The best regular-season teams in MLS have always put an emphasis on attacking, and not just because they have always had more and more dangerous attackers than everybody else. Style fits talent but talent begets style, and teams that understand who they are both tactically and stylistically are the ones that have, in recent years, won Supporters' Shield and competed more-or-less at the top of the league from March through October.
It's a different story come November and -- for the lucky two -- December. Defense wins in the playoffs.
But we're not in the playoffs yet. And if there's one thing that we've been able to rely upon this decade, it's that the teams committed to attacking most and best start to put ground between themselves and the chasing pack once summer comes.
Which brings me to this awkward transition: The best team in the league, on points per game, has conceded just 11 goals in 17 games.
Let's start in Colorado:
The single-season MLS record for fewest goals conceded is held by RSL, who set the mark with just 20 (!!!) in the 2010 season. That was 30 games, meaning RSL conceded .667 goals per game. Through 17 contests in 2016, the Rapids have conceded .647 goals per game. Included in that total is Monday night's scoreless home draw against the Timbers -- in truth, a much better result for Portland than it was for the Rapids.
Tim Howard made his Rapids debut in this one, and he was up to the task the few times he was called upon. His biggest moments were a trio of breakaways; first against Fanendo Adi in the 43rd minute in which Howard got some help from the post, and then a pair of 1-v-none saves early in the second half against Darren Mattocks and Lucas Melano.
Howard did everything you'd want him to, just as Zac MacMath has (mostly) done this year. While Rapids fans will harp on the errors MacMath has made, you don't get halfway through the season with only 11 conceded if your goalkeeper's a millstone. Same for the largely nameless and underappreciated defense.
So I'm not trying to run any of those guys down or deflect credit for the job they've done here. But it needs to be said: The Rapids are really smart about how to use their altitude-based home field advantage. There's a reason they've won so many home points in the last 15 minutes, and I was kind of shocked they didn't do the same against the Timbers:
You're looking at the breakaway for Kevin Doyle and the nice recovery by Jermaine Taylor, as you should. But you also have to notice the lack of pressure from the Timbers front line at the start of this play -- specifically when Darlington Nagbe chases the ball into the corner and has the Rapids trapped.
Nagbe is doing his job, as is Alvas Powell. Both Adi and Mattocks, however, are physically spent, and thus loitering around the top of the box. Neither moves until Nagbe is already in Mekeil Williams's face, applying direct pressure on the ball. Because of that, Williams is able to pass through Nagbe's pressure with a single touch, and Axel Sjoberg is given a perfect view for that long-ball to Doyle.
When coaches say "defense starts from the front," this is what they mean. Had Doyle scored on that breakaway it would have been Taylor who got roasted by fans, but the breakdown actually started up top.
Bullet dodged for the visitors, who are now unbeaten in six. But remember this play above the next time the Rapids get a home result courtesy of a late goal, and also bear this in mind: Colorado probably don't have to win the Shield with a huge attacking output as long as they keep defending as they have been.
The Best Is Yet To Come
Monday was the official opening of the transfer window, and there were no moves made that we know of as of this writing. There was, however, more than just a tiny little hint that big things could be afoot:
Unfortunately for the Crew they have lost any and all mojo left over from last year's MLS Cup run, and fell (again) 3-2 at Sporting KC. Columbus are ninth place in the East, only two points above last-place Chicago.