Murphy's Law: "Tomorrow We Rise

COMMERCE CITY CO (Exclusive to ColoradoRapids.com) - Colorado Rapids Director of Player Development John Murphy talks to fans exclusively in his column on ColoradoRapids.com about the latest happenings from the Rapids world. Check out his latest column below!
MURPHY'S LAW
This edition: "Tomorrow We Rise"

"As the 2008 MLS season concludes to what looks to be the closest finish in league history it’s appropriate that we take a quick breath before tomorrow night’s vital match vs. Houston.
After all the Rapids' past month’s performance has catapulted them back into the playoff picture with outstanding results at Dallas (1-0) and NY (5-4) bookending solid home showings vs. Chicago (2-0) and New England (1-1).
A favorite saying of mine is 'good to start well better to end well' and that currently sums up our team at the most important time of the year.
The group is cohesive paying with determination but also showing the needed class in the final third. The cross from Mehdi Ballouchy for Conor Casey’s injury time winner at New York was as good as it gets for the combination of skill understanding and application. While Mehdi is a gifted player this skillful approach seems to have gone right through the team.
Most of us aren’t too surprised when big Mike Pteke scores with his head but how about that finish at New York last week? His composure and skill in a situation where many forwards would sky the ball over the crossbar is a prime example of what’s been taking place lately. This is a team that enjoys the challenge at hand and not necessarily concerned about what the opponent is bringing to the table.

But with that in mind our old foes from Houston come to town off of a 4-4 tie with Mexican power Pumas in a mid-week CONCACAF Champion’s League match in Mexico City. For me this was the finest performance by an MLS club in an international competition as this wasn’t a friendly match or at a time where the competition was in the middle of pre-season preparations. This was a powerful Mexican club in mid-season form who was just as motivated to win the match as their counterparts.

But what made it even more impressive was the young energetic squad Houston fielded that took it to the hosts from the outset. Dom Kinnear has successfully implemented a year-long squad rotation policy with numerous competitions occupying their efforts. While this is done by big clubs around the world Houston must be commended for doing so with just a 28 man roster.
The reasons for this success with the rotation are multi-faceted. The two-time champions have a swagger when they step on the field and have the battle scars to show what they accomplished over the past two-plus years. Also just like our own organization they take the MLS Reserve League seriously and develop their young players in an environment that demands performance regardless of the venue. For these reasons they are currently being rewarded in the limelight of the Champion’s League.

Tomorrow night’s game of 11 v 11 will highlight several individual battles to watch. Despite it being a team game these duels impact a professional match as many times group’s efforts are neutralized through graft tactics and concentration. The game shows us that time and time again special players make the difference.

Sometimes these pairings can be two players who won’t be directly challenging each other (EX: GK’s Onstad and Burpo) or players that will match up only in specific situations (EX: who will take Robinson coming forward on an attacking set piece for Houston?). But often it is "mano y mano" for 90 minutes with contrasting forces trying to get the upper hand (or foot).
One match-up that comes to mind will be the Rapids' Jordan Harvey vs. Houston's Brian Mullan on the flanks. Jordan is a talented young defender who has really shown his worth the past couple of months. But he will need all of his resources against Brian Mullan who is a professional in every sense of the word. If he is on his game he is very difficult to deal with in 1v1’s as he can go wide and deliver a cross for oncoming attackers or come inside to combine with teammates at the edge of the box. Either way it is a dangerous situation if it takes place regularly.
Look for Colin Clark and Pablo Mastroeni to assist Harvey with this assignment by taking away easy passes to Mullan in the final third. By making Mullan work harder and/or drop deeper to get on the ball this will simplify Harvey’s responsibilities.
Brian Ching and Nate Jaqua vs. Mike Petke and Cory Gibbs is another key match-up that will impact tomorrow night’s game. Much of Houston’s game plan will be to sit in and break quickly in transition. Their system calls for unselfish workmanlike strikers who can hold the ball in and bring others into the game. If allowed to run freely they will link in with deep runs from midfield and pull Colorado’s shape all over the pitch.
There are two ways to combat this threat. One is to be organized defensively in transition. This means finding their attacking outlets while we have the ball. If we are organized at the back you will see our back line stepping in to win the ball rather than scrambling to get in position.
The second way is for the center backs to work in concert with Mastroeni to occupy the 25x25 centralized area at the top of the 18 yard box. This is an area that Jagua and Ching like to operate in as they will keep the flanks open for Mullan Davis and Barrett. Neither striker posseses world-class speed so they will be checking into the midfield to get on the ball to DeRosario and Clark where they can keep the ball moving into areas where Houston can penetrate and create chances.
Therefore our center backs can push up on the strikers to take away the passes to their feet and Mastroeni can clog passing lanes to these targets. This will force them to take up more neutral positions further away from our goal. Watch the back four work together to deal with this threat as Kimura and Harvey can pinch in slightly to support and Burpo will edge off his line to deal with anything played in behind.
Bottom line the best laid plans can fall to waste so each team needs to be prepared for changes in personnel tactics and tempo. What happens if Houston come out and press for the first 15 minutes? Or how will Houston deal with the Rapids' galvanized defensive shape? Half-time changes substitution patterns and the referee’s decisions will loom large in this match.
Look for it to be a very tight affair but a very well-played game. Both teams have so much to play for so tomorrow night’s match-up looks to be a good one……
Therefore it will be a battle tomorrow night in our stadium and we need everyone to come out fired up both on and off the field. "Together We Rise" is the club’s mantra as we head into this last phase of the season. It reiterates that this is our club and we are all in this together: fans players coaches and administration.
The playoffs don’t start weeks from now they start tomorrow night. The team needs the crowd behind them as the players will feed off of your enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing a passionate crowd cheer the boys on tomorrow night.
So much is at stake but together we will rise to the challenge. I hope to see you there!"
-John Murphy
Director of Player Development Colorado Rapids
Rapids Director of Player Development John Murphy writes his "Murphy's Law" column exclusively for ColoradoRapids.com. Comments and feedback are welcome; send an email to John directly by clicking here. Check back to the website for future installments!