The Colorado Rapids suffered their sixth loss in a row on Saturday, a 4-0 lashing at the hands of Seattle Sounders. Over that span, Colorado have been outscored 19 to 1. The team has effectively been blown out in every one of those games. Of course, there were stretches in each of those games where the game was still close - against LAFC and Portland, the Rapids kept a clean sheet in the first half - but really, this team has been offensively moribund for a month and a half. They’ve struggled to hold possession or play out of the back. The team isn’t recording many shots until after their opponent has a comfortable lead and can afford to sit back and bunker.
In other words, there’s nothing good to report.
If you came here looking for me to cheer you up, you might want to change the channel. This is going to be a bare-knuckle exposition on how bad things are, and how much worse its going to get before we see a light at the end of the tunnel.
How bad have things gotten?Let's go back through these last six games.
- Against Seattle, Colorado was held to 60% passing in the opponent’s half and only 8 shots.
Everything was terrible from start to finish, but especially the passing.
- Against Columbus, Colorado was held to 65% passing in the opponent’s half and only 3 shots.
This was the one game in which the Rapids scored in the past 50 days, and it came on the soccer equivalent of the ‘hidden ball trick’, as Shkelzen Gashi hit a free kick before Columbus had time to set up a wall.
- Against Atlanta, Colorado had 77% passing in the opponent’s half and 18 shots.
That sounds good! It’s not. That happened because Atlanta scored 3 goals in the first half, then conceded the ball for the final 45 minutes and bunkered into the box. As a result, the Rapids generated some real threats near the goal, but Atlanta had a gazillion defenders there to clear them or body up the attackers. Only 3 Rapids shots were on target all game, because our strikers are not very good at striking, and our midfield doesn’t find our strikers on the occasions when they do get into good positions.
- Against Portland, Colorado had 79% passing in the opponent’s half and 10 shots.
Not bad! That, however, is Portland’s MO - they like to concede possession and hit on the counter. As such, the Rapids had more passes in the game - 589 to 472 - but Portland far surpassed them in passes in their opponents attacking end - 335 to 286. Colorado out passed their opponent, but only in generally meaningless sideways passes. Portland made the dangerous, cutting pass, while Colorado did not. Portland took turnovers and rammed them down Colorado’s throat for an easy 2-0 win. Again, only 3 Rapids shots were on target all game because yadayada I just explained that.
- Against RSL, Colorado was held to 64% passing in the opponent’s half and only 4 shots.
RSL went up a man in the 8th minute and up 2 men right before the half as Niki Jackson and Nana Boateng were sent off, and Colorado lost at home to their most hated rivals 6-0 in what will rank as one of the team’s worst defeats, mathemateically and emotionally, in club history.
- Against LAFC, Colorado had a pretty good 77% passing in the opponent’s half and 11 shots.
This was a pretty good game for the Rapids, to be honest. But that’s because LAFC play with zero defensive midfielders and aren’t really trying to stifle you defensively. Their plan each week is to outscore you with their ridiculously talented offense and hope their backline can stop what they need to. And that’s just what they did to Colorado, winning 2-0.
To recap all six games - we’ve been blown out six times. The three games the offense and passing were good, it was because the opposing team went into a shell defense after going up. Consider that: if Atlanta, Portland and LAFC had kept pressing for goals, this 19 to 1 ratio might be even worse.
Over the last six games, the Colorado Rapids have lost every game, and were outscored 19 to 1.
- In 2014 Colorado had a six game run in which they went 0-4-2 and were beaten 19 to 6.
- In 2007 they went six games, losing five, by a collective score of 11 to 3.
- In 2001, they had an 0-4-2 stretch, losing those games 14 to 8.
In other words, in the Rapids entire history, there has never, ever been a six-game run as bad as this. Ever.
Tactical identityBesides the fact that the players on the team aren’t good enough; besides the fact that there is clearly a lack of confidence in the squad; besides the fact that the coaches’ plan from game to game is clearly off, there’s another problem, which is that the team has no tactical identity whatsoever.
The better teams in the league - Portland, Atlanta, LAFC, NYRB, and Sporting KC, all have a clear approach to the game, and I don’t just mean a formation. They have a style - counter-attacking, or possession, or firm-in-defense, or fluid and attacking. Hell, even the LA Galaxy and Vancouver have a more recognizable system, and they both fired their coaches last week.
The Rapids, on the other hand, have a stated goal to be more attacking, but no evidence of how they will go about it. At season’s outset, the team played a 5-3-2 formation that played longball. They liked to spring surprises by bringing up a CB in attack; they used Left Back Edgar Castilloin the final third, cutting in sometimes as something of a ghosting third forward. They would regularly bypass the midfield to play longball to the two forwards, letting the two of them operate in 2 v 2s. It worked some, and then it didn’t, and eventually Anthony Hudson switched to a 4-4-2 diamond with Kellyn Acosta as the key midfield shuttler.
And that worked for a few weeks too, as the team pinged one-touch passes across the midfield, shifting opposing defenses and opening up space for runners. And again, Edgar Castillo would swashbuckle across the field and pull opponents out of position, opening things up for the other six guys up in attack.
And for the last six games, what? It’s ten guys swinging the ball around with no particular plan. It’s three guys rushing forward at six well-spaced defenders. It’s getting caught, time and time again, in transition. It’s midfielders failing to mark up on late-runners into the box. It’s forward trying to occupy the back line in order to give midfielders space to work, and then those midfielders making terrible passes. I dunno what I’m looking at. It’s barely soccer at this point. It is far from what was promised by the team a year ago as they began to embark on a reboot. It is not soccer with “boldness and urgency”. It is not “explosive players”. It is not “line-breaking passes.” It is a flaming bag of doodoo. Yes, they can still discover, or rediscover, their tactical identity. But not with these players, and not in these last four games.
Why 2019 will not be much betterSpeaking of players, do you like the ones we have? No? Do you want lots of newer, better ones? Well, I have bad news for you. This team is mostly frozen in amber, as is, until the end of the 2019 season.
That’s because many of the big TAM-level signings to begin 2018 are on guaranteed contracts that run through the end of the 2019 season.
Here are the players whose contracts definitely expire at the end of the 2018 season:
- Edgar Castillo, Yannick Boli, Giles Barnes, Sam Hamilton, Zac MacMath, Mike Da Fonte
Those players account for around approximately $1,020,000 of the roster budget charge.* The Rapids also free up $505,625 for Stefan Aigner’s expiring contract, and will also have the TAM from Boli and Aigner to the tune of $742,000. So all in, that’s potentially $2,267,000 in salary freed up.That’s not bad. You can do something with all that money. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news.
Here are the players tied up through 2019:
- Tim Howard, Tommy Smith, Johan Blomberg, Kellyn Acosta, Shkelzen Gashi, Sam Nicholson
These players take up both DP slots, account for $2,367,000 in senior roster budget charge, and cost $134,000 in TAM. That means that a very large portion of the Rapids money is locked up in contracts that won’t expire for another year. The Rapids have a third DP slot available that is not in use, but GM Padraig Smith has indicated that it will not be utilized at this time.
Here are the players tied up through 2020:
- Axel Sjoberg, Danny Wilson, Nana Boateng
They take up $1,100,000 in salary cap space.
There are a number of contracts whose length has never been reported. Most of them are of the smaller variety, and many of those contracts may be standard MLS deals - one or two years with an added club option year. Some of these may expire next month. Those contracts include:
- Marlon Hairston, Enzo Martinez, Caleb Calvert, Kip Colvey, Andrew Dykstra, Niki Jackson
Even if all of these contracts expired, they would free up less than $600,000 in roster space in total.
Finally, there are homegrown players whose budget charges are either zero or the league minimum charge, and whose contracts may expire this year, but because they are on the supplemental or reserve roster, that expiration has no impact on the club’s bottom line. They include:
- Kortne Ford, Ricardo Perez, Dillon Serna, Jack McBean, Sam Vines***, Cole Bassett***
Altogether, this all means that the Rapids will have between $3 million and 5 million**** in cap room , GAM and TAM at seasons end. With that, they will need to sign (or re-sign, for players they’d like to retain):
- 2 GKs (replacing MacMath and Dykstra)
- 2 fullbacks (replacing Hairston, Colvey, and Castillo)
- 2 midfielders (replacing Hamilton and Martinez)
- 3 forwards (replacing Boli, Barnes, and Jackson)
It’s a little money to play with, but not as much as you’d like.
If you allocated it evenly, you’d get $333,333 a player.
If you assumed that you want to drop a big chunk of change on one expensive TAM-level striker at $1.5 million, it leaves you only $187,500 for the rest of those players. Meanwhile, you’ve got over $1 million locked up in underwhelming centerbacks Danny Wilson and Tommy Smith; you’ve spent $1 million on an underwhelming midfield troika of Nana Boateng, Johan Blomberg, and Jack Price**; and your DPs, Shkelzen Gashi and Tim Howard, are replacement-level caliber players.
They can fix the big holes on this team if they spend wisely, but the front office doesn’t have a lot of room for error - they can’t sign a bunch of expensive $500K busts and hope that the other guys will carry the load.
Last year, the team transferred in 15 players, and the club did not improve from 2017 to 2018. They actually got worse.
Now with something between 9 and 12 roster spots to open up, less money to work with, and still no DPs to pursue, I don’t see this team getting better in the near or even medium term. The future is not now for Colorado. It is far, far off in the distance.
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* I’m guesstimating the salary of Giles Barnes at $250,000, which seems like a lot of money for a midseason replacement player that’s past his prime. However, Barnes last MLS contract in MLS with Orlando City was for $781,250.
** We have no reports on the length of Jack Price’s contract, but I would speculate it at either 3 or 4 years, ending in 2020 or 2021.
*** You may wonder why I’m not hyping our young homegrowns Sam Vines and Cole Bassett, and saying that we can replace some of these over-priced disappointments with cheap homegrown talent - #PlayYourKids .
Simply put, I’ve watched both extensively in USL and USL PDL, and neither of them are ready. Sam Vines looks great and I think he’s almostMLS ready. But if the Rapids don’t resign Edgar Castillo and then decide to let Sam Vines take the reigns at LB, it’ll be an almost-certain downgrade, at least for a few months as young Sam adjusts. It’s already a near universally accepted fact that Castillo is the team’s best player this year. Taking the only thing we’ve got that works and then chucking it for a 19 year old seems to me like a bad idea. Bringing Vines up from the minors to sit on the bench behind Castillo is equally unappealing. Regarding Cole Bassett: he absolutely needs a full year in USL before Colorado can install him in the midfield.
**** It's $3 million if the league adds little or nothing to the roster cap or to GAM and TAM, and the Rapids spend roughly the same amount on regular and discretionary TAM as they did this year. It's up to $5 million (or more!) if the league increases the cap significantly, increases regular TAM significantly, or the Rapids elect to spend a lot more discretionary TAM. However, all of those increases will affect the entire league, and therefore will yield smaller returns than you might think an extra $2 million might otherwise give you.