Before we begin, I'd like to give you a tidbit of information that may or may not have gone unnoticed in this corner of the MLS world: This year's rookie class has been spectacular. Keegan Rosenberry, Jordan Morris, Jack Harrison, Brandon Vincent, Jonathan Campbell, and a number of other former college soccer prospects have gained important starting roles on their teams. Make of that what you will.
The Colorado Rapids are not entertaining, they don't play with much attacking nuance, and they focus more on defense than they do offense. As a neutral observer, I wouldn't suggest watching too many Rapids games, because as a general rule, they aren't always enjoyable.
But they don't care, because they're second in the Supporters' Shield standings. They have their playing style, and it's working for them, so it won't change any time soon.
Colorado have made a living off of stealing scrappy goals from teams and then parking the bus and securing either a home win or a road draw. They manage to make it work every time, to the point where they've lost the least amount of games of any team in MLS this season (only one less than the Galaxy). They aren't proactive, but they're pragmatic, and that's what works.
It's worked from the very beginning. One of the Galaxy's three losses on the season came in week two in Colorado, when they fell 1-0 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park thanks to a last-second Marco Pappa strike. The Rapids played tight and compact all game in anticipation of a 0-0 draw with LA (which probably would have been alright for them) but pounced when Daniel Steres missed a header in the 95th-minute, with Pappa's volley the difference between one point and three points.
The only blip in the system since then was an April 9th 1-0 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium against RSL (their other loss was in San Jose on opening day). They've been basically perfect otherwise, and that's why they remain so high in the standings. No occasional 5-0 losses, just simple wins and draws.
It can be really frustrating for teams at times. The Whitecaps were a victim last week, when center back Axel Sjoberg got free on the back-post in the 95th-minute and scored the equalizer to give the Rapids a 2-2 away draw against playoff-seeking Vancouver:
On Saturday, the Rapids went back to Commerce City and picked up a 1-0 win over conference rivals Sporting KC, with Marlon Hairston's 78th-minute curler being the difference. Again, they got some help from a defensive error, as Ike Opara's errant pass allowed Hairston get on the ball.
The goal came after a chippy and stale first 78 minutes, which has become the status quo for this team. Keep things drab and even for as long as possible, then pounce on whatever's available late in the game just to ruin the hopes and dreams of the opposition. There is definitely some luck involved, however. For a team playing the way they are, they need some in order to be where they are in the standings.
Jared Watts pulled down SKC striker Diego Rubio in the box late in the second half, drawing some penalty shouts from Rubio and his teammates. Drew Fischer decided to go on with it, although it can be argued that Watts got away with one.
But, as much as their rivals would like to tell you, it's not luck that has gotten Colorado to this point. It's aesthetically disparaging soccer, and a simple formula of home wins and away draws. It works, and that's all that matters.
The 2016 MLS All-Star Game roster was unveiled at halftime of Sunday's NYCFC-Montreal match. If you haven't seen it yet, here's who made it, per MLSsoccer.com:
Defenders (8): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution), Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Midfielders (9): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Kaká (Orlando City SC), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
Forwards (7): Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), David Villa (New York City FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
11 of the above are fan XI selections (coach Dom Kinnear had the option to include them, and decided to take the fans' suggestions and add all of them), two are Don Garber's selections (Beckerman and Diaz), and the rest were made by Kinnear. The Houston Dynamo were the only team to not have a single player picked.
Inevitably, many fans are going to take issue with this. There are a number of snubs, and there are some players that probably were only included because of their name (Drogba, Dempsey, Kaka, Pirlo, Beckerman). This roster can be used as a legitimate argument for why the all-star game should be East vs. West rather than MLS vs. Arsenal.
This is what we've got. However, it's fun to think about who we would have selected, and that's why I will give you my team. I'll use the same number of players at each position, and I will use both of Garber's picks because Kinnear was forced to use them.
So without further ado, here you go:
Goalkeepers (2): David Bingham, Andre Blake
I can't say I disagree on this front, although I think it would have been better to have three keepers.
Defenders (8): Keegan Rosenberry, Drew Moor (Toronto FC), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Ashley Cole (LA Galaxy), Mekeil Williams (Colorado Rapids), Aaron Maund (Real Salt Lake), Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC)
I agree with the selection of Rosenberry, but replaced the other seven. Moor and Hedges were two of the biggest snubs from the roster — there's no question they should have been included — Sjoberg and Williams are two of the best defenders on one of MLS's best ever defenses, and Cole, Matarrita and Maund certainly deserve selections.
Midfielders (9): Kyle Beckerman (Commissioner's selection), Mauro Diaz (Commissioner's selection), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Sacha Kljestan, Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Darlington Nagbe, Marcelo (D.C. United), Fabian Castillo (FC Dallas), Kevin Molino (Orlando City)
I would not have included Beckerman, but I don't have much of a choice here. Diaz definitely deserves to be on the roster, as does Valeri, who was inexplicably snubbed by Kinnear. Alonso and Marcelo join Beckerman as defensive midfielders (as much as I like Wil Trapp, I don't think he's an all-star this year), Nagbe and Kljestan are the other central midfielders, and Castillo and Molino play on the wing.
I'm not sure how many will agree with Molino's inclusion, but I think he is very underrated.
Forwards (7): Ignacio Piatti, David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Chris Wondolowski, C.J. Sapong (Philadelphia Union), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Piatti, Villa, Giovinco, and Wondolowski are all viable selections in my opinion. Sapong has been huge for the Union this season, Adi has scored the third-most goals in MLS, and Morris would be my Rookie of the Year if the season ended today.
Who would be on your all-star roster? Yell at me in the comments!