I’m not going to rehash the Rapids seventh straight defeat this past week at DSGP. There’s nothing new in it that I didn’t reflect on last week in an article entitled ‘The Stupidity is Killing us’.
Did an otherwise talented soccer player make a boneheaded mistake?
Jack Price went for a ball and pulled up so as not to clatter into Edgar Castillo, giving it away on the break and resulting in a goal.
Did a center back come up in attack alongside both fullbacks, exposing the backline to 2v2 situations?
Both Vancouver goals came on counter-attacks on 2v2 situations.
Did our center backs let us down?
Was this the same game plan as the last seven game: bring up a center back in attack, use the midfielders to play combos with the wings?
With one twist: the Rapids pumped in a lot of crosses this game to Badji’s head. I’m not opposed to that idea - it can work if you simultaneously defend staunchly. The Rapids, of course, did not defend staunchly.
Anyhow, we need an error-free game with some new wrinkles to the game plan to merit me saying anything new about the team’s tactics or faults. Vancouver was not that.
So let’s talk about Nashville SC instead
This evening the Colorado Rapids begin their US Open Cup campaign against Nashville SC, a brand new USL team that will soon be an MLS team. They have tremendous support, an excited fan base, and have enjoyed great success this year, with a 5-2-4 record that has them sitting sixth in the 16 team USL Eastern Conference. In other words, they are a team the Rapids can envy.
They are also a team that will be familiar to old-school Rapids fans. Their coach, Gary Smith, won MLS Cup with Colorado in 2010 before being fired at the end of 2011 after a well-publicized kerfuffle with then Technical Director Paul Bravo and Managing Director Jeff Plush. Their starting right back is Kosuke Kimura, a member of the Rapids from 2007 to 2012. Their starting keeper, Matt Pickens, was the Rapids goalie from 2009 to 2014. That’s 357 matches between the three of them for the Colorado Rapids, which is pretty close to the number of games of every single player combined on the current roster. So for you oldheads, this game’ll be emotionally confusing.
I scouted this team for another other soccer outlet for whom I write, PittsburghSoccerNow.com, and filed this report. Most of that still applies, but a few things have changed over the course of the season that I can add. Nashville like to come out in either a 5-3-2 or 4-4-2. They are a solidly built team full of MLS veterans like former 2017 Minnesota United players Justin Davis and Ismaila Jome, as well as a bunch of strong USL players. They don’t care too much to possess the ball, but I wouldn’t call them a counter-attacking team either. At home, they tend to play the ball up the flanks with medium and short passes, and don’t resort to the long-ball often. Their central midfielders are more concerned with defensive responsibilities than getting into the attack. On offense, their strikers Lebo Molota and Ropapa Mensah are similar to Dominique Badji in that they are fast, physical, and capable of playing through on a run or with their backs to goal. If they want to be conservative, Nashville could choose to start Tucker Hume up top instead. At 6’5”, 205 lbs, Hume is a big boy, and he can clear space in the box for himself and created matchup problems - he’s like the William ‘Refridgerator’ Perry of target strikers. Nashville can elect to just put everyone behind the ball except Hume and fire crosses or long balls at his head.
Nashville also have the Colorado Rapids second round pick of the 2018 Superdraft Alan Winn, who buried this spectacular Cruyff-cut-and-finish-with-his-left-foot in week four in a game where Nashville beat Charlotte 2-0.
Many of the attacks start with Kimura. He’s calm on the ball and makes great passes, either simple square balls or dangerous and teasing through balls. Kimura picking out Molota on a run, in space, or over the top is a constant danger that Colorado should be wary of.
On the Rapids side, they are almost sure to start some of their reserves in this match. I expect the starting lineup to look like this:
So, it's a mix of tired starters and bench players that haven't seen a lot of action.
I like that lineup. I think Azira and Serna are first rate players that deserve a chance to shine. However, it may not be enough. Based on the three Nashville SC matches I’ve seen this year, Nashville are a very strong USL side. They are playing at home in their first ever Open Cup match. I would expect the crowd to be large and excited, and for the former MLS players on Nashville to be highly motivated to play at the top of their game. Gary Smith may not be facing down any of his former foes from the front office; the only familiar face from the old days will be Assistant Coach Conor Casey. I still think Smith will have put in extra effort in preparation of this game, and will be out for blood. This game has ‘cupset’ written all over it, unfortunately. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm bracing for impact here, folks.
The State of Soccer Writing A few years ago I wrote a piece about the sorry state of professional soccer writing. It was a scathing critique, and laid bare a lot of dirty laundry from inside the soccer writing world. Ultimately, the higher-ups at SBNation took a look at it and decided it wasn’t suitable to run on my old site, Burgundy Wave. But I’ve been sitting on that idea for a long while now, and conversations I had with soccer writers has made me think that it’s worth mentioning.
With the dual struggles of the Colorado Rapids and the Denver Post, the state of soccer writing in Colorado is at an all-time low in my time here. The Post used to cover Rapids games with reporters like Nick Groke, John Mayer, or Daniel Boniface. But towards the end of last season, and again this year, the Post is no longer covering the team. The last few home games have been reported via short, un-illuminating Associated Press wire reports. Groke is now with The Athletic; Mayer is on another beat; Boniface has been promoted off of the sports desk to Digital Director at the Post.
The other writers who cover the Rapids are a small-but-hearty crew of folks who a) love soccer and b) pay their bills with another job, or two, or three. Matt Pollard of Last Word on Soccer is an exceptional journalist and know-it-all who is a full-time Environmental Engineer. Abbie Mood of Burgundy Wave is a site and content editor for multiple other organizations. Marco Cummings of MLSSoccer.com and ProSoccerUSA works the leasing desk at an apartment complex. I’m a part-time synagogue rabbi who, at one point this year, made my living through three side-gigs at once.
There’s not a lot of demand for soccer writing in Colorado, and there’s very little pay. Take whatever amount you think any of the outlets above that I mentioned pays per 500 or 1000 words. Now cut it in half. Now cut it in half again. That’s probably what it pays. It’s not enough to make a living on; it’s barely enough to justify showing up to training; getting an interview; transcribing an interview; or asking a hard-but-fair question to a surly, tired professional soccer player who earns in 15 seconds of playing what a soccer writer earns all year. When any of us writes a long, thoughtful, well researched piece on the Colorado Rapids, it's because we love this team, and because we are moderately insane.*
There’s also a brutal vicious cycle to the whole situation. MLS as a league is dependent on good, quality, independent journalism in order to get more exposure. But it doesn’t get that exposure, because so few good writers can earn any money covering MLS. I don’t presume to know how to fix it, but it’s a problem, and most recently, it feels like MLSsoccer.com is following the herd of Fox Sports and other outlets in cutting back on the written word while pivoting to video.
With the dissolution of the Post, the pivot-to-video in much of the soccer journalism world, the failure of the USMNT** to qualify for the World Cup, and with the struggles of the Rapids in specific, local prospects in soccer writing are not good at all. It’s a field where you write and grind for months or years because you love it, with a faint hope that maybe, if you get good at it, and you become an expert, maybe there’s a tiny chance for a future. But realistically, there’s probably not. Out of several hundred soccer writers in the US, maybe one or two of them will ever make it out of obscurity and into a stable, full time job. For every Grant Wahl, Ives Galarcep, and Steven Goff, there are about 100 men and women who can’t figure out if driving for Uber is their side-hustle to being a soccer writer, or being a soccer-writer is a side-hustle to their real job at Uber.
That all said, I think that the creation of The Athletic has the potential to significantly aid the situation. Their new soccer division added Paul Tenorio, Matt Pentz, Will Parchman, and Cesar Hernandez. It has great potential to elevate the writing on the sport in a way that would improve coverage, and put pressure on other outlets to pay for writing, or expect to not find writers.
When I was a kid growing up in LA, the Dodgers were my favorite team. They were on broadcast television maybe twelve times a year: if you wanted to see them play, you bought a ticket. If you wanted to follow the Dodgers, you read the Los Angeles Times. And so, from the age of 11 until I was in my mid-twenties, I read in order to know my team. Jim Murray and JA Adande and TJ Simers and Bill Shaikin and Bill Plaschke taught me a tremendous amount, but they also painted pictures and entertained and gave opinions and told stories that made me love the game of baseball and my local team. There needs to be investment in quality soccer writing, in order for soccer to continually gain favor in the United States. Just as much as we need to produce the American Messi by spreading the game far and wide, we must also produce the American Eduardo Galeano.
In a small way, you can help. Subscribe to a newspaper you like that has soccer coverage. Subscribe to The Athletic. Subscribe to Howler Magazine. Don’t complain so much about the lack of quality or quantity in your local MLS team’s coverage - it’s worth far more than it’s being compensated for. Follow soccer writers on twitter. Re-post and re-tweet good bits of writing on your social media. Grow the game of football in American by spreading the writing on the game of football. We - the players, the teams, MLS, the fans, and the writers - we’ll all in this together.
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*Fans of the Colorado Rapids who have suffered through the ups and downs of this club are also, like the club's writers, moderately insane. We're less a football club than a sanitarium at this point.
** I should explain this. American interest in soccer, and in MLS, grows every four years around the World Cup. Not having the USMNT at the World Cup has done irreparable damage to this effort, setting soccer backwards. Less interest in soccer means less interest in soccer writing. Fewer clicks and fewer subscriptions means fewer paid soccer writers.
*** Yes, the title of this column is a reference to a Nirvana song from 1993. I am old.