginning.  In the past that's meant avoiding any spoilers and starting the game from the beginning as soon as I got home.  (Or, if I was travelling, just watching the highlights post-game) This game, I didn't really care.  So when I left I put the radio broadcast on in the car (around thee 35th minute) and watched the second half live when I got to where I was watching the game.

Based on the play I saw, it seems the team didn't really care.  A meaningless point from a 0-0 draw leaves very little to write about.  Right now its really hard to get excited about the last 12 games of this season so don't be shocked if my game reviews are light unless something of note happens.  The most interesting thing on Saturday night was the lightning delay followed by a team that according to Pablo needed to treat every game as a must-win playing for the draw, including the subs from Pablo.

There was one other thing to note, the first significant use of VAR in a Rapids game.  They got the call exactly right under the rules VAR is used in.  Also to be clear, its FIFA and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) that set those rules, not MLS.  Lots of complaints about MLS being a Mickey Mouse league or Americanizing the game after the VAR call but it wasn't MLS's rules that allowed it, it was the same rules the Bundesliga and Serie A will be using this year.

Man of the Match: Kortne Ford.  Since I only saw half the game I don't know if he was the best player out there but he made a notable difference when he came in.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Rapids Start Building For 2018 In Dallas

No, referencing this is never going to get old

With Colorado all but mathematically eliminated for 2017 its time to start looking at 2018.  I'm sure the roster we see tomorrow night won't reflect that fact yet but truthfully, its where we are.  Luis Gil is in Dallas and is available for selection.  Stefan Aigner is in Denver waiting to join training when the team returns.  Kickoff tomorrow is at 6pm on Altitude.

Burling and MacMath are out for this one still but everyone else should be available for the Rapids.  Dallas is just missing a suspended Gruezo.  For game #22 both teams are remarkably close to full strength.  With no time to practice with the team I assume Gil will take Powers' spot on the bench in this game, we may see him as a sub.  Otherwise I expect very little change from the last couple of weeks, sad as that sounds.

Prediction: 2-0 loss.  Dallas has a better offense, a better defense, a top-4 team, and home field advantage (though Dallas is our second home).  This is an easy pick of what will be an ugly game.

Two Loans This Week

The Rapids have loaned out two players this week, Sam Hamilton to Drogba's Phoenix Rising and Castillo to Charlotte.  That last frees up the international spot we need to add Aigner who returned to town today and will start training with the team when they return from Dallas.

Still no word on the status of Juan Ramirez who is no longer on loan but we don't have an international spot to put him on our roster again.

When we started this transfer window we had 5 open roster spots.  After these loans we have 6.  SMH.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rapids Power Down In The Transfer WIndow


Well, that was anti-climatic.  After multiple published statements about improving the team in this window we got a new German winger who hasn't even started training with the team yet and at essentially literately at the deadline last night we swapped unwanted players with Orlando.  We'll start with last night's trade then look at the (lack of) activity int he window as a whole.

The basics of this trade is that we sent Dillon Powers,, who's contract is reported to be up at the end of the season, to Orlando for Luis Gil, who's on-loan from Queretaro of Liga MX until the end of the season.

That's the short answer, if you don't care about the gory details of MLS roster rules skip this paragraph.  Orlando also sent $100K in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) along with Gil and both teams agreed to keep the cap hit for their original player (Powers' cap hit is about double Gil's).  The reason for the TAM is that Gil was originally a FSL player and they retained his MLS rights when he left.  As part of the deal loaning Gil to Orlando, Orlando had to acquire his rights from FSL.  They agreed to a minimum of $50K in TAM.  Also with every loan deal into MLS there's an option to buy the player.  The loan deal stipulated that if Orlando bought Gil at the end of the season the deal for Gil's rights from FSL would go up to $100K in TAM.  Colorado has taken over Orlando's place in the contract with this trade so we will pay $50K of TAM if we don't keep him and $100K of TAM if we do to FSL at the end of the year.  The reason the teams didn't trade cap hits is that with the window closed it really doesn't matter since any cap relief either team might have gotten couldn't be used until the offseason window, at which point both players would be out of contract anyway.

This is a pretty meh trade for the Rapids.  Gil and Powers are players with similar skills and similar difficulty finding their place on their old teams.  Gil is a bit more offensively minded than Powers, which the Rapids need, but I still where he'll play under Pablo.  Overall this is really an extended loan for both players with the teams having the ability to walk away at the end of the season if it doesn't work out.

Overall this was a wasted transfer window where the Rapids didn't finish the job they promised had started with the Cronin/Burch trade.  Remember the quote at the time of the trade was that it gave them the financial flexibility to target an offense threat and the rumors going into the window were a midfielder, a forward, and an outside back was the plan.  Even when the window opened Pablo told the Post that the plan was two players, one that would "raise the level of play".  Well, we got two players, barely, but not without having to give something up to do it, which doesn't scream "financial flexibility".

As one commentator on the league tweeted today, the Rapids have traded Cronin, Burch, and Powers for Saied, Gatt, and Gil.  That's amazingly bad by the Front Office.  Two of three players would be likely starters on many MLS teams and while I think Powers needed a change of scenery I think he can become a starter, elsewhere.  In return we got 3 players who would be unlikely to start for most MLS teams and who don't fix our core problem, our inability to score.

Since the end of last season we've now added a total of 3 experienced players without giving anyone up.  Boateng, who's spending more time on the bench than the field,  Gordon, who's good for 20 minutes a game, tops, and now Aigner, who won't even start training with the team until next week.  combined they've played 775 of a possible 3780 minutes, just over 20%.

Shockingly, a team that got rid of players like Jermaine Jones, Marco Pappa, and Sebastian Le Toux and replaced them with experience that only plays 20% of their possible minutes has gotten significantly worse.  Even worse than that, the Front Office has given no indication that they realize this is a problem or care about fixing it.  They are just stringing the fans along like suckers, now talking about the next transfer window in the winter and hoping we forget about their comments about the window that just closed.

The Rapids failed this transfer window, possibly the biggest failure they've had since they did nothing in the 2014 summer window.  There's a term for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  The Rapids should learn it.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Last Spark Of Playoff Hope Crushed


I felt the season was pretty much over before this weekend, but dropping 2 points to the team you're trying to catch really shuts the door on the playoffs.  BigSoccer has even done the math, for at least the last 10 years anyone who gets this far behind has failed to make the postseason.

The game was really a tale of two strategies for the Rapids, one that worked and got us the lead, and one that failed and lot us the lead.  Up until we got the 2-1 lead we had a majority off the possession and were taking the game to Vancouver.  Once we got he league we dropped into a defensive shell, played hoof and run ball, and let Vancouver come at us over and over again.  The goal was coming and it was not a surprise when they finally scored.

I'm sure the team will keep playing like there's a playoff shot for a few more games but in reality its over.  So really the last 13 games are about playing for 2018 (and the Rocky Mountain Cup).  Its time now to see what players who have a chance to be here next year have and players who are likely gone to take a seat.

Man of the Match: Axel Sjoberg.  A goal and a good defensive effort..  He was the only defender making an effort on Vancouver's tying goal.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

River Versus Ocean In The High Plains

Where the river meets the sea

Rapids - a rough section of a river or stream which is difficult to navigate due to the swift and turbulent motion of the water
Whitecaps - Ocean surface waves, which create "whitecaps" of bubbles and streaks on their breaking crests

So of course these two teams will meet on the high plains of Commerce City tonight.  Its about time the Rapids got home after being off or on the road for the last 31 days.  Its feels like longer than that.  Kickoff is an odd 8pm tonight, probably for Canadian TV, so the tailgate won't start at 5.  If you can't make it to the game, or understandably don't want to waste your time, the game is on Altitude.

Burling and MacMath are out for this one, while Gashi and Gatt are still questionable.  Aigner is not yet back with his visa (expected to return next week) so we won't be seeing him either.  Vancouver is down 3 players to injury.

I'm not sure we'll see much of a change in the lineups.  I hope Ford gets the start finally and obviously Howard will be back in the net.  Other than that I expect something very similar to what we've seen the past couple of games.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, goal by Badji.  These two defenses are pretty much identical while Colorado has the home advantage and Tim Howard and Vancouver has a better offense.  Those cancel out leading to 1 point and putting Rapids fans ever closer to the end of this long season.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Odds and Ends As the Transfer Window Starts To Close

A few pieces of news from this week.
  • The biggest is that MacMath had knee surgery on Monday and will miss 4-6 weeks.  We play in LA in just over 4 weeks the same weekend that World Cup Qualifying resumes.  There's a pretty good chance that Howard will be with the Nats and MacMath won't be available, so we'll get a look at John Berner (presumably).
  • Kortne Ford ties the homegrown game at the death:
  • Howard also had a scoreless half against Real Madrid in the All-Star Game last night
  • Western Union coming on as a team (not jersey) sponsor next year by way of the Nuggets
  • Aigner is still the only move made in the transfer window with less than a week left.  Which is ridiculous given that this team is horrible and desperately needs help.