Chris White of Burgundy Wave and I exchanged a few questions about Saturday's Big Match™. Read on to get a sense of where the Rapids are at in their season progression, what we can expect Saturday, and about the Rocky Mountain Cup.
1. The Rapids have been off to a bit of a rough start, losing the first two matches of the season. What's missing, and can that be rectified before Saturday?
What's missing is simple chemistry, from the looks of it. Both games so far have featured fantastic performances by the team overall -- we've held the possession in a good way, outshot the other team by a large amount and have generally bossed in the midfield with Hendry Thomas and Pablo Mastroeni. Unfortunately, the team is chock full of young guys who have had little experience in the professional league and even less experience with the new teammates around them. That has led to a lot of mediocre chances, passes being inches away from where they need to be and some occasional marking problems defensively. When I say that this strikes me as a team that will be quite good come 2014 or so, that's the reason why: the team just doesn't quite have that experience of playing together enough to make things happen with the talent they clearly possess.
Also, Steward Ceus is a bad goalie. That probably also didn't help matters.
2. Like Real Salt Lake, you've added a number of new players during the offseason - including two former RSL players in Nathan Sturgis and Atiba Harris. How are the new players meshing with the squad?
They're taking their time at meshing with the squad, which is to be expected when almost every player that you bring in is under the age of 24 and is coming from a league like Ecuador or Chile (or the American college system, now that I think about it.) Most of the veterans that the Rapids picked up have yet to see the field, with Harris being the only real older guy that has seen both games for the team so far. Sturgis hasn't been able to crack through the very deep midfield we've collected, Edson Buddle is injured, Nick LaBrocca is in the same position as Sturgis. I liken it to how a newbie at Football Manager will take his team to the EPL, buy 17 new players with all the money he receives and then express shock when his team can't play in step and he goes back down. Fortunately, the only way we can go down in 2013 is down to the No. 1 draft pick. (Though, the team has shown enough talent and footballing intelligence that I don't expect it to go quite that far.)
3. What's your favorite Rocky Mountain Cup memory?
I could just be boring and say 'one of the two times we won it', but that's no fun. (I also remember precious little of those two seasons!) More of an aftermath story than an actual in-game one, but I chuckled a bit when Salt Lake fans realized that their late comeback to tie in the final game of 2010, while it may have lost us the Rocky Mountain Cup that year, essentially handed us the easiest seeding possible for a run to the MLS Cup. It was a strange bit of turnaround from RSL sneaking into the playoffs off of Colorado for a lucky run of their own the previous year.
* * *
And, as so often requested, here are my answers to Burgundy Wave's questions. You can also read them on Burgundy Wave, of course.
Of the players we lost, only Fabian Espindola was a genuine attacking threat, and even then, it came in waves. We certainly lost something when he left - don't get me wrong - but more important was a refactoring of the midfield to provide more attack. Robbie Findley will be a good player for us again, even if he's struggled a little early on, and he should roughly replace Espindola in the side (though not at all in tactics.) Getting the midfield more involved in attack is the vital piece: Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, Khari Stephenson and Ned Grabavoy could be crucial in providing a bit more attacking thrust in the lineup. The hope is that they'll provide more attacking threat - how that plays out will likely make or break the season, unless Alvaro Saborio manages to score two goals a game on average.
2. What are RSL fans expecting out of this season after contending for trophies with essentially the same roster for three years, now that the roster has been broken down a bit?
It obviously depends on the group of fans you ask, as expectations seem to vary wildly. These younger midfielders are subjected to a lot of hype and expectation, and perhaps it's unrealistic to expect that they'll tear things apart this season. Of course, that hype is largely around because the players have a great deal of potential, so there's a chance high expectations could be well-placed. Others, of course, are all doom-and-gloom-ridden, although some of that faded after that first match against San Jose. I rest somewhere in the middle - playoffs are not an unreasonable expectation; the Supporters Shield is.
3. Shamelessly copycatting you, what's your favorite Rocky Mountain Cup memory?
It's hard to argue with the October 2010 stoppage time draw, isn't it? That was a fantastically exciting one, and it makes for an easy narrative, so let's go with that. But I'll also call out the 0-0 draw late in 2011 - we saw 89 minutes of Javier Morales battling for everything only five months after the ankle break that put a stopper on Real Salt Lake's season. It was hardly the most exciting match, but the emotional thrust of seeing Morales out there in the thick of things ranks up there.