By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
There are certain times of the season that my soul just resonates with some supporters. Being a Seattle fan for the vast majority of my life, there have been very few opportunities to gloat about good things. The mid-90's Seattle Mariners... that never really won anything, the mid-90's Sonics... that no longer exist, and now the Seattle Sounders (I never grew up really following football so I don't count the Seahawks as their Superbowl win didn't mean anything to me).
The Rapids need something. Anything. This article by Matthew Perry, broke my heart as I could just relate so much to the tragedy of it all. Chris White, another writer over at Burgundy Wave, wrote another article that was a bit more in depth as to why they suck but another great read.
What I've learned through my years of frustration following bad teams is that at a certain point you get so close to the problem that you tend to lose focus. It's like trying to look at something when you need glasses and you just can't focus anymore because your eyes are exhausted from trying to bring everything into a clear picture. I feel like there are some simple solutions that if implemented and left alone (this is the vital part) could provide a long term solution for them losing so much.* So allow me to throw my hat into the ring and explain my brilliant plan to fix the Colorado Rapids.
STEP ONE: ENABLE THE PLAYMAKER - LET DILLON POWERS PLAY THE TEN.
Dillon Powers, 24 years old, was excellent his first season. Of late he's being shuffled off to a wing (when/if he plays at all) where he is so much less useful. He's dynamic in the middle of the park, pulling the strings and creating chances for his teammates while also making goals happen off his own right foot. My very first step would to let him continue to operate in this capacity.
His 13 assists and 10 goals in the first 5,500 minutes of his MLS career are not a fluke. He's having issues with poor touches this year as his unsettled touches have nearly doubled from 1.1 to 1.9 per 90 minutes. But considering that this is a much smaller sample size I have to believe this is due to being both shuffled around the field and the influx of new pieces surrounding him. Stabilize the environment and put him in the place he's most useful.
STEP TWO: FIX THE CENTRAL DEFENSE - LIVE/DIE WITH SHANE O'NEIL AT CENTER BACK, TRADE DREW MOOR AND PUT AXEL SJOBERG BACK INTO THE LINE-UP
I was going to make this like three different maneuvers and then realized that this is about one thing: fixing the backline. Not that the defense has been bad, they're probably one of the few redeemable things about this team, but they've used so many different pieces that it feels like some sort of weird malaise that is starting to cause issues and adding to their already growing issues. It needs to be stabilized both for the now and for the future.
Shane O'Neil is 21 and has over 4,000 MLS minutes. There is a need him to finally start to develop him fully and in a season that is pretty much a lost season (sorry, Colorado fans) this is a perfect opportunity. Let him sink or find out if he can swim. It would be a huge boon to this organization if the local boy can anchor your backline for the next four or five seasons before he goes to Europe.
Next, trade Drew Moor. Moor has maybe a year or two (at best) left in the tank. He's winning fewer and fewer of his duels the past two seasons and more and more of his playing time is spent on the sidelines with various injuries. If you trade him, you open up his cap space and with it can either grab a young prospect (maybe Dallas can part with Kelyn Acosta or Michael Barrios) or you figure out how to get some allocation or at worst an international roster spot.
Lastly, throw Axel Sjoberg in the newly cleared up defensive spot. He was one of the best defensive surprises this season and after getting injured he's found no time in the starting line-up because... Bobby Burling? No. Sjoberg > Burling, and allow Burling to fill in when/where necessary.
Colorado went crazy with defenders this year on the heels of not having enough last year. Now they have too many central defenders and because of the log jam they're rotating everyone through and it's preventing their best ones from getting the majority of the minutes. Trying to go with a hot hand approach is sort of like running from black jack table to black jack table looking for places that just hit 21 with the expectation their going to continue to hit 21. It's not going to happen and you're going to get some crazy inconsistent starts. You put your best foot forward, you use fewer and allow players to gel together in pre-defined roles.
It's the youngsters time and what money you have available by focusing on them you look at finding a Laurent Ciman/Mix Diskerud clones in the transfer market. Someone not yet 30 but projects to play up the spine, is an above average talent but don't take a DP contract. They're few, but as Fox Moulder would attest to, they're out there.
STEP THREE, STICKY GABBY TORRES OUT WIDE RIGHT--AND KEEP HIM THERE.
Gabby Torres hasn't had the greatest start to his MLS career and overall I think it's just taken him longer to adapt this is kind of what's caused him to be largely ineffective while growing into MLS (And, yes, he's still growing---Shane O'Neil has almost twice as many minutes in the past two seasons as Torres).
I think part of his continued success is that he's doing more by doing less. He's cut the amount of dribbles attempted in half which has subsequently cut his turnovers down and has increased his passes attempted and has been more helpful getting teammates better opportunities to score. Working out wide hasn't lowered his shots either averaging just a notch more shots per 90 minutes (also they're in better spots too). Keep Gabby wide right and allow him, Ramirez and Luis Solignac time to mesh and this attack is going to become dynamic. It's only a matter of time.
Additionally, not all things that Pablo has been doing are bad. Here are a few things I think Pablo needs to continue to do:
FIRST, AS SOON AS THE 70' MINUTE HITS SUB VINCENTE SANCHEZ.
I like that he's done this in about 10 games and I don't care if you are switching out Ramirez, Torres or Nick LaBrocca, you have to continue to try and get him on the field in the second half because he creates chances to win the game and keep the opponents on their toes. Sanchez is at a rough spot that he's not 90 minutes fit at this stage in his career. But 6 of the 13 shots he's managed to create in the 400 minutes afforded him have been inside the penalty area. How he doesn't have a goal I'm not sure but I can't imagine that streak continues. Push play and just let him do his thing.
SECOND, KEEP GIVING LUCAS PITTINARI MINUTES
Before we get ahead of ourselves let's make it clear; Pittinari is young and some what exciting but not Matias Laba, not Will Trapp and not Victor Ulloa. Lucas shows a lot of potential in that he's more than just a hard tackler and disruptor, though he's those things at times, but shows a propensity to provide outlet passes to streaking attackers averaging seven long ball passes per 90 minutes (good for 16th for central midfielders) and has the longest average pass length among his peers (23 and younger, midfield starters). He's had a few key passes but with continued success it's only a matter of time until those passes that create shots, start leading to goals and assists.
THIRD, CONTINUE TO START SOLIGNAC OVER DOYLE.
As I stated above I'm not a Rapids supporter. I didn't like the idea of Doyle coming into this team and he's done nothing yet to change my mind. I hope that Pablo continues to start Solignac and I hope he doesn't change just because Doyle is a designated player bought to get people to come out on known name that things might turn around.
Doyle is wrong for this attack. I can't see him really helping out on a sustainable basis. I think he may have two or three goals, maybe even more than five, but he's not the ten plus goal attack that's going to change their stars. He hasn't scored more than 10 goals in the EPL in the last six seasons, not only that he doesn't create a lot of shots and at least peripherally seems very dependent upon creation support. Maybe, Powers might be able to carry him with some opportunities but I'd prefer a more aggressive option in Solignac.
Personally, I feel Doyle was a desperate move by a desperate front office. If Pablo goes along with it his job is done (and to be fair, he may already be a dead man walking). I believe his best option is to hope that Solignac pans out and turns out to be as promising as he had hoped, score a lot of goals and look like a playoff contender for next season.
The real issues with Colorado aren't as simple as that they're just a bad team. I'm not sure how much I really believe they are a bad team so much as disjointed and very much scattered in many directions. I feel like bad is an oversimplification for the problems that exist. They've had some really good defensive performances this past year. Most of the trouble stems from a really inept attack and is the reason for their league lead in draws with nine.
Yes, they fall behind frequently and you can tell that from our expected goals in even game state stat where they rank second worst in MLS. But much of that is due to the fact that they have a bad offense that doesn't go at opponents until they are down. Looking at tied minutes per 90 Colorado sits 8th in MLS with 50 minutes per match. They mostly have ample opportunities to win the game or win points of some kind. But their attack is what lets them down.
They're 16th in expected goal differential which is to say they're not last. They've not performed well but I feel like it's only a matter of time before things start to go their way. Having people in the right positions only seems to further that possibility. Powers, O'Neil, Sjoberg, Torres, Ramirez, Pittinari and Solignac are a solid core of youngsters that have the potential to grow over the next year and evolve into a pretty formidable cast. But you have to keep those guys around and you have to give them time to meld together.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just pray that the front office doesn't decide just to blow that tunnel up and force a rebuild in the middle of an already pretty painful rebuild.