Recapping the loss to LAFC and previewing the home opener vs Atlanta United
LAFC 3-Rapids 0
The Rapids opened the season with a whimper. After losing in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL), Colorado was unable to put up much of a fight against Kellyn Acosta's new team. It was very common for MLS teams to struggle last weekend after playing a midweek CCL tie. Regardless, it was not a good team performance overall.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
The game started off competitive with both teams going for the transition goal. A fast paced and entertaining start even though the Rapids didn't see much action in front of goal. However, it didn't take long for LAFC to take the lead. On the first goal, it was a little unlucky as Abubakar went to ground sliding to block a cross by Acosta. His trailing arm was hit by the ball and Carlos Vela converted the penalty. Later in the first half, a crunching tackle on Max was not called. The ensuing long ball over the top reached Vela. Which it shouldn't have. Wilson stepped forward in an attempt to pull Vela offside but was too late. Meanwhile, Abubakar gave him too much space allowing the breakaway which the Mexican finished well. The third goal saw Trusty give Vela too much space, allowing him to line it up on his left foot and bury it into the bottom corner for his hattrick.
The Rapids were still able to retain some decent possession but unable to do much with it. The away side registered 7 shots with only 1 on target while the home side had 15 shots and 7 on target. Yarbrough wasn't at fault on any goals and had some great saves in the game.
It seemed like too much respect was given to a revamped LAFC team. For the Rapids they once again didn't show much creativity in offense registering a .32 xG. Coach Fraser seemed to have a gameplan typically used against perceived stronger teams. Soak up the pressure and spring the counterattack. LAFC appeared to be ready for the Rapids gameplan. Overloading the left side with a focus on getting the ball to Esteves, didn't yield any significant results. Esteves wasn't necessarily performing poorly but his crossed were ineffective. Lewis, the starting striker, couldn’t find any space throughout the game. When he did receive the ball, he was double teamed and wasn't able to find much support. And this is one of the biggest differences between successful teams and struggling teams: When a Rapids player received the ball in the final third, they either had one or zero options to pass to. Meanwhile, LAFC had at least two options every time they were in possession. It may sound simple, but those triangles were everywhere for LA while the Rapids were static.
It's easy, and understandable, to point to the Rapids lack of striker signings for their rough start to the season. There is some truth to this, mainly that the most obvious upgrade is at the striker position. However, the lack of success in their first three games is more an issue of creativity. There is a real lack of good opportunities being created. Have we really seen Rubio or Lewis miss easy chances? Nope. We are seeing the team get down the wings, mostly the left wing, and swing crosses in at a high clip. Sometimes effective, most often not. It may take tinkering with the tactics, formation, or personnel but I doubt that's what will turn this around.
It's not a brand-new group of players, the core remains the same. However, it seems this new look Rapids team will take a little time to regain that chemistry they had last season. This is natural and should be expected. It's now unlikely that a new striker signing will be announced before this summer. Technically a few international windows are still open and a signing within MLS is still possible too. Many Rapids fans have pointed to two potential options in Ola Kamara and Gyasi Zardes as both could move from their current clubs. To reiterate and bring this point home, a new striker signing is immensely important and is welcomed. Meanwhile the chemistry of the new group and finding more creativity in attack are the keys to getting back on track.
Home Opener vs Atlanta United
March 5th 4pm MT
The Colorado Rapids host Atlanta United for their home opener this Saturday. If you're going to the game, it looks like some typical Colorado weather. Rain and snow showers in the morning changing to snow in the afternoon. High of 46 degrees and low of 26 degrees. Unfortunately, the same television rights issue plagues the club going into the 2022 season. Altitude TV is available on DirectTV, AT&T Now and Evoca TV exclusively. So, if you don't have DirectTV, streaming options exist at $60 per month with AT&T and $30 per month with Evoca. Considering the cost of other streaming apps these are very expensive and prohibitive for a large portion of the fan base. Litigation is ongoing between Comcast and KSE/Altitude in which we can expect their dispute to be resolved in the coming weeks. an announcement is forthcoming this month from MLS for the 2022 season. The expectation is to have one streaming service cover every single game with no local blackouts.
In terms of the soccer, Atlanta United looked like a strong team in their opener. A resounding 3-1 victory over Sporting KC has put early expectations for Atlanta to be a contender again this season. They play in a 4-3-3 system with strength in every position. New acquisition Andrew Gutman was their Man of the Match who plays left back. Like the Rapids, they allow their left back to attack further up the field while the right back sits a little deeper. However, with the return of Brooks Lennon they could be attacking with both full backs. Gonzalo Pineda's system isn't taking long to gel, and this was also without Thiago Almada, Alan Franco, Marcelino Moreno or Santiago Sosa. That's honestly pretty scary for the whole league. Atlanta United is comparable to LAFC, not the very top of the elite status in MLS right now but just outside it. This won't be an easy game. But that doesn't mean Rapids fans should be pessimistic. Anything can happen.
With a little rest and reflection, I'm confident Coach Fraser will have his team ready for a huge game on Saturday. They may have started very slow but it's too early to overreact. We have 33 more MLS games this season. We have a solid group of players and one of the top 5 coaches in the league. This team can compete with anyone in MLS. Whether they stick with the familiar 3-4-2-1 (or 5-3-2) or change tactics to a 4-3-3, they pose a threat. Although the Rapids are particularly strong on the counterattack or set pieces, they like to keep their opponents guessing with varying tactics.
I'm expecting Diego Rubio to return to the starting lineup at striker on Saturday. Michael Barrios has been a fantastic since signing with the Rapids but has not been a regular starter since the second half of last season. My assumption is that it's a load management decision by Fraser and company. He has however been effective starting or off the bench.
Here's my prediction for what Fraser will name as the starting eleven below. The 3-4-2-1 formation favored recently will be used again. Since Barrios didn't start last game, I think he's in alongside Max in the attacking midfield roles. Naturally I think Barrios drifts wide and is integral to the counterattack. The back seven are pretty much locks in my opinion to start again. If the Rapids can hold it down defensively, frustrating the Atlanta attack, it will only take one moment to make a difference. I think this is a very tough game to bounce back in but it's absolutely possible to pick up the win on Saturday. This may be the strongest starting lineup with Fraser's preferred formation and here's a graphic for your viewing pleasure:
If the Rapids don't put out this "strongest possible eleven", I think we'll see Barrios off the bench and Acosta into midfield. This pushes Kaye into one of the creative midfield roles. Alternatively we could see Shinyashiki or Lewis in for Barrios. Lots of options for Fraser to choose from in midfield and attack.
Other Club News:
Braian Galvan signed to a new 3-year contract with club option for an additional year. Great to see the club is confident and standing by the young Argentinian despite his lengthy injury.
Matt Hundley was waived and is officially off the roster. The Littleton native did not make an appearance for the Rapids in his 3 years at the club.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)