(Editorial) – The Colorado Rapids are coasting. They’ve won just one of their last seven matches, going 1-2-4 in that stretch. The club had a poor defensive outing against the Vancouver Whitecaps this last weekend. While they aren’t slumping, they aren’t playing well. What’s gone wrong and what can they do to fix it before the MLS Cup playoffs? Let’s break it down.
The Colorado Rapids Are Coasting: Why And What They Can Do About It
First off, the team is still in a good position in the standings. Several other teams are in a bit of a slide recently. Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy both had their first home loss of the season recently. FC Dallas has a congested schedule coming up with CONCACAF Champions League and two games against LA in October. The Rapids are currently second in the Western Conference and have two games in hand on every other team above the red line.
While they are surviving, it’s not all doom and gloom. A win on Saturday against the Portland Timbers and they are in the playoffs. No one had this team making the playoffs back in March. That will be a major accomplishment for the season regardless of the optics.
Individuals Led The Attack Early On:
The Rapids were at their best from about the start of the season till the middle of July. Prior to the Copa America Centenario break, they had 28 points on 14 games. That was good enough to be top of the league. Since then, they’ve taken 20 points from 15 games.
Through the first seven games of the year, it was Marco Pappa leading the way offensively. The play maker had one goal and three assists before getting injured in Snow Clasico II on April 16th. That goal and those assists were all in games the Rapids got a result. Pappa was contributing to the club earning wins and draws.
Snow Clasico II was also the Rapids debut for Jermaine Jones. Jones picked up where Pappa left off, leading the team in the next seven games. He scored three goals and two assists in that stretch, taking his team and the league by storm. Just like Pappa, his contributions were critical and the difference that won games.
Then the Copa America break happened and the team stopped thriving. Jones went on international duty, and has played in just one game since. Pappa took some time getting back from injury, but hasn’t been the same since. Marlon Hairston had a nice run of form in July and August, but it’s been coasting ever since. The team has scored multiple goals in a game just twice since the middle of July. Both times were against the Whitecaps, hardly a strong defensive team.
The Defense Is Still There (Minus Last Game):
Despite all the offensive inconsistencies, the defense is still the steady strength of this team. They were tied for the sixth best Goals Against last season even though they were bottom of the conference, a testament to Pablo Mastroeni‘s work as head coach. Axel Sjöberg has developed nicely as a second year professional. The club has decent depth at full back. Sam Cronin and Michael Azira are an excellent holding midfield pair.
Then of course there’s Tim Howard, who’s lived up to the Secretary of Defense nickname since his arrival. They’ve given up multiple goals just five times in 2016 (all on the road). Most of those games have been outliers from the standpoint that defensive breakdowns have lead to goals.
When they do concede in bunches, it’s due to their own mistakes more so than brilliant plays from their opponents. Take two (possibly all three) of Vancouver’s goals over the weekend. In that, when they are on their game (or just playing ok), they rarely get scored on. It will take excellent play to score on them in the playoffs, especially at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
How They Can Get Back On Form:
In short, this team needs an individual to step up in the attack. When they’ve played well offensively, it’s been with one x-factor player and a good supporting cast. The Rapids hardly play attractive possession based soccer. It’s unlikely they’ll turn into Tiki Taka in the final six games of the season. We’ve yet to see Pappa, Jones, Shkelzen Gashi, and Kevin Doyle on the field together at the same time (due to injuries).
One of their veteran leaders needs to step up, and elevate the rest of the attackers a bit in the process.
Pappa has been ineffective of late. Jones is still on the mend. Gashi has had some good moments this year, but hasn’t been able to finish at times. I really like what Doyle does challenging the back line and occupying center backs to make space for others. That said, he only has four goals and two assists. Dominique Badji has almost the same stats, with about half as much playing time. Doyle is also out with an ankle injury.
One of these four veterans (or maybe Hairston) needs to get healthy, get in the Starting XI, and start taking over games. It might not be a great (read: probable) formula for success. But it’s how Colorado have gotten it done in 2016. If just one of them can get on a hot streak, they can put the team on their back and lift everyone else up with them.
It seems a lot more likely than Pappa, Jones, Gashi, and Doyle all getting on the field together and instantly having chemistry that wrecks the league. That’s the Rapids fan pipe dream right now. Until then, this team will continue to coast.
This team is going to have their work cut out for them. Especially if they have to win a road playoff game.