After the implosions of the not-so-distant past, Olsen choose to focus on consistency of effort as the major flaw in his side. Hard to fault the team for that tonight. Still, I would have thought maybe he might have addressed the inability to either defend or create from set pieces, the frustrating lack of fluidity between lines that are far too often static, and the woeful lack of defensive organization in transition and counter situations.
Those problems remain, though there were glimpses of sunshine through the rain.
Dax McCarty was his usual lost self in the first half. But a strange thing happened on the way to 90 minutes. First, with Tino dropping off the forward line and Najar and Pontius pushing higher on the wings, suddenly we found ourselves operating effectively at times with a central midfield three. Considering how long McCarty’s been playing in that system, is it a surprise he suddenly started to look more comfortable? And yet later, when he dropped deeper with Fred pushing high in central midfield, he operated quite well, I thought, in a version of the “Pirlo” deep-lying distributor role. I noted this in his partnership with King last time around; given time to get his head up, space to operate in, and runners to pick out, he’s a much more effective player1.
The lack of defensive organization when facing the quick counter almost cost us again despite another largely solid defensive outing2. Colorado had several dangerous chances that were cut out, usually on last-ditch tackles by Jakovic, occasionally by others, after either a quick transition or a defensive breakdown. Is it a coincidence that whenever the camera pans across the back line in the wake of these things, the only one I see yelling and gesticulating is Kitchen, sometimes Hamid? Can I get a confirmation from a live witness? Is anybody talking back there, directing traffic, calling out boneheaded mistakes and trying to communicate?
The last 10 minutes of this match was maybe the most coherent I’ve seen United’s attack this season. There were big, successful switches of field, quick combinations through the middle, balls pinged into wide areas for crossing chances, many coming from the deep-lying McCarty. Of course, some of Colorado’s best chances came in that time period as well when things were getting stretched and desperate, and United had precious few scoring chances for all their impressive build-up. Hard to call for that to be the standard method of play given the even greater defensive frailty and lack of good looks at goal, but having McCarty as the deepest mid with Quaranta, Pontius, and Najar drifting between the lines? Yes, please. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that.
First touch in the danger area. I’ve called it out before, and I’ll have to again. I can’t remember if Davies’ touch was this inconsistent before the injury because of the rosy-eyed revisionism that seems to have made him world class before he went down (though I seem to remember that it was). He and Pontius both squandered glorious chances in the first half. We’re not that good that we can squander chances like those (see above and the paucity of chances created).
Joseph Ngwenya is an abomination. Every touch takes an attack, drags it behind the woodshed, and BANG! Dead attack. $156K? Front office accountability? Hello?
More muscle injuries? How many times have we heard that sad song over the last godawful-many seasons? Accountability? Bueller?
Is the word out on Najar going to ground a bit too easily?
Playing a match with Terry Vaughn as ref is like playing hot potato with a hand grenade. Shouldn’t do it, never know when it’s going to explode in your face, and somebody’s always going to get hurt.
So there’s a mixed bag here. Yes, the Rapids are the defending champs. But also yes, they’re missing half of their front-line firepower, aren’t creating much in the scoring department, and still looked the more competent team despite United racing about with crazed application. The inability to string together consistent passing sequences3 may be an artifact of so many new pieces being added to the puzzle, but at some point that’s got to start ironing itself out. In fact, it probably already should have. Fighting back for the point is to United’s credit, and every non-loss surely helps in the confidence department for a young team still trying to find its identity. And hell, fighting back for a point is a hell of a lot better than 2010. Is it enough for a post-season challenge?
We shall see.