Colorado Rapids

Colorado Rapids 2019 Season Preview by Benjamin Bellman

Folks, this is what a re-build looks like. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park might as well have had a “Pardon Our Dust” sign posted at the ticket office every home match, and the only good thing about the Colorado Rapids’ 2018 season is that it’s over. Still, 2018 was not wasted by the club, with players joining and leaving the roster all year. In many ways, this was the “game” that fans, including myself, have really been paying attention to. Head coach Anthony Hudson and GM Padraig Smith certainly had their work cut out for them a year ago, and it’s clear that this was always going to be a multi-year process, especially given the two bloated Designated Player contracts expiring at the end of 2019.

The Rapids are poised for an interesting 2019 season as the roadies for Tim Howard’s Magical Retirement Tour. They won’t (and shouldn’t!) be on anyone’s playoff prediction lists, but they’ll be a sleeper pick by a couple experts (pump Bobby Warshaw’s takes directly into my veins). Now that seven teams from each conference get a playoff game, Colorado should strive to be in the hunt all year, and given the crapshoot that is MLS, there’s no reason to say they can’t make it. But playoffs or not, Rapids fans would be truly pleased with some wins, some goals, and some talented young players to carry the team into a new decade.

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Our Favorite ASA Articles of 2018 by Drew Olsen

During a recent American Soccer Analysis shareholders meeting in the penthouse suite of the swanky hotel we built in Minecraft (it’s our Slack channel), we discussed our favorite ASA articles of the past year. Because it is the season of listicles and we relish every chance to talk about ourselves, we decided to put them all together in one official post. Also, our site traffic is essentially zero at this time of year, so it seemed like an easy way for us to remember where we put them.

It was a great year for MLS (though perhaps not American soccer overall) and the most successful in our five year life as a website. We added interactive tables, introduced xPG, rebooted the podcast (new episode coming out soon! …probably), and added a lot of great new writers to our existing ranks of stale old writers. They’re not all represented in the list below, but special shout out to our weekly contributors who put together content every week - Little Things (@harrisonhamm21), Lowered Expectations (@harrison_crow), Expected Narratives (@ahandleforian), and Setting the Table (@ericwsoccer) - showed us the individual plays each week that made up the whole of the MLS season. We’d also like to extend a special thank you to Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, for including us as a part of the WaPo’s incredible World Cup coverage.

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Reshaping The Game: How Fran Taylor is Using New Tools to Build a Better Team by Mark Asher Goodman

Taylor, the 29-year-old Assistant General Manager for the Colorado Rapids, joined the team in January of this year to bolster the data-driven team of Padraig Smith in trying to use numbers to build a better soccer club. While baseball and basketball teams have adopted advanced metrics to try and divulge information that will give their club a competitive edge in their respective sports, soccer is still finding its way in the moneyball era. Newly discovered numbers are illuminating the game, but only in the hands of those who know what to look for.

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Colorado Rapids 2017 Season Preview by Benjamin Bellman

Apart from the mid-season miracle of Nicholas Lodeiro’s arrival in Seattle, the Colorado Rapids were surely the biggest turnaround in MLS in 2016. Pablo Mastroeni’s first two years as head coach saw the Rapids finishing in 9th and 10th in the Western Conference. But after a flurry of offseason moves, Colorado finished 2nd in the West and league tables, competing with FC Dallas for the Supporter’s Shield until the very last week. New Designated Players Shkelzen Gashi and Tim Howard, and bonus pick up Jermaine Jones, helped cement a team culture and identity consistent with Mastroeni’s reputation of sacrifice and grit, and the Rapids didn't lose at home in 2016 until the Western Conference Championship.

While the Rapids were far more successful than last year, their tactics didn't change dramatically. The 2016 Rapids rank among the best defenses in league history, giving up 32 goals against, fewer than one goal per game. (And consider that five happened all in one game!) A mix of old and new-comers solidified Mastroeni’s vision. Axel Sjoberg earn his place as a finalist for Defender of the Year. Michael Azira, a Sounders cast-off, made a perfect match to Sam Cronin as a pair of dominant defensive midfields also dangerous in springing counter attacks. Offensively, the Rapids capitalized on opponents’ mistakes, quick breaks, and flashes of brilliance from across the roster. Gashi also scored an outrageous number of outrageous goals. Still, the Rapids only produced 39 goals from 37.47 xG (20th in MLS), tying the Dynamo for second-fewest. Yet no team let in fewer goals than the Rapids, who allowed fewer than one per game (32 goals against on 41.91 xGA, 4th in MLS). This team is defined by its defense, and after this offseason it’s clear that won’t change in 2017.

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ASA First Touch: Colorado's waste of resources by ASA Staff

Finally, the Secretary of Defense is home. Though the game ended in the dreaded 0-0 tie, Tim Howard’s debut with the Rapids was surely the biggest storyline of the week. When his signing was originally announced, there was no doubt he would take over immediately as the starter, but it did create a tremor of controversy.  Are the Rapids really best served by changing their goalkeeper after letting in the fewest goals of any team after 16 games?

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: COLORADO RAPIDS by Drew Olsen

Looking back at the Colorado Rapids 2015 season is a task that should only be done only under duress. A second year under coach Pablo Mastroeni and the addition of Kevin Doyle and Marcelo Sarvas had supporters cautiously optimistic about the season. Instead, the 37 points they earned in the regular season was worst in the Western Conference, and tied them with NYCFC and Philadelphia as 2nd worst in MLS last season.

The new additions underwhelmed, but blame for the failed season doesn’t fall squarely on them. The team never really threatened to be a contender in the Western Conference, and the front office continues to confound. But that doesn’t mean the organization isn’t changing things. Though rumors they were looking to sign USMNT players Alejandro Bedoya and Tim Howard and fell through, there has still been plenty of change. As of this writing, nine new players have been added in 2016, while 15 players have been sold or let go.  A newer, younger, philosophical style is being implemented. Whether it will be successful is still hard to determine.

See our breakdown after the jump:

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How to fix the Colorado Rapids by 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.

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The Weekend Kick-Off: New York City FC To Play With Fire; Hoping Not To Get Burned by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

This season started off with Chicago being a punch line. They looked bad against LA and were arguably worse against Vancouver a week later. They were not aesthetically pleasing and their new star Shaun Maloney wasn't doing much to inspire visions of a team turn around.

Nearly five weeks later the team has back-to-back wins and Maloney is not looking as bad (sporting an xG+xA of .81). Shockingly enough, Chicago isn't the dumpster fire it once was. There may even be enough pieces with the return of Mike Magee to make a push for a playoff spot.

I'm not trying to get ahead of myself; there are still 29 more matches to play. Chicago could still be a bad team but there is something about having either an above average defense or offense that presents a complicated variable.

Chicago might be a mess defensively (1.40 xG against) but their attack has all sorts of interesting pieces. Harry "don't call me Harrison" Shipp is perhaps one of the most interesting American attacking pieces in Major League Soccer. Kennedy Igboananike is very quietly having a strong first year. Quincy Amarikwa is still doing his thing as perhaps the most under-appreciated striker in MLS, and Joevin Jones has been a nice little pick-up too.

The sum of the team has melded to make a greater whole than the individuals. We'll see this weekend if their success can continue.

Whereas Chicago has been defeated by their poor and mistake prone defense, it's been New York City's moments without David Villa on the ball that has been their downfall. Villa has been worth just about every penny. The problem has been outside of Villa. They've gotten league average assistance from his trio of strike partners Khiry Shelton, Adam Nemec and Patrick Mullins. But inconsistent creation from the midfield and a defense that is still trying to get on the same page has created problems.

Mikkel Diskerud has shown moments of brilliance between his slick passes and curling shots finding holes for goals. But he's still working through adjustments to the league and he's perhaps not the pure creator that Jason Kreis or NYC needs. Maybe Frank Lampard will be that person, and maybe not. Maybe it will take the summer transfer window to acquire that player.

Right now, New York City boasts a defense that has pieces and talent but somehow hasn't yet translated that to being successful. Currently averaging 1.40 xG against and standing 15th overall, the  scary thing is that their PDO is sitting around 987, right near the normal resting heart rate of a club. In other words, they probably are what they are as a team. I'm sure they'll have some ups and downs through the season, but without limiting the shots this club isn't going to really take that step.

They already found out that backup striker Tony Taylor is out for the season. Should NYC loose out on Villa tonight, and that's the current rumor going around, they will have to not only figure out how to make up the difference in his ability to create and score goals but hold to bay a team that actually has a decent attack of their own.

The real outcome of this match will boil down to whose defense holds. Will Sean Johnson show up for this match and can Josh Saunders continue to be an above average keeper? This season is still young and while a single game hardly defines the destiny of a season, I suspect these two clubs will be dancing around each other through the season in the standings.

Tonight, for mostly obvious reasons, I'm taking the Chicago Fire for all three points. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if their defense collapsed and a draw was a result but either way I shade in the Fire's direction of earning points.

FANTASY PERSPECTIVE

Chicago Fire

Harrison Shipp (Selected 26.1%, Cost $7.9)
There are few entertaining and redeeming qualities about the Fire and Shipp is one and perhaps all of them at the same time. I can't imagine that his cost is going to stay suppressed for much longer if he keeps putting together the goal scoring opportunities for his strikers and finding the back of the net himself.

Lovel Palmer (Selected 12.3%, Cost $5.9)
There are few players in MLS as versatile as Palmer which translates to more minutes because of it. He'll never be an individual that puts together huge games in terms of points. But it'll be consistent point allotment from match to match and in MLS Fantasy that's a huge quality to be find.

New York City FC

David Villa (Selected 20.3%, Cost $10.3)
The 33-year old Spaniard looks out this week so he probably doesn't impact fantasy this week but looking down the range, once he heats up, he'll be the best striker in MLS. Write it down.

Mix (Selected 10.9%, Cost $9.1)
This is one of those occasions that I don't get the price relative to the production that an owner is going to get. There are a lot of people that bought into him early (probably due to the pairing of Villa) and kind of got burned. He's a player that we're still learning about because we didn't have a lot of concrete data on him. I think he still has a bright future with the US and in MLS.

THE WEEKEND MATCH-UPS

(expected goal differential in even game-states)

Saturday

Dallas FC (0.04) @ Colorado Rapids (-0.20)
Prediction: Draw

Philadelphia Union (-0.03) @ Columbus Crew SC (0.29)
Prediction: Columbus

Real Salt Lake (-0.37) @ New England Revolution (0.32)
Prediction: New England

Sporting KC (0.78) @ Houston Dynamo (-0.18)
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City

Sunday

DC United (-0.49) @ Vancouver Whitecaps (0.00)
Prediction: Whitecaps

LA Galaxy (0.08) @ New York Red Bulls (-0.01)
Prediction: Draw

Toronto FC (-0.46) @ Orlando City SC (0.13)
Prediction: Draw

Portland Timbers (0.22) @ Seattle Sounders FC (0.86)
Prediction: Draw

 

NERD IMAGERY

How Data Changes My View of MLS or a Frank Exploration of Luck in Dallas by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)\

As I made my way to Toyota Stadium on Friday night I was concerned about just making it to the game on time. The traffic was horrendous and it was my first time driving around Frisco that collectively dragged my pace of getting to the park and was the reason I was walking up to the gate as fire works were set off and the National Anthem finished.

I stood just outside the south gate waiting for my ticket to arrive as Dominique Badji scored the Rapids first goal of the season and I felt a sense of validation in thinking that this was going to be a game that Colorado could be competitive and challenge for full points leaving Texas as I had implied with my post Friday morning.

It wasn't that I thought Dallas was a bad team as I wrote about them. I think Dallas is a very good team even after that beating, and I'm pretty certain they'll make the playoffs out of a very stacked and competitive Western Conference. The problem is that prior to Friday night they had the second highest PDO in Major League Soccer, a metric that is a measurement of luck based upon finishing and save percentage.

FC Dallas had scored a total of eight goals as a team behind the contributions of Blas Perez with three, Tesho Akindele just behind him with two and Fabian Castillo trailing with just one. Those three are what is going to drive the Dallas bus to success, just as the trio did last season, and though goals will come from other sources these are three that you can point to as "the guys".

The problem is that all three have been scoring goals with a much higher efficiency than what we'd seen previously from them. Now from what we've learned about scoring rates is pretty basic; they've had maniac highs and depressive lows. Even with the number of quality chances they're gotten, as described by our expected goal metric, it's not something that we could reasonably expect to continue. Again, not because they don't have fantastic goal scorers or that those players are of a lesser quality to the rest of the league. There are few players in the world that can score at their current rates.

Their high PDO meant that if the volume of Dallas' shots didn't change, they weren't going to continue to scoring goals.

Likewise, Colorado was riding a similar wave of eventual regression.

While Dallas had a high PDO, Colorado had a very low one (956, tied for second lowest in MLS) that was largely driven by their complete lack of goals across 48 shots. Yes, 48 shots without a goal. They should have, by our own measurements, scored four goals by the time they arrived to play FC Dallas this week and instead were sitting on a goose egg. Few teams can take near 50 shots over any given time frame during the season from the attacking third and come up that empty.

Just for a bit of applied science; over the past five seasons only two players have taken more than 48 shots and not scored a goal: Juninho for the Galaxy in 2014 and Kalif Alhassan for the Timbers in 2011. Based on shot leverage we can tell that Juninho was shooting from long distance and wasn't finding a lot of good chances. Likewise, being that he only scored five goals through 94 matches and is now playing in the NASL, it's possible Alhassan does not possess the finishing skills required from most goal scorers at the MLS level.

I'm not trying to say that it was certain Colorado was going to win a game or even score a goal.  Dallas could have very well done things different and there is luck to account for, too. Don't think for a second that shots like Dillon Serna's happen every week, there is a reason why it was special. The shot could have gone either wide or high and I'm a bit surprised that Walker Zimmerman didn't get a boot on it. Most players across soccer LEAGUES (not just MLS) convert those shots into goals in less than three percent of opportunities.

Colorado's eruption was mind blowing in the sense that I didn't expect them to score four goals, blow off the doors and leave Dallas with a clean sheet and all the points. But it's not as though I didn't think it couldn't happen either. That's the thing about all of this; we aren't trying to get a high definition picture of the future or to take the beauty out of anything, but instead it's to give the accomplishment context and measurement while understanding why it could have happened and if we should continue to expect it to happen.

Colorado isn't a team that I'm convinced is going to be anything great. They're probably at very best a 5th or 6th playoff seed if their defense holds up all the way through, which is another topic entirely. Likewise, Dallas has the attacking pieces to continue to beat their expected goal parameters and a top-3 seed isn't out of question. But if they either can't create more opportunities or continue to finish chances at a high rate, their regression may continue.

Weekend Kick-Off: Dallas Luck, Rapids Unlucky. by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

This week I come to you live from Dallas. I love Friday night soccer so much that I had to go and finally experience one with one of the hottest teams in MLS... the Colorado Rapids. Okay, maybe not. But perhaps still an interesting matchup. If you're at the game make sure you say, "hi". Good luck, because I'm in Waldo land.

Colorado and Dallas are connected by two primary memories; an odd MLS Cup match-up of two Western Conference teams in 2010 hosted in Canada, and the defection of Óscar Pareja. While the MLS Cup contest was largely considered to be a snooze-fest, the return of Pareja to Dallas through basically forcing the Rapids hands was a crazy, awkward, and a bit surprising too.

Now Pareja's once high flying Rapids attack have turned a defensive cheek under the guise of club legend and mustache aficionado Pablo Mastroeni. Despite controlling only 48% of the ball per match, Colorado have managed to turn limited opportunities into the third best possession ratio in the attacking third in MLS. That is to say, they complete more passes in the final third than their opponent by a significant margin.

They also create more shots than their opponents, with better shot position according to their expected goal differential. They clearly haven't done this in an ascetically pleasing manner, and their inability to score is downright shocking, but it's possible this Rapids team isn't as bad as envisioned nor the current narrative being passed down.

Dallas has also been a formidable side after once again a strong start the season and, just like deja vu, they are doing so without the creative production of Argentinian midfielder Mauro Diaz, who has missed time for a few different reasons. While I think the majority of supporters would love to see Diaz return to the lineup, the club's two points per game pace without him is impressive, and sets them on the path towards a strong season with Supporter Shield-like ambitions. It also gives hope that his return might catapult the club that much further.

Still, I would advise a bit of tempering going forward. While the joke surrounding FC Dallas the last couple years has been the "collapse" that comes with the end of Spring and the launch of the Summer campaign, this season we might see some problems ahead based off of three sets of numbers. Their PDO, TSR and of course their expected goal differential.

PDO - a predictive metric that is based off both finishing percentage and save percentage, which tends to regress to the 1000 level is floating a bit high at this point.

TSR - Total Shot Ratio lends credence to PDO, showing that they've been out-shot to this point in the season.

xGD - Expected Goal Differential works a bit in their favor. Despite surrendering more shots than their opponents, they've primarily found better position and with that a high probability of shot success which might explain some of their PDO. However, it's still only 10th best in MLS and, again, could point towards a fall back into the Western Pack.

While most are probably preparing for a 1-0 or even 2-0 game in Dallas favor, I wouldn't be surprised to see some opportunities fall in Colorado's favor to include the result. I'm not a huge fan of selling off Deshorn Brown but if that couldn't have been helped, as is some portion of the story being told, the primary concern at this point is the gap that stands between his departure and new DP striker, Kevin Doyle. But the team still possesses the attacking talents of Dillon Powers, Juan Ramírez and Vincente Sanchez. All are strong enough weapons to create chances and maybe find the back of goal. Oh and Gabby Torres, he's still there... *check's Colorado Rapids active roster* Oh, yep, he's still there too.

Or maybe Fabian Castillo and Blas Perez could just destroy everything. Either/or or perhaps neither seems conceivable.

 

FANTASY PERSPECTIVE:
 

Colorado Rapids

Axel Sjoberg  (owned 32.7% - worth $4.7)
A value buy in the defense, this hulking man has taken up starts in lieu of the injuries and international call-ups this past year. He did not play the previous two games and I'm not sure he'll play this weekend, but he's a great reserve guy to have for a team that typical boasts defensive posture by nature.

Dominique Badji (owned 23.4% - worth $4.4)
Badji is a speedy winger drafted this off-season by Colorado that's kind of creepy in the "dating a new girlfriend that looks kind of like your old ex-girlfriend" sort of way in a post Deshorn Brown world. As a fantasy selection he's cheap which has garnered a bunch of manager selections and seen minutes in all four Rapids games this season making him all that more valuable.

My biggest qualm with Badji and something to be advised about, he has only collected .31 expected goals scored from three total shots through his 202 minutes on the pitch this year. To put that in perspective, Cyle Larin has 101 minutes and collected .71 expected goals scored off five shots. Add that to Luke Shelton taking his spot in the 18, and he might not see so much time on the pitch in the not so distant future.

FC Dallas

Chris Seitz (owned 22.5% - worth $5.1)
Sietz has, according to our data, shown to be worth a whole goal better than the average keeper during the course of his time between the posts for Dallas. Which is saying something considering the "reactive" nature and the amount of shots they've allowed thus far into the season.

Ryan Hollingshead - (owned 19.6% - worth $5.5)
The former UCLA talent has come back to the states from helping his brother build churches and become the much needed answer for "what happens when Mauro Diaz goes missing" with .50 expected assists in 307 minutes. Making him a great bench value pick.

FRIDAY NIGHT'S WATCHABILITY SCORE:

This week we added in another factor into our watchability score: possession. The idea behind that is simple: the fewer possessions, or fewer turnovers and attrition you tend to have, the more ascetically pleasing a match is to watch. This addition and a slight tweak in combining helps put this on a basic 5-100 scale which makes everything a bit easier to digest and consume.

Next week I'll put up another survey asking you to rank your favorite games of the week and then we'll compare it to the Watchability Score and hopefully it will iron out the kinks. I will say that we need more than the 11 participants of last week seven of which voted for the Sounders match being the most entertaining. Which has me asking if people just ranked it first because it was their favorite team or if it was an entertaining game. I point this out specifically because it ranked last in our scale last week. Also, did you see that Sporting v Union game? I mean, c'mon.

THE WEEKEND MATCH-UPS:

Saturday:

Columbus Crew SC (0.25) at New England Revolution (0.46) - WS: 54
After a huge mid-week draw against a surging Vancouver, and short Federico Higuian, the Crew take on a Revolution side that might have Kelyn Rowe trying to be this years verison of Lee Nguyen ranking 5th in xG+xA. Prediction: Revolution Win.

New York City (-0.35) at Philadelphia Union (-0.03) - WS: 45
The scale see's this as a better than average game to watch and with David Villa out there I have to believe that's a good call. That said both teams have been rather a bit lack luster this season. Prediction: Draw

New York Red Bulls (-0.34) at DC United (-0.81) - WS: 37
Rivalries are fun and this one is no exception, not even considering the extenuating circumstances the scale has this game as the top game to watch this week. Prediction: Draw

Montreal Impact (-0.31) at Houston Dynamo (-0.45) - WS: 68
Houston play host to a team that is only the second ever MLS Club to qualify for a CCL final. Despite that I think is probably going to be one of the toughest games to actually sit through and watch. Prediction: Draw

Real Salt Lake (-0.34) at Sporting Kansas City (1.24) - WS: 57
It's only a matter of time before Sporting just has their big break. Our metrics don't just have them as the best team in MLS, it's not even close. Oh, and RSL just continues on messing with our models. ONE OF YOU, MAYBE BOTH, NEED TO QUIT MESSING WITH US! Prediction: Sporting Wins

Vancouver Whitecaps (0.42) at San Jose Earthquakes (-0.65) - WS: 50
Could this be the Whitecaps year? Maybe? Maybe this is the year the Earthquakes make a return to being relevant in that "we're really not that harmful" sort of way. Prediction: Whitecaps Win

Sunday:

Orlando City SC ( 0.28) at Portland Timbers (0.24) - WS: 51
Two very entertaining sides in this one. The scale is only at 51 on this but it's also the third lowest, read as: best, scores this week. Probably a great match to sit down and watch, if it goes south there is always that afternoon nap. Prediction: Timbers Win

LA Galaxy (0.40) at Seattle Sounders FC (.39) - WS: 60
This game is one that consists of two great, and in recent years, powerhouses. The stats still very much favor both teams as still being talked about in that top tier but their overall performances have lead fans to be a bit skeptical about the immediate future. Prediction: Draw

NERD IMAGERY

How Pablo Masteroni would look dancing after winning in Dallas this weekend. Things 'bout ready to get interesting up in here.