This is Part II of my Season Recap. Part I can be found here.
Things I got wrong
While the list below may not be exhaustive, it does, I believe, represent the major mistakes I made coming into this season.
1. The team was better with a 4-5-1 formation with Omar playing wide right
Here is what I wrote in my mid-season recap:
Midfield: C- Early in the season, the Rapids couldn’t maintain possession and were lucky to get a couple of good results. Coach Smith moved to more of a 4-5-1, moving Omar back which improved the possession immensely. While scoring chances were plenty, actually putting the ball in the net, however, didn’t happen consistently. As mentioned above, the Rapids, midfield has scored 3 less goals then last year. We can look to Clark not recovering, inconsistency from Mehdi Ballouchy and Wells Thompson as keys. Additionally, pairing JL and Pablo while doing well to disrupt the oppositions attack, does little to advance the Rapids offense. Some have called for a return to a 4-4-2. Without new personnel, that’s doomed to fail. Pablo is an effective defensive mid, but the Rapids have only one serviceable offensive minded midfielder, Jamie Smith. Lopez, who is the best of the bunch, hasn’t played more then 28 minutes in an MLS game. Thompson and Clark are ineffective.
History shows the Rapids did return to a 4-4-2 and ended up being pretty successful. Assuming you define success as winning the MLS Cup . The Rapids never did display the ball control they did with a 4-5-1, but they did score more goals. While I don’t have the stats to support it, I don’t believe they had more chances to score, but they did score more times. I think the success of returning to the 4-4-2 comes down to two factors. First, I believe because Omar is a forward he figures he will get more chances and therefore feels more comfortable as a forward and less pressure to finish. Also, his quick bursts of speed start further upfield as a forward allowing separation from defenders closer to the goal, whereas starting them more in midfield allows defenders to recover by the time he gets into dangerous areas. This separation resulted in defenders quickly trying to recover ultimately allowing Rapids players space to receive a pass from Omar. The bottom line is Omar went from 4 goals and 0 assists in the first half and ended with 14 goals and 3 assists.
The second factor is due to Pablo and JL becoming more comfortable playing together which meant one or the other could move into the attack. For me, this was second item I missed as the season began.
2. The Rapids can’t be successful with both Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni playing midfield.
The quote above from my mid-season recap alludes to my concern as do other comments in that post and many on BigSoccer. My concerns were valid and played out in the first half of the season. Where I failed was recognizing the players, and coach, could adjust and adjust they did. JL and Pablo took turns participating in the offence by both keeping the play pinned in the offensive end and on occasion being directly involved in scoring. In fact it was JL’s goals that allowed the Rapids to tie FCD in Dallas and Pablo’s goal that won the first game against the Crew in the play-offs. Neither Pablo nor JL are classic, classy, clever #10′s but they are tough, reliable and persistent.
Things that have come back to bite me
Continually ragging on Paul Bravo for these two quotes:
We’re striving to be great, we’re not striving to be average
The staff’s mentality has always been that we’re very comfortable with the group that we have
Man did I post that first quote a lot. I count about six times on BigSoccer alone. The biggest reason it had such as impact on me was it ringed like a hackneyed phrase failing to recognize a failing team. Every team strives to be great but few achieve it. Actions, speaking louder then words, were what was needed, I felt. Further, I don’t believe such comments are necessary. What I wanted to see was a humble recognition that the team wasn’t being successful, but more importantly, they were taking actions to improve. Uttering that phrase was like a news organization saying they are “fair and balanced”. If you feel the need to convince people, clearly your actions bely your words.
The second made my soccer blood boil since it suggested mediocrity, which was what we saw on the field, was perfectly acceptable to the Rapids. In response I developed this quote:
Complacency is not an attribute of a good team nor is hope a strategy for success
As it turned out the Rapids were not comfortable with their team. As the trade window closed, the Rapids dealt for Brian Mullan, a veteran outside midfielder who provided leadership, a history of winning, grit and a dangerous presence on the wing. They also dealt midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy to the New York Red Bulls for Macoumba Kandji, a legitimate threat as backup or third forward.
I feel pretty comfortable saying the Rapids would not have won the MLS Cup without the contributions of both players, a mentality I think was shared by the Rapids “staff”. I’m taking the hit for ragging on the team (Bravo) for the quote but feel somewhat vindicated. So I guess my main reason for bring it up is to recognize the team (Bravo?) for taking action. Not just any action, but solid moves to improve the team and ultimately, make them a championship team.
The 2010 Rapids won the 2010 MLS Cup not because they had the most expensive team, high profile Designated Players, or because they had a team filled with gifted world class players. The Rapids won the MLS Cup because when it came down to needing to survive, a word I choose carefully, the play-offs, they persevered, another word chosen carefully.
The fact is the 2010 Rapids roster is not a team that will over the course of a 30 (or in 2011, 34) game season finish at the top of the league. But they do have a group of players who are good enough, but more importantly, mentally tough enough to succeed when the going gets tough. That wasn’t intended to be back handed compliment. The 2010 Rapids earned the 2010 MLS Cup and the right to proclaim themselves 2010 MLS Champions.
Champions are comprised of many attributes but the combination of two are key. Talent and Mental toughness. Last year, Barcelona had tremendous talent but fell to a lessor talented but mentally tougher Inter-Milan in the Champions League final. This year Spain, made up of many players from Barcelona won the World Cup because they managed to combine their talent with the mental toughness to persevere.
In 2011, I think the Rapids need to continue their mental toughness but add additional talent. But that discussion is best left to 2011. For the rest of 2010 I want to continue to celebrate the success of the Rapids.