90 Minutes of Torture (Rapids v DC United)
Gary Smith needs to learn a Safe Word.
Benjamin Kowalsky
Oct 8th 2010

The Rapids 10 year home streak against DC United dissolved Saturday in one of the worst games ever played at Dickís Sporting Goods Park.

The anger I felt at the performance on the pitch that night can only be expressed in grumbles spoken into a pint glass at the Bulldog after the game. After deciphering my own drunken grumbles, hereís what I came up with:

This was a tactical gamble made by Gary Smith that failed in the most miserable fashion. He wanted to rest some of his key players, because he was nervous they would pick up an injury. And who wants to pick up an injury in what was billed to be an easy win? Win 3-0 against DC United and lose Omar Cummings to injury, or win only 2-0 and save Omar for another day? Seemed like an easy choice to make, provided that you assume the Rapids can salvage a victory without the key starters. And not a terrible assumption to make: 2010 DC United may be the worst team in league history.

The gamble failed, as I said before, and it failed miserably. The issue first became apparent to me when the lineups were revealed. The left flank of the Rapids defense, and the midfield, were doomed to failure: Thompson, Earls, and Palguta. Conor Caseyís performance was shocking to say the least.

I have no problem with Thompson, Earls, and Palguta on their own. But start them together and you are crafting not a proper lineup, but a perfect storm. Thompson has gained a lot of confidence recently because of his two goals. Thatís fantastic and I wish he could get more, but his midfield form is too erratic, too eccentric, to warrant a start. Iíve said before that I can see why he is a sub. Thatís not a terrible thing, just tactical. Earls is a quick young player who shows a lot of promise for the future, but his issue is confidence: he has none. And who would after the season he has had? He needed time to build himself back up again, and he needs people around him who can boost his confidence. Wells Thompson is not that kind of person. Neither is Scott Palguta which brings me to the last piece of our perfect storm: Scott Palguta has not impressed me. Not now and not ever and certainly not at this game. To put him next to a guy like Earls and expect anything less than punishment is sheer insanity. His confidence is shot. He constantly passes across the field to Drew as opposed to up the field to Pablo or Jeff. In short: he makes no critical decisions for himself, and allows other players (namely, Drew Moor) to make those decisions for him.

On their own, surrounded by players like Wynne, Smith, Baudet, or even Ballouchy: these guys wouldnít have had the terrible game that they had. But this wasnít to be the case. What Gary Smith had created, in essence, was a hole in the dragon Smogís underbelly. Which was exploited at every turn by DC United in general and the brilliant young Andy Najar in particular. If you watch DC United in that first half, their attack was focused entirely on that little L shape in our lineup.

Earls was going to make an error. That happens when you are a young player who lacks confidence. But to have Thompson make an error, then Earls, then Palguta... itís a recipe for disaster, and we should have expected nothing less. Najar cuts down the left flank, blowing by a benighted Wells Thompson. Earls tries to keep him from making the cross but Najar continues to sneak down the touchline and push Earls deeper into the box. Then came the sneak pass heard round the DSG: Najar sneakily swooped the ball straight to the feet of Danny Allsopp (unmolested by our Center Back Palguta), who took at least 5 seconds to settle the ball before shooting a slow lifted ball up into the net and into the Rapidsí history books. A black and red stain on an otherwise wonderful run of form for Colorado.

We should have expected this. There were hints that this would happen throughout the first half. DC United could easily have made the game 3-0 if they had a striker worth his weight in garbage. That Allsopp got a goal is inexcusable. That Najar was left with a clear line to goal is inexplicable. Tactically, the first half belonged to DC United.

The Rapids started taking the game to DC United in the second half. But there was no finishing touch. This brings me to the second problem: on top of having the perfect storm in the defense, the Rapids looked terrible going forward. It was like they were playing down a man the entire game. And the man who wasnít there was Conor Casey.

Conor Casey, Rapids #9. The top goal scorer in Rapids history still with 3 years to go on his contract. 40 goals. Record breaker. He did not show up for this match. Looking behind the stands, I could see Andre Akpan who did not dress for this match. I couldnít help but wonder as I saw Casey meandering aimlessly, with no fire in his belly: why didnít we give Andre a shot? Heck. If you wanted this to be a game where you rest some people, why not give the rookies a shot at the glory at home?

Every time Casey took a pass to hard and bounced it right back to the defense. Every time I saw him giving the ball away, I thought to myself: Akpan? Why not Akpan?

And why not Armstrong? And why not LaBeax? Why not rest Pablo or Jeff, as they are critical to our success going forward? If you want to gamble, then go all in and put in people who want their shot at making it in to the starting line up. People with something to prove. Not Scott Palguta, or Danny Earls, or Wells Thompson all at once.

And NOT Conor Casey. Who has nothing to prove anymore.

See, it wasnít just the people Gary chose to leave out, the people Gary chose to play gave some of their seasons-worst performances. A far cry from the clinical and merciless Rapids we saw crush Philly at midweek. What a difference three days makes. For Rapids fans, for the Bulldogs and the Pid Army... this was absolute torture. Cruel and unusual punishment for 90 minutes straight as we watched our club struggle against the worst of the worst.

I also have a note on the so-called Curious Case of Claudio Lopez:

For the Ďmost talented player on the Rapidsí... he certainly doesnít have the impact that is promised by the monicker. Constant excuses are made for this: heís brought in too late. Heís not playing his proper position. The Rapids as a team arenít good enough to pick up what heís laying down. Youíre expecting too much of him. Youíre expecting too little. Blah Blah Blah.

Tell you what. When Lopez nets a goal that turns the game around for the Rapids, or even easier, if the mere presence of Claudio Lopez on the field changes the course of the game (as in, weíre down 1-0 and then come back for a 1-2 win) then Iíll eat my words. But until then, Iím going to say: Claudio Lopez is a red herring. Heís a non-issue that is only brought up if the Rapids do poorly to distract from the main issue at hand: poor tactical choices and poor performances throughout the match.

Kind of like Mehdi Ballouchy. Though opposite: Mehdi took most of the blame if the Rapids did poorly, sometimes it was as if his mere presence sucked the wins out of the Rapids. The fact that Claudio is not on the field during a Rapids loss is viewed as one of the main reasons for that loss. Though the same lack of presence isnít commented upon during a win. Red Herring. Distraction.

Now, I canít blame Conor for the loss, which it appears I am doing. I blame him primarily for not scoring goals. Chances were created. Breakaways happened. And yes, I know that DC United parked the bus and played on the counterattack for the duration of the game following their goal. But you should be able to break that down, Rapids. And Conor, you should be able to take these guys apart. You didnít.

?

And the part that let me know the match was lost was the moment, around halfway through the second half: no one was having any fun on the pitch. You know the Rapids are doing well when you see them playing good, positive soccer. That only comes from guys who are having fun and enjoying themselves. I donít mean to go off on a Jurgen Klinnsman-like rant, but seriously: the team that is having the most fun usually plays the best soccer. And the team that plays the best soccer wins matches.

The combination of people Gary Smith chose to play, at the time they were played, just werenít having any fun out there. Neither was DC United. The only one who remotely looked good out there was Najar. Neither team deserved to win. But Colorado was the team that deserved to lose for playing so negatively and resting on our laurels.

Thatís an important distinction to make, I think: having fun doesnít mean slacking on the pitch. It means going out and enjoying every minute of the game. Enjoy having the ball at your feet, enjoy moving into channels, enjoy a good tackle. Soccer is a fun game! The Rapids on that Saturday night in DSG park didnít make soccer look like fun.

Play positively. And have fun, guys! Seriously. Itís the difference between a great time and 90 minutes of torture.

The fault for this game goes to Manager Gary Smith and his staff. This game was a gambit. And what turned out to be a terribly risky and terribly costly gambit as well. Sometimes you roll the dice, and they donít turn up the way youíd like. The trick then, becomes when you roll the dice versus when you donít.

My advice is to never roll the dice: just play positive soccer and have fun. Smith knows that his team plays best when thatís happening. Hopefully he can bring that back before FC Dallas.

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