There is no doubt that the Rapids were heavy favorites going into a game with Toronto FC’s B-team. I’m not sure anyone expected the team that Greg Vanney put on the field to be quite that inexperienced, though, as TFC’s lineup included five players making their first starts of the year - Clint Irwin, Ben Spencer, Tosaint Ricketts, Liam Fraser, and Jay Chapman. In addition, the team signed free agent defender Jason Hernandez on Friday and also called up three players from their USL affiliate TFC II, including starter Ryan Telfer. This was a really below-average MLS side, and the Rapids should have beaten them. And they did.
That said, it is easy to deduct hypothetical points because the degree of difficulty isn’t that high. But let’s take the other view: this is a Rapids team that got the job done. By comparison, NYRB played a mediocre Chivas Guadalajara team last week, at home, and out shot them 20-1, and lost. There were expectations, and the Red Bulls did not meet them. I haven’t been following MLS for 20 years, but I understand that this is the ethos of the New York/New Jersey RedstarMetrobulls - perpetual disappointment. Colorado fans have also been disappointed many time before; fans often operate in the protective crouch of a person that has been kicked in the nuts frequently.
Saturday we faced a team we were supposed to beat, and we beat them. Colorado is now undefeated in four straight matches, and undefeated at home. The team got a 2-0 lead, and held it.
Even if the quality of the opponent is a bit lower, the Rapids did not play down to their level. They came with their lunchpails, did the work, and got the result. This week they play an RSL team that have been uneven at best. They have wins over NYRB and Vancouver, and they’ve also been blown out by LAFC, TFC, and NYCFC. (All these teams have ‘FC’ right in their title; maybe we should rebrand as ‘Rapids FC’ for just one week.)
Instead, fans are adjusting to a new normal with the Rapids. They play a team that they expect to beat, and they go ahead and beat them as planned. It’s a great way to conduct your business.
“It was a tactical decision.”
In the 38th minute of Saturday’s match against Toronto FC, Coach Anthony Hudson subbed off right wingback Kip Colvey. When asked about it in the press conference, Hudson said “It was a tactical decision,” and then looked for the next question.
I was kind of mystified. My assumption was that Colvey had drawn the ire of the coach for some gaff or poor decision or error, or perhaps for being well out of position to where the manager would have liked him to play.
I went back and watched the game closely to figure out what Colvey did wrong. I thought it would give me some insight into how Coach Hudson wanted his players to play and how not to play, and also what goes through the coach’s mind in determining who should start. And it did! But not the way I thought it would.
What I observed was the following:
-> Colvey was generally pushed very high, and often harassed the ball carrier high up the pitch. He still got back on defense quite well.
-> He received service on a pass over the top from the center backs on several occasions, but on most of those occasions the passer over hit it, resulting in a turnover that was not Colvey's fault.
-> In the 22nd minute, Dillon Serna and Nana Boateng were up getting warm.
-> Colvey didn’t make any serious mistakes in defense, and forced a turnover in the 25th minute.
-> On that forced-turnover play, Colvey broke down field and laid a great through pass to Dominique Badji in space at the top of the box, which turned into a great shot, saved by Clint Irwin.
-> Colvey put in 3 good crosses that were dangerous balls. He also had a great dribble at the 36th minute to beat one, then two defenders. The second defender fouled him, but there was no call from referee Baldomero Toledo.
-> Colvey came off in the 38th minute for Serna.
What I saw was a pretty good attacking right back create several chances on passes and runs. Because Serna and Boateng were up so fast in this game, I think Hudson really did make this sub for tactical reasons: he wanted to swap a fast, right footed attacking fullback for a fast left footed attacking fullback and see if he could terrorize young TFCII left back Ryan Telfer. Telfer was not only playing in his first MLS match, he was also playing out of position: he’s normally a left midfielder. I think Hudson knew that, and wanted to throw as many wrenches as TFC as he could.
If I’m right, it’s kind of impressive. I sense in these 7 games that I’ve seen Anthony Hudson coach that there are tactical considerations and machinations at play that we really never saw under the previous coach. There is always an attempt to adjust the tactics in order to attack a soft spot that the opponent has exposed. Instead of a static style or system, Hudson is looking for chinks in the armor to exploit.
Tomorrow I’m posting an interview I did with Anthony Hudson that will elaborate a little bit more on this point. In short, for the first time in years, the tactics feel calculated. Though sometimes it seems like Hudson’s approach might be madness, yet there is method in it.
Hudson’s Tactics, Part II
I asked Hudson about the tactics in this game at the press conference on Saturday. Specifically, did he anticipate playing against an inexperienced TFC team that was going to be resting his players, or does the coach make his tactical plan for the game without regard to the player he expects the team will face?
Hudson said this:
“I think in every game up till now, we’ve known the opposition. We’ve had a good idea enough to predict who’s going to play and how they are going to play. I think this is the first time that there was uncertainty about who was playing, and when we saw the lineup, with the players they had, the howthey were going to play. And throughout the game they changed that quite a few times. That itself poses a problem. And then you’ve got a bunch of players in there, they’re looking to prove a point and get in the team for Tuesday (against Chivas), it’s an opportunity for them. It’s not an easy task. So I felt in the game the players were constantly managing to adjust, how we matched them when they changed. I think we dealt with that quite well.”
Playing an uncertain opponent changed the Rapids approach in that it took the coach out of the driver’s seat a little and required him to trust his players to adjust on the fly, and adjust they did. This speaks a bit to one of Padraig Smith’s priorities in acquiring players: footballers with a high soccer IQ. Veterans with a sublime feel for the game like Edgar Castillo and Jack Price can make reads on spacing and movement in the moment that might normally require hours of consuming and analyzing video. A good coach needs to trust his players to make smart in-game decisions when necessary. He also needs to firmly establish the game plan when circumstances dictate. I suspect we’ll see more of the latter than the former against Real Salt Lake this week, against an RSL team that is both floundering and a fairly known quantity; get it to Rusnak and send runners beyond the backline. We’ll see Saturday.
I’m keeping an eye on two things with Dominique Badji throughout this season: his goals and his expected goals. I’m interested to see whether Badji can break 14 goals on the season, and also whether he can exceed his previous expected goals totals in 2017 and 2016. Badji hasn’t been an exceptional finisher to date, but he has been extremely good at getting into scoring positions. In 2017 Badji had an Expected Goals of 9.36 and scored 9 goals over 2540 minutes. That +0.36 G-xG shows he’s about average as a finisher. In 2016 Badji had an Expected Goals of 4.73 and scored 6 goals over 1681 minutes; he exceeded expectations by +1.27 goals.
For 2018, Badji has 4 goals on an Expected Goals of only 1.80 ; he's exceeding his expected production by a whopping +2.20. And that’s afterhis game Saturday in which Badji had 4 shots and zero goals.
All the links below are to mlssoccer.com clips of Badji’s shots. To watch them, click the link, then click the ‘back’ button on your browser to return to the article.
He had back-to-back solid chances at the 24th and 25th minute. In the 24th he had amazing service from Johan Blomberg - that dude can place a ball, and that is something I will definitely spend some time breaking down in a future Backpass. Badji tried to loop it over Clint Irwin but Clint pushed it over the bar. Just 30 seconds later, Kip Colvey laid in a great ball to Badji, and the striker turned veteran centerback Jason Hernandez inside-out to take a good shot on goal, saved again by Irwin. Badji was all alone against Irwin in the 54th, but pulled his shot wide for chance number 3. And on chance 4, Blomberg (again! Blomberg!) played a ball right off the endline to Badji at the back post, but he couldn’t connect cleanly.
I thought these misses might have been tabulated as ‘big misses’ by the number crunchers and would have severely impacted the Rapids team xG for the game, but that wasn’t the case. Colorado had an xG of 1.96 for the game, and scored 2 goals, or right on pace with expectation.
With Badji one-fifth or one-sixth of the way through his season, assuming he stays healthy for 2500 to 3000 minutes, he is currently on pace for an unbelievable 24 goals. His xG has him at a more modest 10.8 goals. If the truth is somewhere in the middle, I think the Rapids will be very happy with Dom in 2018.
One last thought: Badji has enough goals that he needs his own song from Centennial 38. I have a suggestion:
(to the tune of Apache Jump on it by Sugarhill Gang)
Ding ding (), ding ding ding (), ding ding
Dom Badji! Jump on it! Jump on it! Jump on it!
Ding ding (), ding ding ding (), ding ding
Dom Badji! Jump on it! Jump on it! Jump on it!
C’mon Paul and Juan, make it happen.