With Brian Crookham
This Week's Edition: "Kickin' it España-Style"
I started this column at the end of the first week of the Rapids' trip to Spain where I had traveled on my own to coincide with the Rapids' preseason. Sorry if it's a bit late in getting this Spanish diary finished but here it is!
I was going to talk about a team that played great soccer exhibited toughness and was confident. I swear they were here the first week. But the last week in Spain that team disappeared somewhere in the beautiful hills of the Basque Country.
Let’s start at the beginning. I had the opportunity to check out the setup that Athletic Bilbao provided as hosts to the Rapids. The practice fields accommodations food and weather that the Rapids had at their facilities were exceptional. The organization did this right.
Last week’s game against Athletic Bilbao was an opportunity for the majority of the Rapids' potential starters to get a full 90 minutes for the first time this year. The team has been well-received here and certainly represented itself and MLS well on the big stage against a La Liga team that included as many as nine first teamers.
The Rapids looked very competent in keeping the ball. They were sharp in possession and created numerous quality chances from it. The team was committed to defending as a group and disrupted any rhythm Athletic tried to create.
The effort put in from everyone on the field was exceptional the best I have seen from this team in some time. The trip got off to a flying start.
Training was good and expectations were high as the trip progressed. The reserves followed with games on Thursday and Tuesday. Although they won both games the group struggled to take care of the ball and left little doubt as to why they were not in the first team. Still they were finding ways to win.
The shocker came Wednesday evening when the Rapids lost 8-2 to Eibar. Colorado’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Playing in less than ideal conditions against an opponent that was desperate for a positive result the group folded.
In the spirit of the host nation the team defended like they were involved in a bullfight. Ole! On the attacking side the ball was their enemy. It was a night to forget.
Despite ending the trip with a poor result many positives did come from the team in the preseason trip to Spain. If they can replicate the confidence and style shown in the Athletic game they will be very fun to watch. There are still many questions to be answered though.
The gap between the starters and reserves is a major concern at this point. There are many young players of quality on the roster but few have stepped up to challenge for playing time.
When Pablo is gone as he was for the second game the back four lacks bite. The assumption has to be made that he will be named to the US World Cup roster and miss six weeks. Filling that void with an inexperienced player could be disastrous. A move will have to be made soon to solve this problem. The left side seems solid with Eric Denton and it appears at this point that Chris Wingert will be the early choice over Hunter Freeman on the right.
The midfield seems stable. Clint Mathis is fit and motivated and Kyle Beckerman has done a very good job in the holding role. Terry Cooke and Dedi Ben-Dayan return as known quantities on the outside. Luchi Gonzalez can fill several roles and rookie Colin Clarke has been impressive at times in preseason.
While the team created numerous quality chances in the Athletic game they still failed to convert on any of them. Virtually every attacking player had a good look at goal in the first match. Both Kirovski and Peguero put in tremendous effort and helped in possession and defending. They must produce goals though. Argentine trialist Nico Hernandez may be a help here by the time it is all said and done.
With four of their first five games at home this team can’t take its time finding a way to put the ball in the back of the net. The schedule allows them a great opportunity to get a jump on the league before players leave for the World Cup.
With the season finally upon us it appears that this team is capable of very good things. At the same time it appears fragile. Let’s hope we see the team that showed so well when the season starts this week!
Brian Crookham's "Stoppage Time" column runs exclusively on ColoradoRapids.com. Brian is the Assistant Technical Director for the Colorado State Youth Soccer Association and serves as color commentator for Rapids broadcasts on Altitude TV. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and not necessarily those of the Colorado Rapids or ColoradoRapids.com. Send any questions or comments to Brian at StoppageTime@att.net