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Rapids Scouting Report: Travelers Must Be Content

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Sure, the Rapids are a pretty bad team right now, but they're at home. And home teams don't lose very often in MLS. A draw here doesn't help much in the Shield race, but it's a good result.

Matthew Lewis

One of the most pervasive misunderstandings about soccer in the US (and to various extents, everywhere else in the world) is the discounting of the important of home field advantage. If you ask an MLS fan who'd they pick in a match between — say — San Jose and New York, I suspect a large majority would pick the Red Bulls. The more accurate answer is "Well, who's the home team?" Because if the game's in San Jose it's, at best, an even contest (and in fact, New York has only won twice in San Jose in 16 regular season tries).

Odds
Result Shield
Odds
Seattle Win 30.1% 63.4%
Draw 19.4% 44.3%
Colorado Win 50.5% 34.6%

Since the beginning of September there have been 45 MLS regular season games. In those 45 games the road team has only won 4 times. Twice, the home team was Chivas USA. So if you take out a historically bad team, only twice is 43 games has an at least somewhat decent home team lost: Sporting KC to New England on September 26 and Philadelphia over Toronto on September 6. That's it. Coaches repeat it until it's a mantra. . you win at home and draw on the road. And yet if I had a nickel for every time I was told a road game is a 'must-win' because of the opponent, I'd be able to buy Chivas USA.

That is a long-winded way of saying: yes, Colorado is a bad team right now, especially with Drew Moor out for the season. Yes, Seattle is one of the best two teams in the league. And yet they're not favored to win and a draw here is a good result.

With that out of the way, the Rapids are pretty bad. They haven't won in 10 games, and their win 11 games ago was over Chivas at home. Their last win over a non-Chivas team was 15 games ago, nearly half a season. And most of that was before they lost their best defender. Now they're one of the worst teams in the league at some of the most critical defensive metrics. They're dead-last in recoveries per game. They're 18th in interceptions, 17th in duels won, 17th in aerial duels won. Against an offense as potent as Seattle's they'll be sorely tested. Their stop-gap solution is ex-Bolton titanic center back Zat Knight, who'll likely replace Marvell Wynne in defense. He should immediately help with aerial balls, which is great for Seattle because the Sounders don't use them.

Key Players
Deshorn Brown Tall and quick, but hasn't developed the ability to create his own shot if it isn't from long range.
Zat Knight Let's see how this works out. Huge in the air, but he'll need to be quick on his feet to deal with Seattle.
Jose Mari Two-way central midfielder will both screen the defensive middle and try to create chances for the offense.

Last time they played the Sounders, Pablo Mastroeni largely abandoned the wings and deployed a sort of diamond, with Nick Labrocca, Dillon Serna, and Marlon Hairston all screening the defense as cautious central midfielders, and Dillon Powers not much further ahead. That allowed them to easily fall into the now-familiar anti-Seattle tactic of overloading the defensive center. Being able to put 7 or 8 bodies around the top of the box quickly forces Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey to either move the ball wide or try to slalom through a forest of legs. Too often, they choose the latter option. In that match, in Seattle against a dire team, the Sounders only managed to win 1-0.

It's becoming a tedious mantra, but the Sounders have to figure out how to consistently create attacks from the flanks to pull the defense wider. Their best wide midfielders — Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa, both like to aggressively cut into the middle rather than cross from wide. Their only consistent source of width is fullback DeAndre Yedlin, and using him that far up the field compromises the defense.

At Seattle's defensive end, there are injuries, but we'll likely see a pretty good defensive line of Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Brad Evans, and LOOK AWAY! AVERT YOUR EYES! The not-Marshall center back roulette is in effect with Zach Scott still out. Jalil Anibaba has been reliably responsible for at least a goal allowed a game. Djimi Traore's game has evolved to a 90 minute overhead slide-tackle attempt, since basic stand-up defending no longer interests the ex-Champions League defender.

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The Rapids will no doubt be running at that defense hard from around the flanks, thus flanking Osvaldo Alonso and testing two fullbacks who will be trying to get forward to create width. If they can get in behind the defensive midfield and go at Anibaba or Traore, they have to think they're good for at least a goal. Their best attacker is Deshorn Brown, though he's regressed this season to just trying a lot of long shots from outside the box rather than working inside the box.

This'll be the third game in a row that I predict neither team will be shut out, and I haven't been wrong so far. The last time the Sounders saw a shutout was in that home win over these Rapids. But in Colorado without Scott I don't expect to see another. And the last time the Sounders were shutout was a 1-0 road loss to a bad San Jose team, which could end up being eerily similar if the Seattle Hydra can't figure out how to vary its attack.