We all know this year was a trying one for Rapids fans. A 14-game winless streak to close the season. The firing of the team’s embedded reporter over pretty innocuous critique of the front office. That damn craptastic high school band in section 101 playing random songs at random moments.
The oft-repeated trope of Rapids fans and pundits was this: defensive failings were to blame for the catastrophic end to the season (note: original typo auto-corrected catastrophic to ‘castrated’, which also applies.) But I want to advance an alternate theory: as bad as the Rapids defense was, the problems truly began in midfield. Opponents could get through the middle on the counter too easily, and the Rapids never ‘bossed the midfield’, or dictated the run of play during the losing skid. Moreover, if your defense is fending off challenge after challenge, your midfield bears some or even much of the blame.
Going back over it as painful as it may be, I wanted to see if there were any patterns I could discern. I took a look at the Rapids last 10 games. Below is a description of our formation, the opponents formation, the result, and our midfield lineup, left-to-right. All lineups and formations care of MLS.com.
10/25 - 4-4-2 v Vanc 4-2-3-1, Loss 1-0
Alvarez , Hairston, Labrocca, Serna
10/18- 4-4-2 v Dallas 4-2-2-2, Loss 1-0
Neeskens Powers Labrocca Hairston
10/11- 4-4-2 v Chivas 4-1-2-1-2 Loss 2-1
Neeskens Mari Labrocca Alvarez
10/05- 4-4-2 v Seattle 4-4-2, Loss 4-1
Powers Labrocca Mari Sanchez
9/27- 4-4-1-1 v SJ 4-4-1-1, Tie 1-1
Powers Labrocca Mari Serna
9/19- 4-4-2 v RSL, 4-1-2-1-2, Loss 5-1
Alvarez Serna Mari Hill
9/13- 4-5-1 v Portland, 4-2-3-1, Tie 2-2
Alvarez LaBrocca Powers Mari Hill
9/05- 4-4-1-1v LA (Nasco Red Card) Loss 6-0
Serna LaBrocca Mari Brown
(Powers at CF)
8/30 4-4-2 v SEA 4-4-2, Loss 1-0
Serna Labrocca Powers Hairston
8/20 4-4-2 v LA 4-4-2, Loss 4-3
Powers Mari LaBrocca Hairston
1. Really? We basically stayed in the 4-4-2 through the whole streak?
Much blame has been heaped on the shoulders of Pablo Mastroeni during the streak, and while mostly I support Pablo and think he did an admirable job with a difficult situation, I was shocked to see the Rapids never tried to augment the backline with a more defensive formation. A 4-2-3-1 with LaBrocca and Watts seemed to me like a logical conclusion when you are leaking goals. Or at least a 4-1-2-1-2 with LaBrocca destroying at the back. Or- craziness- go 5-2-1-2, and let Marvell Wynne and Chris Klute attack and create, like they clearly want to. Granted, they did go to a 4-5-1 once. And hey! They played pretty well that game (for a loss).
2. Poor Dillon Serna
Lost in all the drama of the year was the disappearance of Dillon Serna. Aside from his blistering cracker of a goal against DC United on August 17, Serna had long stretches where he was MIA; few touches, not a lot of penetrating runs. Serna wasn’t always even in the lineup down the stretch, and when he did play he played two games at LM, two at RM, and one at CM (!). Has he fallen out of favor with Pablo? Would he have been better if the Rapids had left him to play on the left only?
3. We’re a team in search of chemistry
Yes, I play a lot of FIFA 15. No, that’s not the kind of chemistry I’m talking about (well, sort of). The only constant in that list above is change- not once did the same four guys start in midfield. I wonder if any other team in MLS saw that much roster juggling. Even the midfield pairing we saw most often, Mari and LaBrocca, didn’t seem to yield much in terms of ball winning, attacking, or passing. None of these lineups ‘clicked’ on either side of the ball. Maybe we needed to start the same four players a few games in a row in order to form some cohesion; to know each others tendencies and get it going. Or maybe what we really need going forward is some new and upgraded midfielders.