Up River Without A Paddle: Where The 2017 Colorado Rapids Season Went Wrong

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ATLANTA, GA JUNE 24: Colorado head coach Pablo Mastroeni yells at the referee during a match between Atlanta United and the Colorado Rapids on June 24, 2017 at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field in Atlanta, GA. Atlanta United FC defeated Colorado Rapids 1 0. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Editorial (August 14, 2017) – The Colorado Rapids are second to last in the Western Conference. Their normally rock solid defense has been leaking goals all season. The offense has been better than in past years, but has been inconsisted. This team’s playoff hopes are all but mathematically impossible. So, how did a team that almost won the Supporter’s Shield in 2016 fall back to the bottom of the league?

Up River Without A Paddle: Where The 2017 Colorado Rapids Season Went Wrong

They have just two points off road games. There are a lot of things Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni’s side needed to do to improve. Here’s my attempt to make sense of it all:

Defensive Errors In Critical Moments:

Mastroeni coached teams are defensively stingy when all else fails. Even when the Rapids haven’t make the playoffs, they’ve had a relatively decent defense. Last year, they set records for goals against.

This year, they still have one of the better goals against in the Western Conference. But they goals they are giving up have been costly. Wins are becoming draws. Draws are becoming losses. And they’re giving these goals up on silly errors.

“That’s a concentration thing. We’ve got to look at our set up and get that tighter. This game is about those moments. You’ve got to make sure you’re questioning whether are we set up the right way. You’ve got to learn from that and move forward,” said Mastroeni after a recent draw at home.

Set piece defending has been poor. They’ve had trouble closing down attackers on the ball in and around the box. The outside backs have had trouble defending. It hasn’t been one thing. It’s been a lot of little thinkgs that have added up. The Wall of the West has had some holes in it. They need to fix all those things to again be the best defense in MLS.

Aigner, Boateng, and Gashi Needed To Contribute:

In MLS, big money players need to be difference makers. As soon as Sam Cronin got traded, Bismark Adjei-Boateng needed to be the man in central midfield. Two games later, he went down with a back injury. He’s started only four games and hasn’t gone 90 minutes once. Shkelzen Gashi finally returned two games ago after a long rehab from an Achilles tear. Stefan Aigner was recently signed, but is still in transition (literally) from Germany.

These are two TAM level players and a Designated Player. Two of them have been injured. Boateng hasn’t done much when he has been on the field. Gashi always brings offensive danger. All three of them needed to step up and they haven’t. That’s not entirely their fault though. Two of them have had injury issues. Had Aiger been signed at the beginning of the transfer window, perhaps he’d be playing and contributing now. That’s on the front office more than anyone.

At this point, all the Rapids can do is get these players fit and contributing so they can feel good going into the off-season and 2018. Have Gashi go 90 minutes and feel good about his Achillies. Get Boateng some minutes and have him play his role well. Get Aigner comfortable with MLS, his new surroundings, and teammates.

They weren’t able to make the difference in 2017. But there’s still time to start building for 2018.

Lack Of Urgency In The Attack, Especially Down A Goal:

The Rapids attack has been inconsistent all year. Their counter attacking has been good, especially when Dominique Badji and Marlon Hairston are clicking together. Badji is the only player on pace to have a 10 goal season. Kevin Doyle has been better recently, but continues to be at the bottom of the league in terms of goal production for a DP forward.

It hasn’t just been a forward issue. Every since Cronin was traded, the midfield shape has been off. So has the serve to the forward to get the attack going. For long stretches this season, the attack has lacked any sense of urgency. Especially when they’ve been down a goal. It’s ok to be methodical and pick your moments to counter. But they’re letting the other team dictate the game and take it to them. And once they concede, it takes them some time to flip the switch. That’s not good when you’ve given up the first goal in 16 of 22 games.

The team needs to show some desperation and hunger for goals. They need to show it in the first minute. And if they go down a goal, they need to respond by kicking it up a gear immediately. It’d be great if they could start to break this habit in the final 12 games.

The ‘Sowing The Seeds’ Theory:

I’ve had a growing theory about this season. Mastroeni had a really telling quote back in April about the direction the club was taken. We’ve seen a trend in MLS of one-hit wonders. Take the 2012 San Jose Earthquakes who won the Supporter’s Shield and haven’t made the playoffs since. Or the 2013 Portland Timbers. A team makes a bunch of moves, all their players have career years, and they almost win a trophy. The next season, they change nothing, the team regresses to the mean, and everyone figures that out.

Mastroeni and the front office came into 2017 not trying to just replicate last year. With the Cronin trade and a few other moves, they tried to improve improve their offense. Former Rapid Conor Casey came on as an Assistant Coach to essentially be the offensive coordinator. With some of these moves, they made their defense weaker in the immediate present. In trying to take two steps forward for 2018, they had to take one step back in 2017.

We’ll see if this pays off next year.

At This Point, Just Play The Kids:

As previously stated, playoffs aren’t likely for the 2017 Colorado Rapids. They are 10 points out with just 12 games remaining. They are 0-8-2 on the road this year and seven of their remaining games are on the road. We’re two losses away from the 2017 Colorado Rapids season being complete toast.

When that times comes (and possibly sooner), give the young kids a run out. If the final few games don’t matter, give the rookies some minutes to help them develop. Keep playing Kortne Ford. Start Josh Gatt. Give Luis Gil a few games so the coaching staff can see if they want to keep him for next year.

I’d even recommend shutting down Tim Howard and a few of the older players who have been healthy and fit this year. Let Zac MacMath get a few games in.

Sam Hamilton has played only 124 minutes this year. Let him and Ricardo Perez (who has yet to make his MLS debut) start in central midfield together. Let Dennis Castillo start. Heck, loan up Jaime Siaj from Charlotte Independence.

It might make them bigger contributors for 2018.

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