George Lucas famously embarked on a multifaceted study of different cultural legends and myths when creating ‘Star Wars’ back in 1977. Ultimately, he embraced the ideas of Joseph Campbell, an anthropologist and expert in comparative religion who compared the significant stories of multiple cultures and decided that the most compelling narrative was ‘the hero’s journey’. The hero follows his/her bliss, goes through trials and travails, succeeds in their ultimate quest, returns triumphant, and comes to a greater realization of their place and purpose in the universe, living to the end of their days without fear. Moses, Buddha, Frodo Baggins and Luke Skywalker have all followed the path of ‘the hero’s journey.’
We fans, we humans, crave narrative. We want to know what a season is, or what it will be. For some teams, the narrative is already there at this wee early stage to the MLS season. Toronto FC as a team is on the most compelling, most obvious hero’s quest I’ve ever seen: Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley wants redemption from the failure of missing the World Cup; Sebastian Giovinco wants to prove he is the best, and the team overall seeks the holy grail that has eluded every MLS to this point. Columbus Crew, meanwhile, are less involved in an on-the-field narrative than a compelling off-the-field drama: will they be sold to Austin? Their narrative is less ‘Star Wars’ and more ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’, with its grifters and its betrayals and scams within scams.
But what about the Colorado Rapids? It’s very hard to know, and not only because the season is so new. The Rapids have a loss, a draw, and a win to start the MLS season, along with a defeat over two legs to get knocked out of CCL. They have a new coach who has so far given fairly cagey (and somewhat uninspiring) public pronouncements of what this team is or will be. Head Coach Anthony Hudson essentially framed the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League as ‘pre-season’, and has been pretty consistent in talking about the team’s early results in fairly bland language. He's not terribly concerned with the vagaries of wins and losses; he's contented to see progress at this early stage.
But if the Rapids 2018 season is a grand quest mythology, Hudson is probably not the main protagonist - he’s still establishing himself as a notable character in this team’s story, as opposed to ‘the guy that followed Pablo Mastroeni’. That’s not a slight, that’s just common sense. In early 2014, Pablo Mastroeni had to endure the same early period as he began his labor after the departure of Oscar Pareja, and Pareja had to do the same after Gary Smith, and so on. Hudson is not 'Luke Skywalker' in this narrative, and we're not sure whether he's Obi Wan Kenobi (that'd be great!) or Qui-Gon Jinn (that'd be less good). T most pessimistic fans are afraid that Hudson could turn out to be Gold Five/Davish Krail.
Another potential narrative for the Rapids is the story of the defense. Is the Rapids vaunted ‘Keep Fighting’ defense from 2016 back? A defense that includes a decorated veteran goalkeeper; a bunch of fresh faced new recruits from across the globe; a pair of pacey fullbacks with something to prove; and a bearded, spritely defensive midfielder with a funny accent to hold it all together. I mean, it kind of sounds like the cast of ‘Lord of the Rings’, doesn’t it? No matter what Padraig Smith says about this team having a desire to play attacking football, I think defense with always be a critical part of the ethos of this club.
A new narrative may have emerged Saturday: the hero’s quest of Dominique Badji, striker extraordinaire. Orphaned and ignored early on by MLS front offices (because he was left to the fourth round of the draft) like Luke Skywalker and Moses, he rose to great power while fending off the advances of challengers and enemies alike. He strikes down a grand foe virtually all by himself with a furious hat-trick. Now he pursues fame and fortune in MLS in 2018, while every team in the league will begin to put eyes on him.
These are all the upbeat and positive narratives. Of course, the Rapids could end of floundering and struggling and ending in out-the-playoffs irrelevancy. That would shift the narrative away from resemblance to classic quests for glory of books like ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘Beowulf’ and towards something more like the story of the Mycenaeans or the Mayans- cultures with a brief moments in the sun and grand relics, but that were ultimately before being defeated and left to the imaginations and excavations of archeologists and historians. But hey, they made some cool stuff while they were around, huh?
Strong in Defense Colorado held firm through the first half, and ultimately pulled off a convincing shutout, letting the Philadelphia Union have the upper hand in possession and yet keeping them out of really dangerous spots. Philly took 15 shots but put only 4 on target - mostly their shots came from difficult angles or long chances, and none pressed GK Tim Howard into serious peril. Marlon Hairston, a player still relatively new to the position of fullback, looked strong as he kept former Chicago Fire speedster David Accam relatively contained. The back three of Deklan Wynne, Tommy Smith, and Danny Wilson held a firm line and weren’t pulled apart as in previous weeks. The midfield of Johan Blomberg, Enzo Martinez, and Jack Price challenged for the ball through the middle at every opportunity, getting a total of 9 tackles and 5 interceptions between the three of them. And when Danny Wilson went off with an apparent ankle injury, Axel Sjoberg stepped in without missing a beat.
Colorado also hassled the Union with the ball high, pressing in the first half with their fullbacks and strikers, especially into the corners, which forced Philadelphia into kicking 84 long balls, even though they clearly wanted to build on the ground and out of the back.
Two specific moments were notable and gif-worthy. First, Marlon Hairston did a great job of containing pace-horse and destroyer of back lines David Accam.
Click to see the gif of Accam and Hairston, toe-to-toe
Hairston contained Accam throughout the day, or at least till he came off hurt.
Another moment that impressed me was when Danny Wilson came outside to stay on CJ Sapong into the wide space, and Tommy Smithcame inside to cut off the cross into (I think) Alejandro Bedoya. It's a simple defensive act of staying with your man and closing off space effectively, but a lesser defender might get pulled out into the wrong space and concede an entry pass or goal here.
Click to see the gif of Smith and Wilson defending smartly in a 2 v 2
It is the Rapids first regular-season shutout, so it remains to be seen the teams efficient defending is a trend or an anomaly. Haris Medunjanin, CJ Sapong, and David Accam should be the kind of guys that tear opposing defenses apart, and so it was great to see the Rapids quiet a team that you’d expect to make a lot of noise. On the other hand, new DP signing Borek Dokal is supposed to be the engine for this team now, and in his 82 minutes, he didn’t do anything of note. We’ll see if Colorado can do it again when they face Mauro Diaz and Maxi Urruti this coming week in Frisco, Texas.
The Hat TrickHow long has it been since a Rapids player had a hat trick? I have raised two small sentient human beings who walk and talk and go to school and have been purchased, worn, and outgrown several sets of clothing. One kid was 16 months old when Sanna Nyassi scored his hat trick against the Red Bulls on July 21, 2011, and the other would not exist for another 15 months. None of us yet lived in Colorado at all, nor had we attended an MLS match, or gave a fig about the Colorado Rapids. My son is now seven. He’s a solid center midfielder with a goal and three assists to his credit. His favorite player is Dominique Badji.
Badji’s hat trick certainly required a bit of luck - the first goal fell at his feet, but required a sharp finish, while the second goal REALLY fell at his feet with the entire goal wide open for him. The third was a difficult shot from a tight angle and he did it. You could tell he could just taste the hat trick, and he had to have it.
I thought Badji would have 14 goals on the season. I’m happy he might prove me wrong by having even more.
Two down - Who’s up?Danny Wilson turned his ankle and Marlon Hairston was stretchered off with a leg injury that looks like maybe a knee strain, or worse. Into their spots went Axel Sjoberg and Dillon Serna. Sjoberg we know can do the job at center back, although his lack of pace might require the other CBs alongside him to compensate for him in certain ways. Serna is a fantastic option as a wide midfielder, and he’s played some fullback. He’s left footed, though, so the conventional pick would be to play him only on the left side of the field. Hudson could flout convention. Arjen Robben is a left footed midfielder for the Dutch National team and Bayern Munich, and he has 186 career goals in all competitions playing as an inverted winger on the right side. Eric Miller is another option to put in there, especially if you want to be a bit defensive. I also think Colorado could put Micheal Azirain as the right center back and push Deklan Wynne out to right back. We’ll certainly see this Saturday when the Rapids play FC Dallas.
Long term or short term, these injuries don’t worry me. This club is deep enough at nearly every position except perhaps left back that it can withstand an 8-10 week injury across every spot in the XI. The club hasn’t revealed any information about Hairston or Wilson’s injuries yet, but even if the news is bad, don’t panic. The season is still young, and we don’t know what narrative twists and turns are yet in store for the burgundy boys in 2018.