It feels so much better when you score a late equalizer rather than concede one, and the Rapids have experienced both sides of that particular coin in their two most recent games.
Earning a point, or more, on the road is not to be sniffed at but Saturday’s showing at Philadelphia – while showing pluck and spirit – also highlighted deficiencies defensively.
Two out of the three Rapids goals were as a result of good movement and precision passing, in addition to neat finishing. Sadly, all three Philly efforts came via lapses in the defensive third, whether it be not tracking the runner, or being too loose when in possession.
Thankfully, the Rapids were able to salvage a point from the game, albeit after a bizarre refereeing decision. Yes, the high boot from Michael Lahoud was worthy of a penalty, but a sending-off as well? I thought it harsh. Rarely do you see a high boot in open play result in anything more than a yellow card and a free kick. In my opinion, the ref got it wrong.
That said, it presented the Rapids with an opportunity to tie the contest, a contest which – until that moment of controversy – looked to be slipping away from the visitors.
I may have mentioned in a previous View from the Booth, but this Rapids side can contain and conquer the best in MLS. They can also leak like some of the worst. So far, the Rapids have conceded 22 goals in 18 matches. Sixteen of those goals have come in just five games!
In other words, just six goals have been shipped in 13 games, which is very impressive. Less impressive is giving up three goals or more in each of those aforementioned five outings. Feast or famine.
Saturday’s game, as head coach Pablo Mastroeni pointed out in his post-match comments, highlighted naivety defensively. I’ve not carried out extensive scientific research, but my sense is that this Rapids side can cope with speed and height in an opposition offense. Where they appear to struggle is against power, but mainly the cunning, crafty and intelligent attackers that make late runs, drag you out of position, disrupt your rhythm and all-together keep you thinking for 90 minutes.
Some of the game’s best strikers may not be the quickest, biggest or strongest, but they are excellent at anticipating the play, making late runs and generally out-witting their opponent. Conor Casey was such an opponent at the weekend.
The Rapids bandwagon is still rolling. It has not reached its destination, and there will be battles won and lost along the way but what I like about Pablo’s approach is that, though consistently loyal to the team’s effort and work ethic, he acknowledges areas in need of improvement.
Even the most ardent supporter will recognize that this team is not the finished product. They have good days and bad days. The match at Philadelphia was something of a mixed bag – a decent day offensively, but not such a good one at the other end.
If you can have these kind of matches and still emerge with a point, then it shows a spirit and fight within the side, and bodes well for when everything clicks. Plus, aside from Seattle Sounders, the other two teams in the top five of the Western Conference both lost at the weekend (Real Salt Lake and Vancouver Whitecaps).
That said, there were chances in Philadelphia to wrestle the initiative and have the home team chasing the game rather than the other way round. Composure in front of goal needs to improve, as the better sides will afford you fewer opportunities.
Consistency will carry this Rapids side into the playoffs and beyond. Though the side is unbeaten in three, they have won just one of those fixtures. A run of three, four, five wins in a row, or a six, seven or eight-game unbeaten stretch is what is now required. It has been a little stop-start. We’ve had moments when a run has been threatened, but it’s yet to fully materialize, and I believe it’ll be needed this season to pull clear of a congested pack in the West.
And so it’s back to Western Conference opposition this Friday, with a second successive road trip, this time to the Portland Timbers. It’s been a while since the Rapids last won on the road (April 12 at Toronto FC), and even longer since they were last victorious in Oregon (June 11, 2011).
The Rapids have only ever scored once at the Timbers, and that came in the 1-0 win three years ago. Since then, Portland has won three out of three at home without conceding.
It will be another test, as all the games are, and I’m sure Mastroeni has been going over the Philadelphia performance, dissecting the display and looking at ways in which the side can tighten things, improve and build toward the telling moments of the season. Small steps, ready - we hope - for a big finish.