Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Smith's Quote and Plush's Letter

"We need better players," said Smith. "What was very clear tonight was that some of the guys in that changing room are not good enough."
As of 5pm Tuesday, 27 responses to Jeff Plush's letter to fans on the Rapids' blog. When you address the fan's real needs, you get a response.
The coach's quote and the response to the GM speak volumes. The club desperately needs to address a number of issues, to be dealt with in a separate post, so that a low ebb does not actually become a full-blown crisis. But make no mistake about it, the Rapids' failure to miss the playoffs for the third straight year will need more than a heartfelt letter to the fans.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rapids Out of Postseason

The Colorado Rapids will not be going to the postseason for the third straight year after New England beat Columbus today. Remarkably, the Rapids were still in with a shout at getting a playoff spot after their 3-0 beating by Real Salt Lake yesterday. Results elsewhere meant that they could still get into the postseason, apparently if Columbus beat New England. That wasn't to be as New England won the final game of the regular season 1-0 with a Jeff Larentowicz goal in the 79th minute. In truth, the Rapids would have been very lucky to have crept in by the back door after only getting four points from their last seven games. Time for some analysis another day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lose 3-0 And Still In?

I left the Bulldog early once the third goal went in and came home and ranted about everything that was wrong about the Rapids. The lack of decent media coverage, the fact that true fans often get shunted aside by the powers that be, you now, that kind of thing. But, because of some freaky results elsewhere, it seems to me, bizarrely, that the team is still in possible playoff contention. It boils down to what happens in the Revolution and Columbus game tomorrow. By my calcuations, if the Revolution fail to beat Columbus tomorrow afternoon, the Rapids will qualify in the last wildcard position.
It may be by the backdoor but the team may still have a chance. Seems hard to believe.

Over The Hills And Not So Far Away

What is there to say? Destiny in their hands, playoff berth on the line, players playing against their old clubs on both sides, arch rivals, Rocky Mountain Cup. What more do you need? The only thing I am certain of is that CBS4 Denver will not be bothering to cover any of this game but will instead be focusing on Brandon Marshall's inane comments in a bye week. Sorry, bit of frustration there at the completely crap coverage of this great game and great bunch of local professional athletes by one of our esteemed local broadcasting networks. They are not alone, it has to be said.
I'm not going to say much about the game. I know what the line-up will be but I'm not going to say anything out of respect for Gary Smith and the players. Anything he can keep under wraps before this game could be an advantage to the Rapids. And I'm sure Jason Kreis will be checking my blog first thing this morning.
One thing that may work in the team's favor is Smith's experience of English soccer, notably the FA Cup. This game has all the attributes of a great FA Cup tie. Local derby, win and you are in, lose and you are out. I am desperatly trying to manage my expectations, just as I would if it was England playing in a big game. The trouble is, if the Rapids start the game well, those expectations will rise and then only disappointment can come. And it would be a bitter disappointment at that after a much better season than in the past two years.
On the positive side, as up for this game as Salt Lake will be, I don't think they are as formidable a side as Dallas have been the past few weeks. The Rapids were on a bit of a wing and a prayer going into Texas last week. Today, even though Salt Lake still have a sniff at the postseason themselves, I think the Rapids will be happier playing them than Dallas. Just a hunch.
See you down at the British Bulldog. And good luck to all the traveling Rapids' fans. Wonder how many Broncos fans get off their arses and make a road trip every season? Umm. Must give CBS4 a call about that one.
And a prediction, my only one of the season. Rapids win 3-2 with Kosuke Kimura netting the winner in the 85th.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Date With Destiny Across the Mountains

The only good thing about the weekend shakeout is that the Rapids still hold their playoff destiny in their hands. The problem is, they have been doing that for many weeks now and they still need a win in their final game on the road against arch rivals Salt Lake to achieve it. Gary Smith said a few weeks ago, from memory after the home tie against San Jose, that God forbid it would come down to another end of season climax with Salt Lake. Well, it has, and the Rapids will require a herculean effort, not a little luck and loads of offensive skill to get what they need.
I am in agreement with Gary Smith that this time cannot be faulted for lack of effort. The way they train, the work rate during games. This team works hard, every one of them. The bitter truth is, however, that all the injuries to wide midfielders have exposed a lack of depth on the wing and service to Cummings and Casey has suffered as a result. As much as it pains me, my mind has gone back this weekend to the bitter defeat in Chicago. Yes, the Rapids did win two games immediately after that, at home to Toronto and Houston. But, both those games were won by tight 1-0 margins. And what has happened since then? Defeats and draws only. In the Chicago game, the team looked far more penetrating offensively and I don't see any coincidence in that Jacob Peterson and Jamie Smith played that day. When the team is more penetrating, it gives Cummings and Casey more confidence to take the opportunities they will get. When such opportunities are so few and far between, it can add to too much pressure on too few scraps.
The Chicago game also cast a black cloud over the team. As much as they had to put it behind them (and they did with the two victories immediately afterwards), what would they give now to have kept that 2-0 lead with less than 20 minutes to go? If they had held onto that lead, they would be in the playoffs now. Ifs and buts, I know, but that was one traumatic defeat and it would be hard for a human being not to think about that when so much is on the line this Saturday.
The one piece of further good news is that nearly all the playoff aspirants are on the road Saturday. Minus Real Salt Lake, of course. RSL could still squeeze in with a victory against the Rapids and results elsewhere, unlikely as it is, going their way. That is the bad news. Dallas looked speedier than the Rapids Saturday and hungry after their amazing run in recent weeks. Real Salt Lake would likely have been an easier prospect than Dallas until the results at the weekend gave them just a glimmer of hope.
Realistically, the team as it is cannot be expected to go past the first round of the playoffs even if they make the postseason. But to make the playoffs is still very important for this team going into next season. After those two victories against Houston and Toronto, it seemed almost a given that the Rapids would get in the playoffs. But four points in six games and an attack weakened by so many injuries have clouded the issue and made October 24 across the Rocky Mountains another date with destiny. Imagine what spector that would be to carry on your shoulders if the team doesn't make it into the playoffs when so few points were needed as long as six weeks ago.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Win And We're In

Even if Real Salt Lake win in Toronto (unlikely, but you never know), the Colorado Rapids can still clinch a playoff position tonight with a win in Dallas if New England fail to win their game. The beauty is that Gary Smith will know the results of both the Salt Lake and New England games before the kickoff tonight against FC Dallas. The team would know exactly what it has to do and their destiny would be in their hands. Even if they can't clinch it tonight, they will still know that a win almost guarantees them a place in the postseason. Smith said a win will mean he is smoking cigars and drinking brandy tonight in some Dallas hotel. The team is almost there but it will be a very tough game against a streaking Dallas who still have an outside chance at reaching the playoffs after a great run in recent weeks.
A draw would still be a good result. Perhaps as important would be some goals from open play. Offensively, the Rapids have been ineffective in recent weeks, relying on Conor Casey's penalty kicks to scrounge points here and there. Tonight, they will rely on service from the wings in the form of regular fullbacks, Jordan Harvey and Kosuke Kimura. I think you are going to see a back three (Gibbs, Moor and Palguta) with Pablo Mastroeni playing just in front of them. With Kimura and Harvey in midfield will be Nick LaBrocca and Pat Noonan (a huge game for Noonan tonight) as the team will miss Mehdi Ballouchy through suspension. Omar Cummings and Casey will be upfront. So, it won't be a 3-5-2 that Smith really doesn't like all that much, more of a 3-1-4-2. Width in attack but less vulnerability for the defense. Despite the dilemmas posed by a returning to fitness Matt Pickens, I think Preston Burpo will be in goal. Put it this way. It was Burpo training yesterday with the first team while Pickens worked separately with goalkeeping coach, David Kramer, and the other reserve goalies.
A huge, huge game. Let's hope the team gives the best possible account of itself and we gain something from the trip.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Win In Texas For Playoff Position?

It may have been a quiet week for the Rapids but all the noise from the other MLS games has left their task very clear. A win in Dallas and they could be in the playoffs. Such a scenario will take place for sure if the Rapids win in Texas and Real Salt Lake fail to beat New York tomorrow night, something they haven't done in the past 10 games against the Red Bulls apparently. But then New York has failed to pick up a victory all season on the road so that might be asking a bit too much. There are other scenarios even if Salt Lake do win tomorrow night but, suffice it to say, the Rapids will almost definitely be in and could for sure be in after Saturday if they notch a victory.
In injury news, Matt Pickens is looking to be fit for selection for the first time in some weeks, posing a dilemma for Gary Smith as to who to put in the net. Check out this story on www.mlsnet.com for the latest on the goalkeeping situation http://web.mlsnet.com/news/mls_news.jsp?ymd=20091013&content_id=7449308&vkey=news_mls&fext=.jsp
According to the Rapids' website, Cory Gibbs will be in the starting line-up in a back line of three defenders with Pablo Mastroeni just in front. Gibbs will be replacing suspended Julien Baudet. Mehdi Ballouchy is also suspended and there could be some shifts in the midfield to allow regular fullbacks, Kosuke Kimura and Jordan Harvey, to play more wide midfield positions.
Conor Casey should be back from his World Cup heroics to partner Omar Cummings upfront although what kind of condition he will be in after two games in a few days remains unclear. Fellow US MNT forward, Charlie Davies, was today seriously injured in a car accident, meaning Casey will surely be starting tomorrow against Costa Rica. The injuries to Davies are, thankfully, not said to be life-threatening.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Recommended Reading

Well, Dallas did beat San Jose, setting up a mega-game in Texas next weekend for the Rapids. It's looking very difficult for the boys but testing times call for big characters so we'll see what happens.
No Rapids news to report on but I did want to alert you to a fantastic blog I stumbled upon the other night. There is no sport like soccer to entwine sport, culture and politics and this blog proves it. You don't have to agree with everything but you should enjoy the different takes on issues and the expanding of soccer from more than just being a game. I'm posting a link to the blog to the side (http://fromaleftwing.blogspot.com/)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Looking Over Their Shoulders

Dallas' game with San Jose on Wednesday could help decide the Rapids' playoff hopes. If the streaking Hoops conjure up another win against the also improving San Jose Earthquakes, they will still be in the playoff hunt. If they lose, they will be eliminated from the postseason, presumably making Colorado's trip to Texas October 17 a little easier for the Burgundy and Blue.
That is what it has come down to. Worrying about what happens to the other teams in contention. The Rapids, by only drawing their last four games and not scoring in open play during that time, are making things difficult for themselves. Gary Smith has been saying for some while now that 42 points should be enough but it increasingly looks as if at least one more point than that will be needed, meaning the Rapids have to win one of their remaining two road games. That is why this week's game between Dallas and San Jose appears so important.
Maybe the week off this week will help the team get out of its rut. It's interesting to note that Smith has called the team into practice this week as if there is a game this weekend. No time off at such a crucial juncture. As usual, he did not criticize the team's effort at the weekend but he did say they still have some way to go to create a consistent winning mentality. Not surprising given that the Rapids have not been in the playoffs for two years. This is severe gut check time and everyone will need to look at the example of veterans like Pablo Mastroeni to try and replicate the heart needed. The captain has been the best player on the field by far in the past two games since returning from suspension and everyone needs to follow his example in these last two games.
Two of those not able to follow Mastroeni will be Julien Baudet and Mehdi Ballouchy. Both of these players are out for the Dallas game, Ballouchy very unluckily, Baudet not quite so. Although Baudet clearly did not elbow Kheli Dube, it wasn't the brightest thing to do to raise his hand and Gary Smith wasn't too impressed with his central defender after the game. Fortunately, Cory Gibbs looks likely to be fit again in time for the Dallas game and could take Baudet's place.
In other injury news, Matt Pickens is making good progress but the most surprising news is that Jamie Smith may be able to play some part in the postseason. The winger is able to cross balls and so, presumably, could factor in some kind of training this week. Of course, if the Rapids fail on the road in Dallas or Salt Lake, that could all be a moot point.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rapids Tie Again After Baudet Sent Off

The Colorado Rapids notched their fourth tie in a row tonight, making their playoff hopes no more fulfilled. As Seattle and Chivas snatched vital away victories, the Rapids could only draw at home in Colorado. A 56th minute penalty kick from Conor Casey, his 16th goal of the season, equalized for the home team after Kheli Dube had opened the scoring for New England in the 29th minute. Julien Baudet was sent off for the Rapids in the 58th minute. The Rapids now sit back for a week and wait anxiously to see what other teams do. They next play October 17th in Dallas.

Revolution Take 1-0 Lead Into Halftime

A poor first-half for the Rapids with very few outright chances created. A 29th minute header by Kheli Dube from a leftfield cross crashed past Preston Burpo for the only goal of the first 45 minutes. Dube was left virtually unmarked in the penalty area. Frustrations abound for the Rapids as the playoffs look more distant at the break.