Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rocky Mountain Showdown

Courtesy of Colorado Rapids
This past Saturday marked the first leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup. There is no love-loss between the Rapids and RSL. To make matters worse, Colorado is winless in the last 6 cup showdowns. RSL is in sole possession of bragging rights.

Colorado starts the game with 4-3-3 (4-5-1) formation but a slight twist. Newcomer Martin Rivero gets 2nd straight start in mid-field. Pablo Mastroeni is still out with concussion symptoms so Drew Moor pushes up into the defensive midfield. The veteran, Tyrone Marshall gets the start in central defense.

Colorado had very little possession and a turnover early in the game led to a great shot by Will Johnson from 20 yards out. Matt Pickens had to be on his game to make the save. He was. Great effort and a great save.
RSL scores in the 20th minute off a cross from Beltran who found Alvaro Saborio in behind Kosuke Kimura. He controlled it off his chest for an easy finish. This will be a common theme throughout the day.  Pickens had no chance.  Colorado is down 1-0.

The first half was a one sided affair.  Possession by Colorado was scarce. The Rapids didn’t play bad, they just can’t hold the ball long enough to get anything started.

I can definitively say I am not a fan of the single striker and double defensive midfielder line-up. It is intended to allow the outside backs to move up and pressure the defense. However, if the midfield cannot hold the ball, it is not likely the backs will have the opportunities to advance up the field.

Fabian Espindola should have made it 2 -0. He put his breakaway shot wide. It was poor defending from Marvell Wynne, Kimura and Marshall. They did not account for the most dangerous person on the field after he had checked into the midfield to receive a pass. Pickens was obviously irritated at the back line and tried to light a fire under them. It didn’t seem to work because minutes later, Kyle Beckerman missed from the top of the eighteen. It was an absolute blast.

A few minutes later, Espindola was left wide open on the left hand side and flubbed another opportunity. Kimura was caught too far up the field. If this was later in the season and Espindola was in prime form, he might have tallied a hat-trick by now. I need to point out that Kosuke is out of position because he is pushing higher up the field to create something. A man can’t be in two places at once. If you are asking him to make runs, you cannot expect him to be in great positions when the ball is turned over.

The second goal was an interesting one. Fabian Espindola got away with a handball when he tried to take a ball down off his chest. Kimura was out of place again, as was Wynne. There was a bit of pinball action in front of Matt Pickens and a toe poke from Espindola (or Wynne) beat Pickens. Pickens is extremely livid at the referees for missing the handball. He gets a yellow card for his effort (announcer said it is for “leaving his area”). I enjoyed watching Espindola play. He is an aggressive, no quit kind of player, and he is only 26. Saborio and he might be the most underrated duo in MLS.

The Rapids are just being out played all over the field. To add to my earlier formation comment, you also cannot put a defender, Moor, and a defensive midfielder with limited offensive abilities in Jeff Larentowicz in the midfield and expect them to make magic with the soccer ball. One or the other would have been fine, but with both, you limit the creative play.

One of two real chances Colorado had was when Drew Moor missed a headed opportunity in the 71st minute. RSLs goalkeeper Nick Rimando is caught out of position by an Omar Cummings cross. Moor, who is a legitimate threat in the air, missed a yawning goal and put it just wide.

If you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned Omar prior to this, it is because he is again non-existent. Let me clarify, it is not due to a lack of effort. He is checking back, making runs and getting behind the defense. The problem lies in the fact that Colorado cannot possess the ball long enough and he is the only target upfront. I am sure the staff of the Rapids sees this as well. It has not been a problem when playing at home. They have had the majority of control with these games. This is the third away game with a similar.

The Rapids almost got one back in the 75th minute. Rivero’s free kick went off the crossbar and went over. Nick Rimando didn’t have that covered.

Kamani Hill, Colorado’s most recent acquisition, and rookie Tony Cascio were brought on as subs in this game and both played well. Colorado’s time on the ball increased significantly with them on the field. It was not enough to start the comeback, but maybe the Rapids have figured out a new lineup/depth chart to benefit the personnel.

Real Salt Lake will maintain the bragging rights for now, but there is a second leg to this match up at Dicks Sporting Goods Park in early August. Who will get the last laugh?

With this loss, Colorado falls to 3-2. Good enough to hold the third spot in the west. It is early in the season and my hopes and dreams are still very much intact. What makes this team look great at home, the movement, the control and the ability to play as a team, is the same thing that makes them look terrible on the road when they fail to utilize this style. The efforts on the road will need to match.

A story for another time: The lack of respect shown to MLS (soccer in general). This is a rivalry game and it is being shown on essentially “The Ocho”. It was on an random alternate channel with no option for high definition. For comparison, the Indian Cricket League - Twenty20 was on the next channel in HD.  The Rapids were bumped for the Avalanche game.

Ending on a high note…..On Tuesday, Marcelo Balboa was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. Congrats Celo!!!

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