Where to start with this one? Well, first off, it wasn’t good enough. I think we’re all in agreement there.
Chivas USA had a game-plan, to soak up Rapids’ pressure and hit them on the break, which they did to great effect. Victory was only their second of the season, and their first over the Rapids in 12 attempts. As Shane O’Neill said afterwards: “It was just one of those days that you want to forget about.”
By all means forget about the result, but lessons must – and will – be learned from the manner of the defeat. The Rapids have now played 10 games. Seven of those games have resulted in just two goals being conceded and produced five clean sheets ... so they know how to defend. The other three matches have been defeats, in which a total of 10 goals have been leaked.
The Jekyll and Hyde trait can be highlighted by home results alone. In the five games played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the Rapids boast three shutouts (vs. Portland, San Jose and LA Galaxy), but have given up three goals in each of the other two fixtures (Sporting KC and Chivas USA). It’s all or nothing …
A word I heard over and over postgame was ‘mindset’. Is the team being too aggressive in their desperate attempt to chase games? Do they need to remain focused when going behind, particularly when dominating, regroup and stay patient?
Against Chivas USA, the Rapids, for their part, dominated possession (65.2%-34.8%), had more attempts at goal (16-6) and forced six-times as many corner kicks (12-2). And, yet, for all of that forward thrust, the finished product was lacking. Of the 16 attempts on goal, just four were on target, compared to the visitors’ five on frame from their six efforts.
Quality in the final third was always going to be tricky, in testing weather conditions and against an experienced central defensive duo of Carlos Bocanegra and Bobby Burling. The ball over the top was not the answer, certainly not in the first half when the Rapids had the unseasonal gust at their backs. As Chivas USA showed after the break, the key to success was breaking at speed. Now, that was made easier by the Rapids actively seeking a goal, and therefore committing bodies forward. Chivas USA had made life difficult for the hosts, playing a 4-5-1, cluttering the midfield and ‘parking the bus’, as they say.
But teams are going to do that, particularly when facing the Rapids at altitude in their own back yard. San Jose Earthquakes adopted a similar approach earlier this season, and departed with a goalless tie. The Rapids struggle, it seems, against a team which sits deep.
Had Deshorn Brown’s header gone in, rather than ricochet off the post, then maybe we’d be telling a different tale. But it didn’t, so we’re not. The truth of the matter is that the Rapids’ main threat came from corner kicks, rather than open play, and the stats don’t lie. Four goals from the last six games is not a healthy return. However resolute your defense is, they are going to have ‘off days’. Eleven goals in 10 games is a ratio which needs to improve.
Goals change games. They change the tactical approach of teams, and if you’re unable to score goals, then you’ll rarely wrestle teams out of their pregame locker room comfort zone. The first goal conceded against Chivas USA was such an example. It forced the Rapids into taking risks, leading to defensive errors, and the win was duly pocketed by the visitors.
Some felt the 4-1 loss at Seattle was a wake-up call. I disagree. Their 5-0 hammering at New England aside, many feel this Sounders side could be the real deal. On that day, the Rapids were outclassed by a better side, pure and simple. No, on Sunday, the Rapids did not – on the face of it – meet a superior side. They were simply outwitted and out-foxed.
Fans have every right to be angry with what they saw, particularly those that braved the elements. And I absolutely hear their reasons for the defeat. Successful teams are built on many things, including continuity, which breeds an understanding between players. O’Neill suggested communication may have been at fault for the first Chivas USA goal.
Another word which came through in the aftermath was ‘naivety’, spoken by Pablo Mastroeni and referring to both he and the players. There are young players on this side, led by a new, young coach. Undoubtedly there will be bumps in the road. Sunday’s bump will have shaken a few, and produced this quote from the head coach: “You can’t evolve until you hurt enough.”
And that one hurt …