View from the Booth: Rapids come good with their Plan B

Being able to adapt a must, and produces a first in testing conditions

View from the Booth 5

Photo Credit: 
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Two road trips to Canada and two wins, on two terrible surfaces, suggests there’s more to this Colorado Rapids side than many around MLS would think. The game itself in Toronto, as a spectacle, was less pleasing. Play was bogged down in the middle third, the ball skipping and spitting on a rutted surface. Neither goalkeeper was over-worked.

Indeed, the bare-chested, pot-bellied Toronto FC fans bellowing from the stands were easier on the eye.

Out on the field it was clearly a slog, and an occasion where pretty soccer simply had to make way for an ugly 90 minutes. Great result, awful game; but I’m more than happy with that, for it shows this Rapids side is able to adapt to both the opposition and the conditions.

Clearly, we’d all like to see the ball played to feet, slick passing, crisp touches and some sustained goalmouth action. Sadly, the sorry state of BMO Field prevented either side from showcasing their silky soccer skills. But, rather than come unstuck desperately trying to play their way out of the mire on a patchy pitch, Pablo Mastroeni’s team rolled up their sleeves, dug deep and slugged it out. Plan B was initiated and it eventually paid off.

Being able to adjust your style according to the challenges of any given day is crucial. Many teams unravel because they rigidly, almost stubbornly, stick to a formula which allows them to be competitive most of the time. Some coaches refuse to swallow their soccer pride and resort to fighting, scratching and scrapping in order to achieve their aim, which must surely be to win the game, irrespective of the style in which it's done.

A few years back, some West Ham fans rounded on their manager Sam Allardyce, when the team were in the Championship, the second tier of English soccer. They felt his style was not befitting of the West Ham ‘way’. What they failed to appreciate was, at that time, he was playing a style more suited to the level of the game they were at, and the opposition. Ultimately it proved successful, and they achieved promotion.

In other words, as much as we would like to see super, sexy soccer each week, there will be times when that is simply not possible, and what you then need in your coach is an ability to adapt. Mastroeni and his coaching staff did just that in Toronto.

Which players stood out for me on Saturday? Well, back to front it would have to be Shane O’Neill, Dillon Powers and Edson Buddle.

Buddle, of course, hit the only goal of the game. Watch the goal back and just monitor his movement. He’s a poacher. Rarely will he streak away from the halfway line and pop it in the net. That’s the kind of thing that Deshorn Brown or Gabriel Torres would do. Instead, he’s the fox in the box, the player who comes alive 18 yards out.

Powers was everywhere on Saturday. He covered almost every blade of grass, divot and muddy patch at BMO Field, happy to take the lead in tight spaces on a testing surface.

And then there’s O’Neill. Switched to a central defensive role in recent games, he put in a superb shift, almost acting as a sweeper on occasions. His ability to read the game, anticipate and intercept is the sign that he is maturing into one of the league’s outstanding talents, and still at just 20 years of age.

The Rapids shattered a number of records at the weekend. It was, of course, the first time they had tackled Toronto at their place and emerged with anything. Six previous visits had resulted in six defeats.

It was the first time since August 13th, 2011 that they had achieved back-to-back road wins. That date was also the last time the Rapids secured three wins in a row, something they’ll be aiming to achieve when San Jose Earthquakes visit Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this coming Saturday (TICKETS).

Ahead of that testing encounter, the side sits on 10 points from the opening five games, five tough games, against New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC – three away and just two at home. Early days still, but the only other time in club history that they hit double figures after five fixtures was in 2010. Just sayin’ …