Nobody can fault the Rapids for effort, despite a second successive loss in MLS, and it’s clear that they are fully aware of where they've fallen short, whether that be their paucity in front of the posts or the slow starts. As skipper Drew Moor noted after Saturday’s showing in Sandy: “We just can’t wait to get punched in the face before we start playing.”
The fire in the belly seemed to be ignited only once the controversial penalty was tucked away by Javier Morales, after which the Rapids were the better side, more positive, more aggressive and more threatening.
But where was that kind of play for the first 50 minutes?
The performance put in from 2-0 down told me that this side has that grit, that edge and that drive, but it needs to show itself much earlier in matches, and not when the team finds itself trailing by one or two and chasing the game.
Slow, precise build-up play and sitting tight defensively is all well and good, but it can invite the opposition to come on to you, particularly if that opposition is playing in front of a sold-out home crowd when they would be expected to be the more offensive-minded.
Real Salt Lake’s first goal looked as though the Rapids defense got narrow on itself and failed to pick up the eventual scorer, Joao Plata. The truth of the matter is, RSL’s movement off the ball, the speed of passing and the ability to commit bodies forward to support the attack were all decisive factors in the opening strike.
Plata netted, but there was super build-up play from Devon Sandoval and Morales, as well as a smart decoy run by Ned Grabavoy.
Quicker movement and support for the man in possession were the key to unlocking the Rapids defense, but not just any old support, rather the proximity of that support. RSL attacked in close-knit packs, with positive passing, which carried the ball further into the opposition’s territory, rather than sideways and then backwards.
It’s that kind of quick, inter-changing play which was again lacking from the Rapids, whose main threat came from set pieces and latching onto any second ball, as was the case for Edson Buddle’s header against the post, Moor’s goal and his two other good chances.
Buddle suggested in the lead-up to the game that the dearth of goals may have something to do with not committing enough bodies forward in the final third of the field, and added that more support was needed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Link-up play is an issue – support for the men up top – as is movement of the ball and movement off the ball.
"Offensively we're a little predictable, because we lack the numbers in the other team's offensive half," Buddle told me. "If we allow ourselves to get more numbers in the offensive half, I think we'll have more options going forward. And I think that's (the) cause of the lack of scoring."
The kind of fluidity and understanding, seen from Real Salt Lake and Seattle in recent weeks, comes from time in the middle, alongside the same faces and/or in a similar formation. The Rapids may benefit from a settled starting 11, leading to a better understanding and greater confidence, particularly in offensive areas.
All that’s not to say there weren’t positives to emerge from Rio Tinto. Dillon Serna’s individual trickery almost reaped rewards, and the Rapids bossed for long periods in the second half, albeit when two adrift.
Yes, the penalty was soft ... very soft, but over a season they do tend to even themselves out (not much consolation when it hands such an advantage to your fiercest rivals). The Rapids have had their fair share of pk's, and I certainly feel the one at New York Red Bulls was questionable.
Ten points from the first five games has been followed by five points from the most recent six outings, which has included three defeats. Add to that the fact that the Rapids, in their previous seven games, have found the net on only five occasions and it’s apparent that the lack of goals is beginning to hurt them.
So, here's a thought. Ahead of the home match with Montreal this Saturday (TICKETS), maybe have the players watch the opening five minutes of the second half at Real Salt Lake. Get angry, and 'hit' Montreal before they hit you … just don’t wait to get punched in the face again.