After what was one of the most disappointing endings to a season since TV’s “Seinfeld” or “Dinosaurs,” the Rapids took failure to ungodly depths. In the last win of the 2014 season, I was quoted as saying, “it may be awhile till we lose another match.”
Granted, I was inebriated and we had just destroyed the lowly Chivas side, but I could not have been more wrong. I do not want to go into the previous year too much, as it can only be described as a dumpster fire, but I do want to go over a few of the inadequacies of the team and the manager. For starters, I want to be completely forward here. I am not a fan of Pablo Mastroeni as the manager; loved him as a player, but I do feel it was a bit of a rushed hire.
My personal feelings aside, he did not have a good first season in charge. He couldn’t seem to find a consistent lineup and was left pointing fingers at his players. He had said a lack of on-field leadership, after captain Drew Moor went down with an ACL tear, was a major reason for the team’s 14-game avalanche. While I do agree that the team lacked leadership, I do not think it was just the on-field leadership the team was lacking. Pablo made more than a few questionable decisions, and that was just his starting 11.
One of these major blunders was swapping out the struggling Clint Irwin for Joe Nasco and John Berner on several occasions. My issue with this is not that he made the decision to bench Irwin, as many coaches have done this with great success (look no further than Brendan Rodgers with Simon Mignolet at Liverpool this season), it is the reasoning and duration that is awkward to me. It has been said that a loss of confidence is one of the reasons for the benching, but pinning the consistent flood of goals on Irwin by benching him, is wholly unfair. Speaking as a goalkeeper, I would be livid if my coach benched me when my defenders were falling asleep at the wheel. I do not know how – or if – the defense was reprimanded, but I do know that it was not publicized like the Irwin situation was. I can imagine that confidence was dwindling everyday and it only got worse.
By the time the team lost Drew Moor to a season-ending ACL tear against DC United on August 17th, they had lost three matches straight, all with Irwin in net, and were on their way to losing the fourth 4-2. They did not win another game the rest of the season. While this data does substantiate Pablo’s “lack of on-field leadership” comment, it also indicates that his own leadership was falling on deaf ears. I found it awkward, because he then captained several different players, including the newly signed Zat Knight. Perhaps Drew is that much of a heavy influence, or perhaps the team had become fed up with wondering if each of them would even get a game, perhaps both. Clearly, I am not in the locker room, so I cannot be certain, but from afar, the results point to a team being mishandled.
A New Hope for 2015
Well, despite the woes, Pablo is back for another season in charge. I am here to preview the coming season, so let’s get on with it.
The roster has been substantially changed this offseason, with 16 players leaving the club and 10 new players coming in. This offseason pretty much embodies Pablo’s managerial style since he has been the head coach: inconsistency with the roster. While these latest inconsistencies are not necessarily Pablo’s fault, they do outline that he wants to make this team his. Of the people coming in, we certainly got older in key areas with the likes of Marcelo Sarvas, Bobby Burling, Sam Cronin, and Michael Harrington. This clearly points to what Pablo had been saying; that he wants more veteran leadership. My only issue with the transactions is that we sent Chris Klute to Columbus. Chris had a breakout first full season and had an inconsistent and poor second full season (mind you, I mostly attribute this to Pablo’s shuffling of the backline and constant tinkering). We did allegedly use the money received from this transaction to acquire Sarvas, so I am not quite sure how I feel overall about this.
If you want to see a full breakdown of the transactions, here is the list:
• F Caleb Calvert (Dispersal Draft)
• D Michael Harrington (trade from Portland)
• F Geoffrey Castillion (trade from New England)
• D Bobby Burling (Waiver Draft)
• GK Zac MacMath (loan from Philadelphia)
• D Axel Sjöberg (SuperDraft)
• M Marcelo Sarvas (trade from LA Galaxy)
• M Sam Cronin (trade from San Jose)
• M Lucas Pittinari (loan from Belgrano)
• M Juan Ramirez (transfer from Argentinos Juniors)
• M Nick LaBrocca (re-signed)
• M Carlos Alvarez (re-signed)
• M Brian Mullan (retired)
• D Gale Agbossoumonde (option declined)
• M Davy Armstrong (option declined)
• F Edson Buddle (option declined)
• M Kamani Hill (option declined)
• D Thomas Piermayr (option declined)
• D Grant Van De Casteele (option declined)
• GK Joe Nasco (traded to New England)
• F Dimitry Imbongo (trade from NE, option declined)
• F Geoffrey Castillion (option declined)
• M Tony Cascio (Expansion Draft to Orlando City)
• F Danny Mwanga (Expansion Draft to Orlando City)
• D Marvell Wynne (Re-Entry Stage 2 Draft)
• D Chris Klute (traded to Columbus)
• M Jose Mari (mutual termination)
• D Zat Knight (mutual consent)
As you can see, the situation is not all doom and gloom, despite my lack of praise. We did add a second DP (Young Designated Player) in Juan Ramirez, brought in Marcelo Sarvas – fresh off his MLS Cup win, loaned Lucas Pittinari, and bolstered our goalkeeping ranks by loaning Zac MacMath. These four players could be influential in this season’s hopeful turnaround; the question is: How?
We know very little about this team, as they have really only played preseason and Pablo did not play what many would deem a “starting lineup,” but we do know that Pablo loves the 4-2-3-1 formation. So, I am going to breakdown that formation with these players. Starting with the goalkeeper, there is much concern over the goalkeeper position on this team, as aforementioned, but I feel it will be Irwin’s job to lose.
Honestly, I am not sure there is much to say about this position with Colorado, despite its emphasis in 2014. I think any one of those ‘keepers could come in and do a satisfactory job. We are not going to play high press from what I have seen, nor a high line, so distribution is not going to be a particularly emphasized, nor is the team going to require the “sweeper keeper” role. So, it all comes down to who gets into form and comes up big for the team when needed. I could easily see MacMath take the starting spot, but Irwin is serviceable enough to keep it. I did wonder about Irwin’s positional sense a couple of times during the poor run prior to the benching, but those could be attributed to a lack of confidence in his backline, himself, or an injury making him uncomfortable. Either way, he seemed to sure those issues up later in the season, despite the goals allowed.
The depth chart for ‘keeper, in my opinion, is: Clint Irwin; Zac MacMath; John Berner
In a zonal, defensive back four, or flat-back four, the defensive unit must work as one cohesive bank, fluidly shifting to compensate for movement from each player or the attacking team. Pablo does not really use a flat-back four, as he likes his fullbacks to push wide and higher up the pitch than would normally happen. His style can be aided by the two defensive midfielders, who can occupy the space on either the outside or the inside of the backline. For example: While the Right Back (RB) makes a run up the pitch to aid in the attack, the Left Back (LB) could pinch tightly to the Center Back (CB), and that CB act as a pseudo-sweeper.
Not knowing if the Rapids will implement this in the coming season, I should have a greater understanding after we see a few matches under this formation with the new players. I will say, last season, the Rapids did use the method outlined, and during their 14-game slide, they implemented a different type, as well: the square backline. The square backline was only while on defense and the ball was in the middle of third, but it does not make sense, given that 2 CDMs are being deployed, but several times last season, the fullbacks would get higher and then pinch, as if to clog the middle further. While I understand why Pablo would want to shut down the inside, this left our CBs and our Fullbacks completely stranded once the attack entered the final third. It got so bad in the game against the Portland Timbers, that the Fullbacks were high, and the CBs were so spread, that Dillon Powers could be seen dropping in between the CBs to find the ball as an outlet. Oddly enough, in the match, Powers was deployed as the CAM, so why he was back so far, I don’t know.
This is all leading to the point that the team was very poor defensively. They often looked unsure of what to do (like me on camera, with my hands), which is not good when the team is on one of the worst win-droughts in history. It is difficult to look past Pablo’s career as a CDM, but the way these teams played reeks of inconsistency in style and play, and inexperience as a manager. The worst part about this is that these issues were later in the season, not early like they are expected to be.
I like the fact that Pablo pushes his Fullbacks highly, but I do not like how the CDMs were used when the FBs were trying to track back defensively. Pablo can easily fix these issues by setting a lineup defensively that has strategic pairs and plays consistently together. I think the team has to be better in 2015 defensively; I don’t see how they can be worse (they gave up the third most goals in history over a 14-game stretch).
The depth chart for defense, in my opinion:
RB: Marlon Hairston (I don’t love this, but I want him on the pitch); Shane O’Neill; James Riley/John Legend (would be the starter, if we sign him); John Neeskens (if with the team).
CB: Drew Moor (when healthy); Shane O’Neill; Axel Sjöberg; Bobby Burling; Grant Van De Casteele (if with the team); Traffic Cone; Jared Watts.
LB: Michael Harrington; Marc Burch; John Neeskens.
I will not go too much into the midfield, because I feel this is one area that the team significantly improved by adding Sarvas, Cronin, Pittinari, and Ramirez. My main issue with the midfield was at CDM, which I mentioned above. The team did not have a physical presence to be the ball winner we needed. Frankly, we lacked the cutting edge and physical play during last season that led to the hashtag #RapidsThugLife.
Whether or not any of these new players can be that is still to be determined, but if the preseason is any indication, we may see a more physical team overall. Tactically speaking, our midfielders are going to have to be active, which is, I am assuming, why we brought in workhorses like Cronin and Sarvas. Finding linking passes in the channels is a key to a one-forward system, and while the hold-up play of said forward is imperative, equally important is the movement from the midfield.
Another key is having a man “in the hole” to become a menacing force going forward, this player will most likely be Powers or Torres (pending forward options). Sitting in the hole is the term for placing an attacking midfielder in the space between the midfielders and the backline. This will often – against a four-man backline – force one of the Fullbacks to pinch all the way into the hole, leaving width for wide players to open up the play. This can be countered by having a CDM drop into the hole as a way to man-mark the player, but this does force the opposition to have more players back, hindering the team offensively. Powers is extremely good at finding the hole, receiving the pass, and finding a through-ball or a way to link into the attack.
How Sarvas and Cronin are to be used, is still to be seen, but we know they will not stop moving and finding space for passes. I expect the channels to be worked extensively with these three, but do they all play together? I doubt it. I truly hope that Powers is not the odd-man-out in this scenario, but with so many midfielders of quality, it will be difficult to keep them all happy.
Depth chart for midfielders, in my opinion:
CDM – Lucas Pittinari; Sam Cronin; Nick LaBrocca; Dillon Powers; Traffic Cone; Jared Watts.
CM – Marcelo Sarvas; Dillon Powers; Sam Cronin; Marlon Hairston
AM – Vicente Sanchez (he’s listed as a forward, but…); Juan Ramirez; Dillon Serna; Deshorn Brown; Carlos Alvarez.
What can I say about the forwards; they were poor in 2014. Not “Colorado’s defense” poor, but the leading goal scorer (Deshorn Brown) had 10 goals, and the next player had 6 (mostly from PKs). One might say: “10 goals? That’s not so bad.” I would counter that by saying that Brown took 121 shots to reach that 10; of which, only 49 were on goal. That number is not horrible, but when one looks at the rest of the team’s shots, it is abundantly clear that he was shooting far too much, comparatively, and he was inaccurate. One thing I can say about Brown is that he is fearless, which is good, but he also does not pass the ball particularly well. While I have been moaning about his lack of vision for the pass since he came here, I have not seen much improvement in this regard. I read an article recently that outlined the stats mentioned, and were applauding Brown and stating that he will be a breakout star. I honestly laughed when I read this article. If Brown gets more goals this season than last season, and/or becomes a break-out star, I will be thoroughly surprised. While the stats can be fun to look at, and can be relatively insightful, they do not replace what the eyes can see from a player. What I have seen from him has been backed up by the stats: he is not that good of a player. I will go on record to say that he will not be a good player in this, or any, league unless he begins to learn how to play the game correctly. Defining the correct way for him to play forward really isn’t that hard; find space, play on the shoulder of the CBs, find players in a better position than you, do not be wasteful with possession, and finish the play. Brown does have his moments, but he is far too inconsistent to be a lone striker and he doesn’t possess the ball that well. He is, however, fantastic at using his body and speed to exploit defensive weaknesses. The only issue with that is he is not a very good finisher. I realize he isn’t the only forward on this team, and he did not get much help last season, but I would be surprised if he starts over a fit Gabriel Torres. Having gone to “fat camp” last season, the first Designated Player (DP) in the team’s history, Gaby Torres, has shown some verve in his play this preseason. One can only assume that is the reason we signed him in the first place, but he barely cracked the lineup last season, so who knows what he will bring. With players like Vicente Sanchez, Gaby Torres, and Juan Ramirez, we should be a much more fluid, creative, and crafty side this season. Whether any of those things lead to goals is YTD. When a manager begins looking at the upcoming season, s/he should be asking where the goals for the team are going to come from; I am not sure Pablo has any idea. Looking at the roster, I can basically say Torres will increase his total, Serna maybe, as well, but who else is going to score? Is brown going to get 15+? Not a chance. This team needs a striker and quickly.
Forward depth chart: Gaby Torres; Vicente Sanchez; Deshorn Brown; Dominique Badji; Chuck Eloundou; Caleb Calvert.
Having explained all this information in a very doom and gloom type of way, I would be hard-pressed to think they are going to do well this season.
On our Total MLS roundtable, I stated that the Rapids will not make the playoffs. Nothing has changed on that front. I think this team is going to be the 8th or 9th team in an incredibly difficult conference.
With Pablo as this team’s coach, if he maintains the same philosophies and methods of play, I don’t think this team will ever make the playoffs. Should he learn how to manage a team and a game, and he may just be able to (we all know he is a great leader), this team could make the playoffs. Truthfully, as a supporter, I really want this team to do well, I just think Pablo’s ineptitude will stand in this club’s way.
What do you think? Leave me comments and questions in the comments section or find me on Twitter @ProtectYourNet
(image courtesy of coloradorapids.com)