Most weeks I try to hit around 800 words for my post-match column, but I’m at a loss to conjure-up anything new in terms of analysis. Part of me was tempted to take last week’s View from the Booth, open a page to embed a new article and simply press Ctrl/C on my keyboard.
We all know what the problem is … the team has recently been unable to weather the first 15 minutes of a game without shipping a goal or two. Prior to the 3-0 loss at New England Revolution, which began this sorry slide, the Rapids had not conceded inside the first quarter of an hour. In the past four games, they’ve leaked in the 10th minute (New England), 14th minute (Real Salt Lake), 9th and 11th minute (FC Dallas) and 12th minute (D.C. United).
A defense which had conceded just 18 goals in the opening 16 games of the 2014 campaign, has since allowed 17 goals in the most recent eight encounters, which also includes one of the nine shutouts enjoyed by the side this season (3-0 vs. Chivas USA).
It’s a body-blow to be without Drew Moor for the rest of the season. With fellow-central defender, Shane O’Neill, also sidelined (right knee sprain), the area under most scrutiny – the defense – will need patching up in the coming weeks.
What kind of side takes to the field against the Galaxy is anybody’s guess. The quick turnarounds this season have often meant wholesale changes to the starting 11, but it’s not the battered bodies I’d be concerned about, as much as the shattered minds.
Head coach Pablo Mastroeni will have taken a long look into the eyes of his players after Sunday’s loss at D.C. United. From what he observed, the former tough-tackling midfielder will have gleaned that inner-belief has undoubtedly been affected.
“At this moment I think confidence is low,” he said. “Especially when you are conceding the way we are, you begin to anticipate that and I think lack of confidence is an issue.
“The only way in life to find that is to sit with yourself and be quiet. You can’t instill that in people. That comes from within. Like I said, we found our way into this and it’s about character to find our way out.”
Anybody who has spent any amount of time among this pack will know how much they are hurting. Despite the plethora of advice coming from a variety of quarters, these guys know what they’re doing wrong. They know that communication has to improve, as does organization, as does split-second decision-making.
But it’s that split-second decision-making which is usually the first to falter when a lack of confidence creeps in. You begin to second-guess your actions, or try too hard, and stray from your natural way of playing. Doubt takes over.
Working harder at your ‘game’ won’t improve those elements too much. You can train longer, or work on more scenarios, but each player – as has been seen – will always react differently in any given situation. You could possess all the God-given soccer talent in the world, but without confidence that talent will likely go to waste.
It would be easy for me to try and be clever by pointing out the blatantly obvious flaws in the Rapids’ recent games. Those that have sat through the four defeats, though, do not need me spouting sanctimonious sermons on the finer points of soccer. We all get it! In short, the side is gifting easy goals and is then left chasing the game.
Fans and the media will dissect the side’s shortcomings. Many will offer their thoughts, some more eloquently than others. Everyone, though, with a vested interest in this side has the right to vent their spleen at the current state of affairs. It’s not a situation any of us enjoy.
We all know it has to get better. We all want it to get better, but there’s only a few who can really, truly make that happen … the players out there in the middle. That said, the sight of burgundy-clad fans screaming support for 90 minutes can’t do any harm.
There are ten games to go – five at home, and five away – all against Western Conference opposition. The Rapids lie seventh in the standings. Strength of character will be tested in the coming weeks. But, if the side can push on past the first 15 minutes without conceding, then they will have passed the first of many tests to come.