by Mark Asher Goodman
Are we done with the hand-wringing? Can we move on from the canned controversy and the use of sound bytes for your weaponized soccer ire and indignation? Man.
The kerfuffle of which I speak is this:
And, to be fair, these are not illegitimate criticisms (although 'bush league'? That's a bit harsh.) The Rapids lost to Toronto FC, and that’s certainly disappointing. And Anthony Hudson, in his post game press conferences after both legs, expressed in a variety of ways that this game was ‘essentially the pre-season’ for Colorado. There are a lot of ways to take this. If you’re Grant Wahl, it’s disrespectful to be treating a serious tournament like the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League the same way you’d treat a match against your local college team. If you’re a Rapids fan, the comments can be taken as a demonstration that the teams emphasis is winning league games. You may feel good about this, but you may also feel annoyed that the team isn't setting itself up to try to win everything, every week. And, if you’re the Colorado Rapids, Hudson’s remarks are simply a bit of ex post facto verbal jujitsu. If the team wins, the manager can comment on what a tremendous team they’ve put together. If they lose, as they did, he can say ‘well, this game wasn’t really our focus anyhow.’
But still. This was 30 pundits screaming simultaneously into a hot-take echo chamber about a game that was going to be very, very difficult to win. They tried their best. But this new 2018 Rapids club is not really there yet. I'm ok with that. I'm ok with club staff saying that. I'm sorry that Grant Wahl doesn't feel that way. (I still liked his book on Beckham though.)
Tactical Notes from Toronto Colorado’s 5-3-2 was efficient at holding down TFC in the first half. The ‘Pids had 5 shots to TFC’s 3. There was one really neat little thing that the team did first half.
In the 30th minute, Tommy Smith (#5) has emerged from a little left wingside tiki-taka and floated a ball into the box. It’s batted away, but Smith recovers and feeds Jack McBean (#32), who misses high. This is one of those looks a team can throw in there with the 5-3-2 that often creates mismatches for opposing defenses - they bring up a CB high into the attack. Defenders here are keying on Deklan Wynne (#27)and Dominique Badji (#14) because … they should. Both are expected to press high in attack. Smith, however, is not, and when he unloads the ball on Badji in that first pass, he’s off down the field with space to work in.
And it’s not a fluke - it’s a plan. The same thing happens in the 33rd minute.
Enzo Martinez (#90), in that little orange triangle, picks off a ball. McBean (#32) makes a bad pass that bounces around and ends up back with Martinez, represented by the blue triangle for the defensive play and that yellow line when he unloads the pass. Ford reads his opportunities and comes rollicking up the sideline to get Enzo’s pass. He charges all the way to the corner of the 18 yard box and, seeing no good outlets centrally, takes a shot himself. It’s a little ballsy, I’ll say, but I like the idea. In both these plays, the Rapids overload the side and catch their opponents undermanned by flashing a center back. I’m not really upset that it didn’t work because, again, I liked seeing the team try different looks out.
This can only work in the 5-3-2 because the rest of the backline is reading the play and filling in. There's a aspect of the two games we've seen the Rapids play that had a 'total football' look to them - a lot of dynamic positioning, a lot of covering and filling. I saw Marlon Hairston coming into the attack and Jack Price filling in for him; Dominique Badji coming deep to receive while Enzo Martinez streaked into the box like a striker; and here Kort Ford and Tommy Smith coming on attack like midfielders while the full backs shade over to fill. I'm enjoying it. Patience, young padawan. It will soon bear fruit.
The second half was, again, rough.
The back three were exploited on the counter several times, and Danny Wilson and Tommy Smith didn’t quite close down. Toronto outshot the Rapids 8 to 4, and only a spectacular diving reach from Zac MacMath on a headed Drew Moor ball in the 83rd, and a terrible miss from maybe 5 yards by Chris Mavinga in the 93rd, kept the Rapids from losing 2-0 yet again.
Head Coach Anthony Hudson used some subs this time, bringing on Edgar Castillo and Niki Jackson both in the 66th minute. For Jackson, it was his MLS debut, and he mostly was used to be the decoy on the backline that gave Dominique Badji some space to work underneath. With the addition of Joe Mason and his getting integrated into the team, it might be a while till we see Jackson on the field again.
Welcome Sam Vines!
In a salary cap league, you need to get a bunch of things right. Your DPs need to produce at a high level. You need to make smart moves with TAM. You need to fill out the roster with players from the SuperDraft that will contribute. And lastly, you need some Homegrowns. Developing a homegrown player can benefit your team in three ways that other players generally do not. First, according to MLS roster rules, they get to slot into your team on the reserve roster, where they are not counted against the salary cap.
That’s an inexpensive player that doesn’t cost the team anything, and anything they contribute on the field is gravy. Second, a homegrown player that develops and plays at a very high level could act as a team’s fourth DP. Tyler Adams for NYRB, Jordan Morris for Seattle Sounders, and potentially Andrew Carleton for Atlanta United are all accomplished players that, if they were purchased abroad or had -inho at the end of their names might command a significant transfer fee, but instead, they make your team a lot better and don’t cost a dime. Third, they can be sold for a huge chunk of change, and they get to keep every penny of that money. That’s a change from previous years, when teams kept only 3/4ths of that money. That’s more than a team would retain in any other type of transfer - in other circumstances (SuperDraft signings, free transfers from abroad) the team must cede some money back to MLS. With all those benefits, a fully funded academy that produces maybe three homegrowns a decade pays for itself.
I’ll add to all of that the fact that academies are great for the local community at large. They provides free, high level soccer instruction to hundreds of kids that. They won't become pros, but many will potentially get NCAA scholarships. Those hundreds of kids will someday become soccer dads or soccer moms or soccer coaches, and create more soccer players, and cycle perpetuates itself. MLS academies create a ripple effect of good things. You cannot say the same for DP signings, unless you sell luxury condos or Maseratis for a living.
The Rapids Academy turned out Kort Ford last year, and he’s became a regular starter in just his rookie year. Ford took a full college career to develop his game. Vines is putting college on hold to turn pro. Having spoken to Rapids Director of Senior Development Brian Crookham on many occasions, I’ll say this: Brian is interested in doing what is best for the player, and also, it should benefit the club. Vines has a spectacular left foot, he’s a tall kid, and Crookham described him as “deadly on free kicks.”
Read more about Sam Vines Here
The Rapids already have a whole bunch of left backs though ; Castillo, Wynne, Colvey, and Serna all naturally play the spot. So, I’ll make a pretty obvious prediction here: two of those players will be elsewhere, either on loan to Charlotte or sold outright, by late April.
RIP, the Backpass Commentariat
Lastly, dear readers, you’ll notice that the new site AroundMLS.com doesn’t have a comments section. Ain’t nothin’ I can do about it. It's a bummer! Believe it or not, I really like interacting with my readers. Even the ornery ones. I can only suggest that if you see something you like, you don’t like, or disagree with in my column, there are a couple good alternatives of where you can talk about it. BurgundyWave.com still is a great site to read and banter on. Last Word on Soccer (LWOsoccer.com) is also a great place, and it has a comments section. And lastly, if you see something you want to throw down about, hit me on twitter at @rapidsrabbi.
The next time you see Backpass , it’ll be after our season opener in New England on March 10. Can’t hardly wait.