There are several ways that I could approach Saturday’s 3-0 loss to RSL, which was the result of an early (and deserved) red card and a handball in the box for a PK. The recap I wrote gets more specific with the particulars of the game; I’m not sure I can re-read it without plunging into depression.
First, I could accentuate the positive. The Rapids had, in the words of Anthony Hudson, their best 20 minutes of the season in the early goings, as Colorado dominated possession and put Salt Lake on their heels. And also, the team did a solid job of defending with 10 men for 60 minutes. Those are good things, and notable.
Second, I could go negative: lambast the squad for falling apart in the final 10 minutes, which would not be the first time the Rapids had fallen apart in the final 10 minutes this year. Lambast Tim Howard for a technical error that he shouldn’t be making - get those arms down! Lambast Tommy Smith for making an error of concentration in flapping his arm out at a ball. This was a calamity of a match for Colorado, regardless of what good the team produced in the first 20 minutes, and there’s no point in lauding the team for 80 minutes of good play when they ultimately were beaten 3-0 against our most bitter rivals at Rio Tinto. We have played RSL at Rio Tinto in 15 MLS regular season matches since the stadium was opened in October 2008, and we haven’t won a single game. After Saturday, that’s still true. All else is irrelevant.
I’m not going to praise Caesar or bury him.*
I’ll take the third option: chalk it up as ‘hey, s*** happens.’
Every MLS team will drop a clunker here or there. They will come out flat and lose; or have bad luck and put in an own-goal; or dominate all game and give up a goal on a fluky long-range shot; or get a red card from their goalie.**
Goalie clunkers are a specific subset of clunkers. The Rapids are well experienced with goalie clunkers. In 2017, Zac MacMath had a brain fart in front of the net and ran over the Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes, resulting in a PK. The Galaxians never looked back and won 3-0. In 2014, again against the Galaxy, the Rapids had one of the all-time worst goalkeeper fiascos in MLS history as Joe Nasco picked up the fastest red the league had ever seen and the ‘Pids lost, 6-0.
These things happen. In my opinion, a team gets one of these a year. Nobody’s perfect. Even great players will throw up an epic fail now and again. Ideally, it doesn’t cost them a title.
So let’s just take the L and move on, and call it a mild aberration.
The Right Back ConundrumWith Marlon Hairston out, Colorado has been mixing and matching at right wing back. Last week, we saw Kip Colvey get the start, only to be replaced in the 39th minute by Dillon Serna. This week, in a surprise move, Anthony Hudson put Nana Boateng at right wing back. There’s only 20 minutes of really relevant data on his performance, but it looked promising to me. Boateng had 3 dribbles; 1 successful and 2 unsuccessful; and he was 7 for 8 in passes, all of which occurred in the final third. After he moved to midfield, he did this, which was cool. After the red card against RSL, Boateng moved into midfield and Deklan Wynne slid out to right back in a 4-4-1, and he was fine. And then we heard from Matt Pollard in this week’s edition of Holding the High Line that Dillon Serna was getting all the reps at right back in training on Tuesday in preparations for the match against Orlando City SC. So there are lots of options.
When the Saturday lineup against RSL was first put out on twitter, it had just an alphabetized list of the start XI with no formation.*** I immediately assumed Enzo Martinez was starting at right wing back. He has all the tools: he’s fast, he’s an incredible dribbler, and he’s an excellent two-way player. Perhap's he's a possible choice for Hudson, too.
I’m not sure who ends up the starter on Sunday against Orlando. My favorite would have been Eric Miller, who lacks for pace and attacking instinct, but is nearly 100% reliable defensively, can serve a ball well, and is an experienced MLS right back. Miller has been plagued with calf injuries, though, so he may not even be in the mix.
Interestingly, among the six choices (Colvey, Serna, Boateng, Wynne, Martinez, Miller) I just mentioned, I don’t really think you can go wrong. Serna probably gives you the least in terms of defense. However, if the fullback’s main goal is harassing the ball carrier in their defensive third to make playing out of the back hard, then being fast and nimble precedes being a good defender, and Serna is a good choice. If wing-linkup play is important, Boateng’s probably your man.
Colvey was just fine in attack but he didn’t seem to be able to defend quite as well. Enzo, I think, could give you a little of everything, except perhaps long service. If Danny Wilson is healthy, a back three with him, Axel Sjoberg, and Tommy Smith lets you put Deklan Wynne at right back, which puts perhaps your strongest five defenders on the field at once, if that’s how you want to go.
The team will likely be at its best when Marlon Hairston returns. But in the interim, having six good options at right back is kinda cool.
The Price is Right
I got a great question from a reader on twitter. @Nickyd750 **** asked me to apply the metric I created to measure defensive midfielders in 2017 to Jack Price and see where he came out. Nick thought Price was doing well, but wanted to know if the numbers corresponded to what his eyes saw, and by how much.
Quick pair of disclaimers. First, sample size is always a concern at an early stage like this. Numbers start to have more meaning once we get through a third of the season, in my humble opinion. They aren’t useless at this stage, but they also aren’t conclusive. Second, yes, there are a lot of people who were critical of my metric. Opinions mostly ranged from ‘it’s flawed but I like it’ to ‘it’s garbage, you’re an idiot, how dare you.’ Simply put, I put stock in how a d-mid passes and I see Key Passes as the best indicator of that reality; I think that passing percentage over-inflates a player who makes useless side passes; and I believe that CBI+T are useful and good numbers. Most importantly, nobody else has tried to make a better statistic, and until they do, everybody should shut up and get off my lawn.
Price so far in 2018 is averaging 2.0 Key Passes per game, and his aggregate CBI+T (Clearances, Blocks, Interceptions, and Tackles) is 5.60 per game. These numbers come from whoscored.com. In Key Passes, he’d rank 2nd out of all box-to-box and defensive midfielders, and in CBI+T, he’d rank 18th. His aggregate of those two ranks would make him, in my metric, fourth-best as a d-mid in MLS, behind only Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, and Alejandro Bedoya.
Even if you hate the metric I created, the numbers still show that Price is a fantastic passer who creates chances and yet still gets back to do the work.
I’m a guy that develops nostalgic, sentimental attachments to players: I still love Drew Moor and Sam Cronin and even (don’t hate me) Nick LaBrocca, and sometimes that means it takes me a little while for me to warm to their replacements.
But I’m saying it now. The early returns are in, and Jack Price is an excellent player that is making the Rapids a much better team. I think these numbers might decline a little as the season progresses, but my eyes and the math tell me that when we look back at the entire MLS 2018 season, Jack Price will be regarded as one of the best and most underrated midfielders in the league.
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* This is the second week in a row that Backpass has included a reference from Shakespeare! Apparently, I paid attention in high school. Occasionally. My report cards do not reflect this.
** Because I’m not talking a ton about this game since it isn’t really worth discussing, I’m feeling my oats a little with my quirky endnote ramblings this week. Here, I’m going to say something about the use of the word ‘goalie’. English soccer writers generally feel that the correct terms for the guy that can use his hands in soccer are ‘keeper’, ‘goalkeeper, and the more colloquial ‘netminder’, but that ‘goalie’ is incorrect or inappropriate. This is dumb and boring and wrong. Writing is about language; language is symbolic, and as long as the reader and the writer are both pretty much clear on what is being discussed, then traditions and conventions are irrelevant. Goalie is probably a loan term from hockey, and it’s just fine. I also think loan-terms from basketball, like ‘dribble-drive’ and ‘turnover’ are all great. Traditionalists are all still watching soccer while sitting on a wet pile of peet that they hand-shoveled at the river-end of their ground, wearing a black frock coat and top hat, enjoying their team in wool kits attack their opponent in the WM formation, AKA the 2-3-5 formation. Tradition has its place, but at some point, it’s dead and lifeless. Goalie is fine.
*** I hate the new twitter lineup announcement graphic. It’s stupid. Colorado Rapids, for heaven sakes, please stop doing this. Go back to something that tells me the formation to some degree. Think of the children. And the soccer writers.
**** Nick's avatar is the football team of Medellín, Colombia! That's fantastic. Two thumbs up.