Coach Conor Casey – May 2019 Review

The first day of May brought about the firing of coach Anthony Hudson and with it came the appointment of Rapids legend Conor Casey as interim head coach. Now a month later, and the Rapids are a fun team to watch, 9 points behind 7th place, and have some players with a lot of upside and excitement. The addition of centerback Lalas Abubakar, on loan, and winger Jonathan Lewis have also seem to ignite a new spark in this team that was missing in the beginning of the season. Could Hudson have gotten these results with them in place? Most likely not. This mid season Renaissance for the Rapids probably won’t result in much in terms of playoff soccer, but at the very least, this is a team that I don’t mind going to see even if we are out of the playoff hunt come September.

In the five games Casey has managed as interim head coach, the Rapids have a record of two wins, two losses, and a draw resulting in a total of 7 points which still leaves them in last place in the Western Conference, but better last place in the Western Conference with 9 points rather than a mere 2.

Game 1: Colorado Rapids 2 – 3 Vancouver Whitecaps

The first game under Casey resulted in a loss and the squad was deployed in a 3-5-2 formation, one of four different formations Coach Casey has used. After a crazy 3 VAR reviews, two penalties for the Rapids, and a red card to Diego Rubio, the Rapids would lose 3-2 in a match that was a roller coaster of emotions, but still, nonetheless, one of the least exciting in Casey’s tenure so far. The Rapids two goals came from the spot as Kei Kamara buried one to the left and the second to the right. The Rapids managed to out-shoot the Whitecaps by 7 shots, but only found 4 of their 16 on target. An ugly start for the boys in Burgundy blue which resulted in the infamous picture of the Rapids bench burying their face in their hands.

Game 2: Colorado Rapids 2 – 3 Real Salt Lake

This next game stings a little bit more than the last one. Now with the arrivals of Abubakar and Lewis, the Rapids were ready for a new challenge and to avoid setting the record for worst start in an MLS season. The record holders, now tied with Colorado, came in to Colorado with the goal in mind of winning the Rocky Mountain Cup early and bringing it home with a cushion. This game started to show the true potential that the Rapids could play under Coach Casey. The Rapids played in a 4-2-3-1 formation and there were moments of brilliance and excitement within the game. Unfortunately the team lacked that killer instinct that they desperately need. The moment the Rapids needed that killer instinct most was on a penalty kick awarded to the Rapids that Kei Kamara missed after scoring two the previous week. One of the biggest mistakes Coach Casey did this game was have Sebastian Anderson play at left back, which isn’t his natural position. If the goal was to get Rosenberry and Anderson both time out there, there should be no need to put Anderson in an uncomfortable situation if that’s not his natural starting spot. The Rapids did out-shoot their opponents again by just a mere one shot,  but with only 6 of those 16 on target, it wasn’t enough.

Game 3: Los Angeles Galaxy 0 – 1 Colorado Rapids

The Rapids first victory of the season came against the Los Angeles Galaxy in a match that saw the Rapids concede a lot of the possession. Colorado came in with the game plan to absorb pressure and hit the Galaxy on the counter and that’s exactly what happened. The Galaxy were without Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is a player that could have caused problems early on especially when the Galaxy looked very dangerous on crosses. However, that  threat was not there and it was the Rapids and their counter attacking soccer that proved to be the real threat. The Rapids, deployed in a 4-2-3-1, also managed to maintain a clean sheet after continued struggles of conceding goals. One of the hardest things to watch in  this match was Jonathan Lewis missing a great oppurtunity provided by Kei Kamara. After 81 minutes, Andre Shinyashiki proved to be the hero scoring after a deflected shot in the box. Tim Howard also put in his best performance of the season as he looked everything a DP goalkeeper should look like. This was an exciting match despite the Rapids only having 32% of the possession and even then had more shots than the Galaxy with a grand total of 22 shots to the Galaxy’s 18. This was the much needed win the Rapids were looking for all throughout the season.

Game 4: Colorado Rapids 3 – 2 Columbus Crew

Sometimes, you need a little bit of luck to get you a win and after the game against the Galaxy it definitely felt like there was a small stroke of luck that had rubbed off on the team. After a back an forth contest, 9 minutes of stoppage time in the first half, and a 88th minute golazo to win the game, the Rapids had finally won at home. The Rapids played in a 4-4-1-1 which saw Diego Rubio behind Kamara with the wingers, Nicholson and Lewis, creating the majority of the chances.The goals the Rapids had conceded were defensive mistakes and hiccups that could have easily been prevented had Lalas Abubakar played who was not available for selection because he’s on loan from the Crew.  The goals scored by the Rapids were the result of fun attacking soccer. Yes, two of them came from corner set pieces, but you need to shoot and attack in order to get those corners. The one that came from open play was all the work of Sam Nicholson who managed to dribble past four Crew defenders, laying it off to Jonathan Lewis who slipped it past Manchester City bound Zack Steffen. And of course, the amazing Nicolas Mezquida strike that glided into the top left was an amazing sight to see fly in from behind the goal and even beautiful to see on the replay.

Game 5: Philadelphia Union 1 – 1 Colorado Rapids

Lalas Abubakar further proved how much of asset he is to the team.  A dangerous Philadelphia gave the Rapids a lot of problems in the first 60 minutes of the match. They even managed to score after a Rapids defensive collapse. Abubakar made the mistake of going in on a ball instead of trying to contain and relieve pressure, but afterwards he proved just why the Rapids need a player of his caliber. The Rapids would fight back and manage to bring one back after a Lewis volley off a cross from Shinyashiki. This was for the most part a rotation lineup deployed in the diamond formation which hadn’t been seen since the departure of Anthony Hudson. This was a road point that the Rapids had to fight for, and while it would have been nice to see them win on the road in a midweek game, a point is nothing to be upset about.

5 Games – 7 points.

It’s no secret that the problem this Rapids squad had was a coach who was out of his element. It’s no coincidence that once Hudson left and was replaced by a coach with very little experience, that the team started to play with confidence. As of now, the Rapids have no system for which they are playing under. The diamond, which was originally what many Rapids fans, including myself, believed to be the formation that this team was built for seems to be an afterthought. Now after much tinkering, it’s apparent that the Rapids can play a variety of formations and this team is set up to  play a variety of systems. The only concern is, what happens if Lewis or Nicholson get injured? There are no backup wingers on the squad and the ones the Rapids originally had are no longer with the team (Hairston and Gashi). I wouldn’t mind seeing the Rapids call up Matt Hundley and have him play up top with maybe even Shinyashiki taking one of the other wing spots. The concern is that one injury to this team’s frontline and you can say goodbye to the exciting soccer that is finally being unearthed in Commerce City. I don’t mind conceding five goals so long as the Rapids manage to score six in return. As the Rapids  approach the summer window, it could take just two signings to change everything about the direction the squad is heading towards. One signing, of course, is a head coach and the other is a potential player the team can build around for next year. With the contracts of Howard and Gashi coming closer to an end, you have to imagine that General Manager and Vice President Padraig Smith has a shortlist of players that he can start negotiating terms with. There’s the possibility also that the Rapids could add a third Designated Player, a Young Designated Player, as early as July when the window opens on the 7th. If it doesn’t happen then, the Rapids will probably not make the playoffs and even if it does there’s no guarantee that they will make the playoffs. However, this window will be a window that proves just how good Smith is at his job.

Rapids Matches for June:

June 1st vs FC Cincinnati

June 8th vs Minnesota United

June 22nd @ Vancouver Whitecaps

June 28th vs Los Angeles FC