Tagged: Colorado Rapids

Defense First? Timbers to Ride the Rapids?

Portland Timbers travel to Colorado for the first time this year and the challenge for both teams is finding the right balance between attacking and defending.

In their last league home game the Timbers struggled in the first half – not unlike their US Open Cup match as well.

If not for an untimely hand-ball by David Horst and a really terrible PK call against the Dynamo goal keeper it’s likely the Timbers come away with a single point… to be sure they were fortunate as the two goals against in the first half were pretty much to standard given their entire defensive unit this year.

So when getting ready for Colorado it’s quite hard to figure who starts and who doesn’t.  

Does Taylor Peay start at right back?

He probably should given his higher passing accuracy and what appears to be better, heads-up, defensive positioning but in all likelihood Caleb Porter goes with Alvis Powell.

If you’re a Rapids supporter that’s probably a good thing – nearly 60% of all Dynamo attacking pressure came down Powell’s wing.  And when looking at this diagram below we see Colorado is balanced in penetration (touches) but weighs more towards the left side when taking (shots).

CRFC Team Stats

In my pre-match scouting report on Houston they weren’t balanced in penetration – nearly 40% of their penetration was down the right side – yet against Portland – Wade Barrett had his team push left… big time!  It’s likely Colorado will do the same.  MLS teams are pretty good at pressing the weak points an opponent has in defending as those players are more likely to make mistakes.

So if you’re a Timbers supporter hopefully the midfielders will add support for Powell.  I figure Diego Chara and Ben Zemanski in a double pivot as the first recourse should be for Portland to get at least one point.

In thinking about the left fullback.

I’m hopeful Zarek Valentin gets the call but Porter has gone with Jermaine Taylor before.  It was Taylor and Powell who paired up during that two-goal outburst by Houston last weekend…  And given the stingy defense of Colorado it’d be a nightmare for Portland to go a goal down in the first ten minutes.

However viewed the fullbacks do not man the wings alone – it’s likely both Chara and Zemanski start in a double pivot as Porter is going to want to give his team a chance to get at least one point.

And with the double pivot that doesn’t mean Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, and Lucas Melano won’t have defensive responsibilities – they will and Melano cannot afford to ball-watch this game.

Here’s the same diagram offering up information on the Timbers attack:

PTFC Team Stats

Probably a tad more balanced in attacking touches than Colorado – but the same lean towards taking shots from the left sides appears for Portland as well.

Of note – while Portland has played somewhat more direct this year there average number of long passes (per game) is about 10-15 fewer than Colorado – from a tactical viewpoint that probably translates to slightly more MF play between Valeri, Nagbe, (Chara and Zemanski).

It doesn’t mean both teams won’t try to stretch the defensive back-four with long balls – but given Powell’s tendency to push higher up the pitch Nat Borchers might be really busy this game.

A key indicator on the attacking scheme will be to watch how deep and how quickly the fullbacks for Portland push forward – the less tendency to push forward the more likely Porter is thinking defense first.

So how do the fullbacks work in Colorado?  I asked Chris Brown, to share his thoughts with me on Friday:

Colorado’s fullbacks have been key in shutting down attacking threats, getting narrow when they need to crowd the box but also making smart decisions to step out when they have adequate cover from midfielders Michael Azira and Sam Cronin.

Marc Burch is the first choice left back for the Rapids and Mekeil Williams usually plays at right back. When the cover is there they step out and close down attackers, preventing crosses from coming into the box but also positioning themselves to try and limit the danger from the other teams fullbacks overlapping.

Colorado plays defense first, so the midfield is always there in support, clogging channels and disrupting the attack.

Time and time again Colorado’s opponents have been able to get to the top of the 18 yard box but met with Cronin and Azira, ahead of a narrow back four, have to slow down their attack and pass sideways. If given time to set the defense up in its proper shape, Colorado extremely difficult to break down.

In closing:
Colorado team defensive performance this year as been first class – they are second best across MLS in limiting quality attacking by their opponent.  On the other hand – Portland is the highest quality attacking team in MLS this year.  Below is a diagram intended to show three things:
  1. Dark red bar – Colorado opponent’s average percentages in six categories,
  2. Dark green bar – Portland’s average percentages in six categories, and
  3. What gaps exist between each of those six categories.


In other words:

CRFC opponents average possession percentage is 51% while PTFC, in attack, averages 49% possession.

  • Likely meaning Portland and Colorado will be pretty near even when it comes to possession – the major ‘tell’ on that will be a couple of early goals for one team – most likely driving their possession numbers down as a wayh to protect their lead.

CRFC opponents average 75% passing accuracy while PTFC average 78% passing accuracy.

  • For me this means the best (normal starting) passers on Portland {Nagbe, Zemanski, and Borchers} need to be tuned in and see lots of touches… or the Rapids are paying so much attention to Nagbe that his gravitational pull is making space that others ‘are’ using.

CRFC opponents and PTFC penetration averages are the same.

  • In other words, I wouldn’t expect the defensive tactics for Colorado to be any different this game then any other game this year…

CRFC opponents and PTFC shots taken per completed penetrating pass averages are near the same.

  • As in the previous one – this is likely to mean the percentage of activity offered by Portland, in attack, really isn’t that much different compared to other Rapids opponents…  Meaning – if the Timbers fail to create space atop the 18 yard box it’s likely it’ll be a long day.

CRFC opponents are far less successful in converting shots taken to shots on goal – and shots on goal to goals scored.

  • For me this represents a major concern for Colorado – the quality of finishing (who’da thought that’d be said about Portland this year) by the Timbers is superb – so even if Colorado stays pretty tight at the back – that ‘pretty tight’ might not be tight enough!

It should be a classic battle of a potent attacking team against a potent defending team.

Best, Chris

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Colorado Rapids, The Loss of Drew Moor was More or Less?

If you follow the Rapids I’d expect you hope for a far better season coming up than what you saw in 2014.  

Just how ugly was it?  Well……  they weren’t near as bad as Houston, San Jose, Chicago, Montreal, or that defunct team called Chivas, but they were pretty bad compared to the rest of the West.

And with the addition of Sporting KC and a newly revamped Houston, led by a very crafty Owen Coyle, the hill to climb will be even tougher.

In saying that my End of Season run continues with the Colorado Rapids; here’s links to my other End of Season Analyses plus my link to what Possession with Purpose Analyses is all about:

Chicago Fire – Candle Burned at Both Ends

Houston Dynamo – Dynamic Dynamo De-Magnetized as Dominic Departs

San Jose Earthquakes – Earthquakes, Shake, Rattle, and Roll-Over

Montreal Impact – What went Wrong in Montreal?

My Revised Introduction to Possession with Purpose

New for this article, and future End of Season analyses, are my Game to Game Diagrams trending team performance throughout the season.  More to follow on that…

In addition, in offering up my information, I’ll look to identify strengths and weaknesses that also include my thoughts on what primary positions the team may need to upgrade in order to be more successful next year.

To begin, as usual, the CPWP Strategic Index:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINEDThere’s CRFC; 6th worst in the CPWP Index (stuck between the Canadian teams, Toronto FC and Montreal Impact).

So in simple terms they weren’t that good.

Meaning Pablo Mastroeni has a multitude of “higher quality” boots he needs to find in order to compete in what should be an extremely tough Western Conference next year; especially with the addition of Kansas City and Houston Dynamo.

Of course the challenge here is that every team is looking to get better next year – and while they’ve added Michael Harrington as a Fullback I’d imagine they need to do “Moor” than just that… anyhow – moving on.

So where to begin on what positional areas need upgrades?

Defense First – here’s a look at where Colorado finished in the Defending PWP Index:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINEDAll told, Colorado had the worst Road Goal Differential in MLS (-24)  Yet they were only 7th worst in DPWP.  Is that an early indicator that they need a new Goal Keeper – or – an early indicator they need more than just one Fullback, along with the return of Drew Moor?

I’m not sure, but here’s their trends from game 1 to game 34 in Defending:

Opponent Possession percentage: (Below)

Throughout the course of the season it seems Colorado had the majority of possession compared to their opponents; indeed the opponent averaged 49.14% possession.

All told the opponent possession percentage was 7th lowest in MLS last year – when on the road the opponent possessed the ball 52% of the time – while at home the opponent possessed the ball 46% of the time.

In general it appears that the opponent was more likely to cede control of the ball, for the most part, when visiting Colorado – while Colorado appears to have ceded control, somewhat, when traveling.

In considering the overall opponent possession percentage I’d offer it was not a significant, single indicator, that drove overall poor team defending performance – we’ll have to look elsewhere.


Quick explanation – I’ve added another statistical calculation into my analyses – in this case, and with all the following diagrams, I’ve added the mathematical equation of the Trend Line for the stretch of 34 games.

What this shows is whether or not there was a trend in team performance – for example – in the Opponent Possession Percentage I’ve indicated there is a Slight Positive Slope – this means, over the course of 34 games the opponent had a tendency to increase their amount of possession (from game 1 to game 34).

For analytical purposes a trend line may be used to spot increases or decreases in team performance – in this case I’ll refer to the loss of Drew Moor (I think around game 23) as a point of interest.

If I had to draw a conclusion it would appear that after game 23 the Rapids opponent possession percentage increased – it did – by a margin of 5% points.

As a point of interest – in EVERY instance except Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – the opponent’s of Colorado either increased their volume of activity or improved their team percentages in execution from Game 24 to Game 34 versus Game 1 to Game 23!

As I’ve noted many times – I’m not an analyst who digs into how individuals impact their team performance on a regular basis – but it would be rude not to identify such compelling information as this.

By the way – it’s actually “expected” that Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession would decrease – this is a trend for all highly productive teams – to include those super teams in Europe as well…

Opponent Passing Accuracy: (Below)

With Moor – 75%; without Moor – 79%

Overall – not bad – 6th best in MLS at 76.45%

The trending increase isn’t all just down to one Center-back – Midfielders and Fullbacks (with appropriate positional play) have a significant role in decreasing opponent passing accuracy!


Opponent Penetration Percentage: (Below)

With Moor – 21%; without Moor 23%

Overall – 6th best in MLS at 21.55%

This trending increase, like above, is not all down to one Center-back missing; the same applies here for Midfielders and Fullbacks as well…


Opponent Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession: (Below)

With Moor – 15,88%; without Moor – 15.80%

Overall – 2nd lowest in MLS at 15.86%

And with a slight negative trend it did mean the opponents offered up fewer shots; but in cases like these the opponents usually ended up putting more shots on goal and more goals scored.


Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken: (Below)

With Moor – 39%; without Moor 45%

Overall the worst in MLS at 41.07%

So that overall status is not down to just missing one Central Defender – it’s more than that as they’ve been pretty poor in this category across the entire length of the season.

And yes, reduced Shots Taken does see an increase in Shots on Goal so the real pain begins to show…


Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal: (Below)

With Moor – 29%; without Moor – 49%

Overall 5th worst in MLS at 35% – again confirming that reduced shots taken increases opponent shots on goal and opponent goals scored…

Regardless of the loss of Drew Moor – it shouldn’t be down to the loss of just one player to see such a huge trend in allowing goals scored against… wow… more than the addition of Michael Harrington and the return of Drew Moor is needed here.


Defending Summary:

 As I’ve noted before – rarely do I focus team analyses with respect to the influence of one single player – but in this case an exception needed to be made.

But… these increases in opponent execution are highly unlikely to be down to the loss of one player – Midfielders and Fullback have a role in this effort – and any Head Coach knows that if there is a weakness in one particular area then the rest of the team needs to help steer the opponent out of that area… in looking at this information it would appear to me that Mastroeni failed to get the rest of his starters to do a bit of extra work in defending!

That may be a bit harsh but it’s a team game and the leader of the team is the Head Coach…

Moving on… as with any game – if the defending side of team performance takes a hit it is likely the attacking side of a team performance will take a hit – as I work through the Attacking PWP I’ll offer up the “with and without” Drew Moor there as well.

My hope is that there isn’t that much of a difference… I’ll explain why in my Closing statements…

Attacking PWP: 


All told it would appear that the Colorado Rapids fell far short on the Attacking side of team performance – 5th worst, overall, in MLS.

Possession Percentage: (Below)

With Moor – 52%; without Moor – 48%

Overall 7th highest in MLS at 50.86%; but we’ve seen that can be a deceiving statistic when looked at on its own.


Passing Accuracy: (Below)

With Moor – 78%; without Moor – 76%

Overall 9th best in MLS at 77%

A good sign that the loss of Drew Moor did not create a huge impact in overall passing compared to other teams in MLS – but – it is clear that their passing accuracy dropped when Drew got injured…


Penetrating Possession: (Below)

With Moor – 21%; without Moor – 21%

Overall 4th lowest in MLS at 21% – so this was pretty low compared to other teams in MLS regardless of the presence of Drew Moor…

In this case productivity did not drop – it stands to reason, then, that upon entering the Opponents Defending Final Third their productivity in creating Shots Taken, Shots on Goal and Goals Scored should not drop either; let’s see?


Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession: (Below)

 With Moor – 20%; without Moor – 21%

Overall 2nd highest in MLS at 20.59% – not a good sign for a team that is supposed to appear like a possession based team – this number should be on the lower end to support patience and drive shots on goal up.

With respect to the presence or non-presence of Drew Moor… in this case their Shots Taken percentage increased – meaning (with a downward trend line) they took more shots with Drew Moor on the pitch than they did without Drew Moor (13.64 without Drew) – (14.09 with Drew)…

And, it also, probably means, they were less patient in their shot taking towards the end of the season – i.e. – playing more Direct Attacking football – again the percentage increase supports that given all the other leagues I analyze showing the same trends.


Shots on Goal per Shots Taken: (Below)

With Moor – 35%; without Moor – 37%

So without Drew Moor they not only took more shots they put more shots on goal – as such team productivity in creating and taking shots did not digress – but – there is a negative slope – which means compared to the earlier part of the season their overall percentages in putting shots on goal did decline.

For me this speaks to weaknesses in attack in addition to the weakness associated with the loss of Drew Moor.

Overall 9th highest in MLS at 36% – above average – which should mean their goals scored was also above average – IF their strikers were doing their job…

The telling indicator here is Goals Scored per Shots on Goal…


Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:  (Below)

 With Moor – 27%; without Moor – 17%

A considerable drop-off —> especially when considering that Moor is a Central Defender – and unlikely to generate a huge negative impact in the attack.

With the loss of Drew Moor we shouldn’t see that significant of a drop off given he is a Central Defender…

Nevertheless, without knowing their overall position compared to other teams in MLS it does reinforce to me that the Colorado Rapids had significant weaknesses in their attacking tandem.  Even more so given that their percentage of shots taken and shot taken that ended up on goal increased considerably as the season wore on.

To confirm… in this category the Rapids were, overall, 3rd worst in MLS at 24%.

Nailing it that this team lacked quality strikers given their higher than average shots on goal, compared to other teams in MLS…


Attacking Summary:

All told, I’d offer that the loss of Drew Moor had minimal impact in the overall lack of attacking team performance, and especially the lack of overall finishing as the Rapids entered the opponent’s defending final third.

This team has more issues in attacking than just the loss of Drew Moor – adding some better Fullbacks and perhaps a wider midfield player (or two) should help as well as revamping their striking tandem.

In closing:

For me – in my own previous experience – the loss of one player is no excuse – it’s an impact for sure but to be clear…

Head Coaches are paid to make adjustments based upon injuries or game state – given the continued decline with the Colorado defense – I’d offer Pablo Mastroeni failed to make appropriate adjustments based upon the loss of one player.

In addition, I’d also offer that Mastroeni lacked leadership, direction, and effective tactics on the attacking side of the pitch as well.

And those working in the Front Office should be concerned that a patchwork of 3-4 players is not going to put this team into the Playoffs next year

For me, adding Michael Harrington is a patchwork approach – he was pushed out in Sporting KC and pushed out in Portland – both teams were better defensively when he was moved out.

So while the return of Drew Moor will help the defense solidify – it’s still major surgery to really prepare this team for what appears to be a very brutal Western Conference next year.

Best, Chris

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