Colorado Rapids loss at Sporting KC: Three key takeaways

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Editorial (May 8, 2018) – The Colorado Rapids lost over the weekend to Sporting KC. The final score was 1-0 but it could have been worse. Dániel Sallói scored the only goal in the 16th minute.

Colorado Rapids loss at Sporting KC: Three things I noticed

Before we get to breaking down the game, let’s look back at the highlights of the match:

Collective breakdowns by the back five:

The three center backs and two wing backs for the Rapids collective had a poor performance. Tommy Smith and Deklan Wynne are relatively fast for their position (haven’t seen enough of Danny Wilson to judge his speed yet), but they all got burned in this game. All three and Tim Howard made mistakes on the goal and errors that almost gave Sporting a second.

Sporting’s front men are all faster than them. One can deal with that by anticipating runs through the gaps and getting support from the midfielders and wing backs. The Rapids did both for most of the home game these two teams played in Colorado earlier this season. They rarely did either on Saturday. None of the three center backs are particularly good defending in space and/or one-on-one. That showed big time and it cost them.

The Rapids also had issues building out of the back. When you’re on the back foot and getting pressed, you need easy passing outlets to get the ball away from pressure. In a 3-5-2, that usually means getting the wing backs out wide and into space. The center backs win the ball centrally and get it out wide away from the pressure. That gives the defense a breather, forces the opponent to expand and break from the press, and helps facilitate possession going upfield.

Take a look at the heat map for the three wing backs, Edgar Castillo, Kip Colvey, and substitute Dillon Serna above. There are lots of defensive actions and almost nothing in the final third. Most passes are either backward or sideways. That’s indicative of a high press and Anthony Hudson’s side was unprepared to deal with Sporting’s rotation in trying to come out of their shell. Peter Vermes had his team more prepared with a better tactical understanding.

What are the assignments for the three center midfielders?

As discussed a bit on last week’s episode of Holding The High Line, I’m still trying to figure out the point and roles of the three-man midfield in Hudson’s 3-5-2. Much of the team is still learning the formation and system, so perhaps it’s still a work in progress. One thing is certain: Jack Price is the designated No. 6/regista.

The other two players? Ask me in a month or two.

In previous games, one has been a typical No. 8-type, usually Nana Boateng or John Blomberg. They shuttle the ball upfield and try and open the attack up with 20-30 yard passes, usually to a forward or wing back on the run. The third player has almost always been Enzo Martinez in a roaming/do it all role. Depending on what the situation needs, he can be a No. 6, No. 8, or a No. 10.

With Blomberg and Boateng injured in this game, the recently acquired Sam Nicholson stepped in. He’s been more of an attacking midfielder in the past. I wouldn’t pigeonhole him into a No. 10 though. With the attack shortcircuiting (see the previous heading), there was less attacking for Martinez and Nicholson to do. Neither helped out enough on defense. Collectively, the midfield three left the center backs exposed. They didn’t help out enough. It was too easy for the opponent to bypass them straight for Wilson and company. Price couldn’t do it all on his own.

Dom Badji can’t be the entire offense:

Dominique Badji has scored five goals this season, accounting for half of Colorado’s total. He’s been directly involved in three others. He was part of the build-up for Niki Jackson’s goal in the season opener, had an assist on a Joe Mason goal, and drew the penalty that got Shkelzen Gashi his only goal of the season. That’s decent for him but is a bad look for the rest of the offense.

He was the only real threat to goalkeeper Tim Melia in this game and flubbed a decent chance in the final minutes to tie the game up. While Badji’s been maligned at times by the fanbase, he’s a good piece if you surround him with talent. He can be a great third-best option on a playoff team.

The rest of the forward corps needs to get healthy and start producing. Gashi and Yannick Boli have been slow to get fit and into the lineup. Mason has also missed some time. Jack McBean has been very unimpressive. One of them or a de facto No. 10 out of midfield needs to become a consistent threat in the final third.

Until then, opposing defenses just have to keep pace with Badji and cut off his service and they’ve got a clean sheet against the Rapids.

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