The Rapids have conceded an average of 3.4 goals per game during their current five-game losing streak, and they have conceded four goals in three of those outings. After the latest instance in the Windy City, midfielder Benny Feilhaber did not hold back.
“It’s not a secret,” Feilhaber said after the game. “Everybody in MLS knows: We’ve been gouged. What is it now? 14 goals in 4 games, is that right? Whatever it is, I think 14 goals in 4 games, if you’re giving up three-and-a-half goals a game you’re going to win literally no games. So until we figure that out, there’s not much to talk about.”
The veteran midfielder, who won MLS Cup with Sporting Kansas City in 2013, did acknowledge the team-oriented nature of playing defense in soccer before calling on the team's defenders to step up their game. Though the Rapids only scored once against the Fire through Kei Kamara, they'd scored two and three in their last two games and failed to get even a point from either.
“Soccer is a sport with 11 guys on the field and the best teams have 11 guys defend,” said Feilhaber. “Having said that, there’s always the responsibility of the back four, back five, back six to have that extra edge in defending and right now we don’t have that.
“With the goals we’ve scored we should be getting more points. And right now we’re not because we’re just leaking goals back there. That falls on the whole team, but there’s guys that need to take more responsibility in that aspect and right now we’re not that good enough back there.”
Though it's early going, and there will almost certainly be some statistical regression, the early returns have Colorado on track for one of the worst defensive seasons in MLS history. Orlando City set the mark in 2018, giving up 74 goals in 34 outings for an average of 2.18 goals conceded per game. With 23 goals shipped over their first eight games, the Rapids' season average so far comes out to 2.88.
The underlying numbers aren't much kinder, either. Though their "expected goals against" number of 17.88 (per Opta) indicates they've been somewhat unlucky to concede as many goals as they have, it's still the worst in the league by more than one and puts them on pace to have a defensive season similar to Orlando's in 2018.
Given that the Rapids invested in the backline over the offseason, acquiring right back Keegan Rosenberry, who's gone the full 90 in all of Colorado's games, and center back Kofi Opare, who's started the last three, it's far from an ideal proposition for Anthony Hudson and his squad.
“What can I say? We’re incredibly, incredibly disappointed,” Hudson said after the game in Chicago. “…We’re almost creating chances for opposing teams. I don’t see many teams really have amazing goals or creating great chances. Today I think we almost created their chances. That’s what I’m incredibly disappointed about.”
Hudson, for his part, has experimented with a variety of backline combinations. He gave Tommy Smith a run at left center back after Deklan Wynne started there, played Sam Vines at left back in the last two games in place of Dillon Serna, and went with Opare as the other center back in the last three games over Axel Sjoberg. However, the personnel changes have not been able to paper over the individual mistakes that have plagued the Rapids, and Hudson made it clear after the loss to Chicago that he's still not happy with what he's seeing from anyone in the back four.
“In and around the edge of the box we’ve either made the wrong decisions — and these are not complicated things to figure out — we’ve either made poor decisions, we’ve either not got tight enough on shots, or we’ve not gone with a runner, he said The players are not purposely trying to make mistakes. The players care.
“I can’t point to one goal we’ve conceded where I think ‘fair play to them — that’s a great goal.’ That’s not happened. I clearly have to make sure I pick the right back four and as of yet no one has convinced me. No one is showing me that they should be starting. And I'm waiting for it.”