FOCUS: A lesson from the Rapids

By Paul Gardner

The impressive thing ... the vastly impressive thing  ... about Colorado's PK win over Dallas was the ordered, skillful, intelligent, and at times even attractive, way that the Rapids played with 10 men ... playing short-handed invariably means a team will pack their defense and, yes, Colorado did that ... it also means a team will indulge in time-wasting activities and, yes goalkeeper Joe Cannon was stupidly blatant about that ... but above all it usually means that a team loses its soccer brains, assuming that it has any, and starts whacking the ball aimlessly out of defense ... anywhere will do, just hit it hard and high ... so you can guarantee that one poor guy, the token guy they've left up front, will be galloping all over the field chasing long balls that he's never going to catch up with ... but you never know, that's the thinking, after all it means that the opponents have to keep at least two defenders, usually three, back and, supposedly, it eats up the clock ... Colorado played it differently and beautifully ... they chose to keep the ball on the ground, to keep playing it upfield with short and medium-range passing ... rarely did the Rapids look like a team that was playing with 10 men, at no point did they resort to the brainless, aimless long-ball nonsense ... ball possession makes opponents nervous, too, and it eats up the clock ... above all it maintains a realistic chance of scoring, and it keeps the players' attention concentrated where it should be: on playing soccer ... it would have been a lot easier for Leo Cullen and Terry Cooke and Mike Petke and the splendid Pablo Mastroeni and company to keep belting the ball away ... but they abjured that route, which meant that Jovan Kirovski, Jean Philippe Peguero and Jeff Cunningham were able to find passing partners, to pose a real threat to the Dallas defense ... Colorado kept trying to play soccer and for once the soccer gods, a pretty perverse crowd on the whole, smiled ... the Rapids, all of 'em, from coach Fernando Clavijo on upwards and downwards, deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled this one.
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