By Wes Brown
Before we kick off the 2014 Rocky Mountain Cup contest on Saturday, we should all take the time to look at the stats for Colorado. The numbers might be surprising.
I’ve been very low on the Rapids since it was announced that Oscar Pareja took the job in Dallas. When he took Hendry Thomas with him, I considered it another blow to the momentum Colorado gained in 2013. The indecision with off season player acquisitions put them at a severe disadvantage compared to their conference rivals, most of which made huge progress for 2014.
Despite my negative opinions of the Rapids heading into the new campaign, they currently sit in fifth place in the West (I predicted them dead last in the league), five points clear of sixth place San Jose. But there are a few stats I’ve noticed that reveal they might not be as good as their record or standing suggests.
Minutes per scored/conceded goal
The first thing that I wanted to take a look at was how often the Rapids were scoring compared to how often they were giving up goals. The Rapids have been scoring every 81.82 minutes, but they have been conceding a goal every 75.00 minutes. This differential in minutes between scored/conceded goals is important to long-term successes because, over time, it’s a good indicator of the winning tendencies of a team. Simply put, scoring more often than you concede puts more points in your coffers. We all know where the most points gets you.
(For reference sake, RSL is currently on pace for a goal every 42.86 minutes, and one conceded every 75.00).
Compounding this issue is Colorado’s uncanny number of PK’s thus far in the season. In their first three games (New York, Portland, and Kansas City), they’ve had the chance to score from the spot five times. They’ve capitalized on all of them. Removing those five PK goals, the Rapids’ have only been scoring every 150 minutes.
Say what you will about penalties, or how you factor them into matches -- the frequency of PKs for Colorado this year indicates to me that they’ve been receiving some sort of favor from the Soccer Gods, whether you recognize their existence or not. It also alerts me to the fact that Colorado hasn’t really found their groove in the attacking third just yet. This leads me to my next point.
Breadth of roster seeing playing time
Colorado currently has only five players on their full roster not having any minutes in 2014: Brenton Griffiths, Davy Armstrong, German Mera, Grant Van De Casteele, and Brian Mullan. Van De Casteele is the only of the five that’s even seen the bench. Note also that all of these players are defensive by nature, Mullan playing fullback in recent years.
All of the Rapids forwards and midfielders have seen game time, most of them substantial (Danny Mwanga is the only player with less than 100 minutes; the average minutes played is 361.8). They have no lack of options up top, even with three forwards on the field. Pablo Mastroeni has changed the forward partnerships up throughout so far, and this tells me they’re still searching for the right combo.
Of the partnerships Mastroeni has used, the three best scoring partnerships with over 100 minutes played (based on minutes per goal scored) are: Vicente Sanchez/Deshorn Brown (60.00 minutes), Dillon Serna/Brown (62.25 minutes), and Sanchez/Serna (68.50 minutes). This seems straight forward in a 4-3-3 system, having all three players together simultaneously. But these partnerships have only accounted for, respectively, 40%, 28%, and 15% of the time on the field. Moreover, this combo has only started on one occasion -- against LA, a 1-0 win. Otherwise it’s been limited to late game substitutes or tactical adjustments -- at New York and versus San Jose. One would think with the scoring rates of this forward lineup (in one instance a full 15 minutes more frequent than the team is scoring now) that this would be the de facto combination.
This tells me two things: 1). Mastroeni is scrambling to figure out what’s working on offense; and 2) he has no clue how to trust in his guys to perform in a consistent lineup. Either way, he’s fiddling with lineups on Martin Rennie levels.
Times of goals
The Rapids have scored 91.91% of their goals in the second half (that’s only a single goal scored in the first 45). Likewise, they’ve conceded 91.67% of their goals in the second half (again, only one conceded in the first). On top of this, the final 15 minutes have seen five Colorado goals (45.45%), while they’ve given up three (25.00%). But they’ve given up the most immediately after half-time, five between minutes 46 and 60 (41.67%).
By contrast, RSL is fairly balanced across the game, both scoring and conceding. The two instances that stand out, however, is the first 15 and last 15 -- RSL have scored six goals (28.57%) before minute 16, and seven goals (33.33%) in the final quarter hour. They’ve also given up five (45.45%) in that last 15 minutes.
While Colorado might be pretty darn good at scoring at the death, RSL is better at the start and finish. This all could make for a pretty interesting scoring affair, and goals could come frequently.
What to expect
Colorado’s midfield and forward lines are going to be hodgepodge, just like they’ve been the previous 10 games. Who starts up top is a crap shoot, so the only thing to count on with their starting XI is who’s on defense. A Burch/O’Neill/Moor/Piermayr back line is most likely, and it’ll be a good matchup for RSL’s strikers.
If RSL can come out guns blazing like they did against Vancouver or Houston (and like the stats say they can do regularly), we could see a nice cushion heading into the second half. Riding that momentum could mean a couple more Salt Lake goals to begin the next 45, too. How they come out in the early stages is going to set the pace for the remainder of the match. The Rapids could pull a goal or two back late, but RSL playing at home with the stats and crowd on their side equates to (for me) another Seattle-like loss for our neighbors from the other side of the range.