As I mentioned in my last blog, the Rapids will return the starting 11 that won the 2010 MLS Cup. The Rapids use the traditional 4-4-2 formation. The defense is Matt Pickens in goal, Kosuke Kimura, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor and Anthony Wallace across the back. The mid fielders are Brian Mullan, Jeff Larentowitcz, Pablo Mastroeoni, and Jamie Smith and the forwards are Conor Casey and Omar Cummings.
The teams strength is up the middle as JL and Pablo work well together defending, and getting the loose ball and starting the offense, which more often then not means either a mid range ball to Casey or Omar or sending the wide to the mids down the touch line. The Rapids don’t employ lengthy buildups, preferring to strike quick.
Defensively, what the may players lack in faultless play, they make for in their remarkable ability to recover. Marvell Wynne especially has prevented many easy chances with his quickness and speed.
As mentioned last week, the teams biggest weakness was it’s lack of quality depth. Coach Smith has done, on paper, a great job addressing that concern. In the midfield, Jamie Smith and Mullan are good possession mid fielders, but lack speed. Coach Smith has brought in Sanna Nyassi from Seattle. Sanna has excellent speed and quickness and is very explosive towards the goal. Joseph Nane, recent of Toronto, will provide a tough backup for JL and Pablo. Replacing Julian Baudet is Tyrone Marshall who, while not the imposing physical presence Julian was, is good in the air and tough on the ball. As I write this, the Rapids are negotiating with Hull City for Caleb Folan. Caleb accompanied the Rapids on their pre-season trip to Arizona recently, scoring a goal and playing games with both Conor Casey and Omar Cummings.
The addition of Nyassi and Nane represent a big step forward in quality depth. Adding Folan would be another huge plus.
I saw an interesting analysis the other day regarding midfield tactics. The article mentions the Rapids technique of “funnel-and-press” and how they’ve used it to success. One positive thing mentioned was the Rapids completed an MLS best 83% of their passes. According to Matthew Doyle:
That’s at least partially because they attempted fewer passes than most other teams, but also because they have Jeff Larentowicz sweeping and distributing in front of his defense.
Some (like me) might argue the high percentage might also be due to the fact the defenders do an awful lot of passing among themselves before moving the ball forward .
It’s no secret, I prefer a different style of play. But given the choice, I’ll take the results we saw last year. But due to money constraints, MLS teams simply will not be able to build a team with 11 highly skilled possession oriented, players, at least any time soon.
Ever since the Designated Player rule, I have argued, against the wind, having such a player (or recently, players) doesn’t guarantee success. First, the additional money, while huge by MLS standards, still isn’t enough to get quality players in their prime. Second, but more importantly, it’s a team game and adding one, two, or even three as the New York Red Bulls did last year, doesn’t a championship make. Unless I’m mistaken, as of now no team with a designated player has won the MLS Cup. That will change, if for no reason than the odds.
The secret to wining is getting players who fit into and believe and can execute the coaches system (assuming, of course, the system is a good enough one to win). That’s what Gary Smith and his Rapids did in 2010. Oh yeah, in addition to that, you need the ball to roll the right way and a bit of good fortune to boot. The Rapids finished 2010 with all three.
What fortunes will 2011 hold?
At first glance, despite the constant hype about the L.A. Galaxy, it doesn’t look to me like the Western Conference is any stronger then last year. FC Dallas doesn’t appear to be stronger, nor Real Salt Lake or San Jose. In fact, I don’t see anything to suggest the Rapids couldn’t compete for the top spot.
Returning the starting team that won the 2010 MLS Cup is a good start, but is it enough? Just a few things which could go wrong and send the team backwards include:
- Playing like they are the returning champions instead of with a passion to defend. That means working hard and playing smart instead of expecting results.
- Key injuries. They are a bit deeper this year, but at this point, losing one or more of Omar, Casey, JL, Pablo, Marvell or Drew would be very painful.
- More about depth. The addition of the champions league games means more chance for fatigue and injuries. Plus the Gold Cup will mean Omar will miss games playing for the Jamaican National Team and maybe some other Rapids players may earn spots on the U.S. National Team. The new players need to play close to the level of those they replace.
According to the count down widget on the right, the first home game is less then 20 days out. The legendary and MLS best tailgate 3 hours sooner. We’ll learn a bit more about the team over the next few week as they take a trip to Southern California and play some more pre-season games. We also should here if the Rapids are able to sign Folan.
MLS soccer is almost here, it’s time to break out the jerseys, scarves and hats, but leave the vuvuzelas at home because word is they’ve been banned from Dicks Sporting Goods Park.