Earlier we talked about the handful of players roosting near the bottom of the Colorado Rapids depth chart that should probably not survive the guiding hands of the new regime. Today we're going to be on a much lighter note. Under the guidance of Oscar Pareja, the Rapids are almost certainly going to become a team much more focused on offensive play.
This will not only stop all of the 'boring football' complaints from around America when they think of Colorado, but it should also give a spark to some of the players who just couldn't thrive in Gary Smith's system. Here are four players who you might want to watch in 2012 for some improvement to their game under the new system.Caleb Folan - I still feel sorry for Caleb Folan. The guy didn't have a good year but he, sometimes unfairly, was lambasted more than any other player on the club in 2011 by the fans. There were certainly plenty of easy complaints to throw at the guy: he seemed almost lazy in his movements at times, his jumps were often low and he was offside so often that you could have started an office pool on how many times per game it could happen.
What's intriguing is that even then, he managed to bang home 6 goals and 2 assists in an off year for Colorado's offense. Under Gary Smith's old stop and go defensive system of play Caleb seemed absolutely lost. He actually seemed to play better when he was placed up top as the lone target forward rather than trying to stick with another striker up top trying to figure out the backpassings of the midfield up toward him. You have to have the feeling that either Folan is going to take the new offensive style of play and flame into a leading scorer on the Rapids or get even worse than he was last season.
There were plenty of flashes of brilliance from Folan - though most of them frustratingly wound up inches from the net instead of in it - in 2011 despite the bad overall appearance. Perhaps it's just a coach who knows how the goals are scored who can get him to finally put those balls into the net. Remember, Folan did have the 2nd most shots on the team last season - and the 3rd most on goal - it's up to him to find a way to put those away and become the 12 goal striker we were all expecting from the guy coming into last year. In fact, I'd be willing to say that an increase in the quality of the service towards the box would add another 3-4 goals onto his total alone... but that's a story for another day.
Omar Cummings - Omar Cummings had the worst year of his career in 2011. It was brutal almost all season long, with only glimpses of the brilliance we saw in 2010 shining through far too infrequently. It's the old 'Casey makes Cummings' meme shining through in full force, sadly. Conor Casey played almost no games in the season, and many of the games he did play, he didn't play aside Omar. That left Omar in the dust - he scored 14 goals in 2010 for sure, but Conor Casey has always been the big cog that has left Omar free to roam the final third as he does so well.
Well, getting Casey back will immediately put Omar back to his old self, but I think Pareja can do a little something more. Omar last season seemed like a guy who was just not being coached all that well - I think Gary Smith just figured that leaving him to his own devices was the best medicine even though that clearly wasn't the case. That's why he kept playing like he was a central attacking midfielder more than a striker. He was trying awful cheeky backheels to nobody, shooting from 30 yards out and just not making the speedy slanted runs toward the box that made him such a famous MLS goalscorer the previous two years.
The Rapids have a coach now and he's a coach who will see the offense of last year and likely scoff. Perhaps he's the guy who can make Omar into a solid striker on his own. 'Conor Casey's sidekick' surely isn't something he wants to be known as for the rest of his footballing career.
Jamie Smith - Jamie Smith suffered some of the worst bits of the injury glut of last season, but on the occasions that he did play he looked pretty darn good. His streaky play of 2010 was gone, replaced by a guy who wasn't afraid to go toward goal himself rather than just providing the service. His service was still great, but Gary Smith in his desperate attempts at shaking things up late in the year destroyed his rhythm as Sanna Nyassi began taking Jamie's touches even when he was healthy.
Jamie is the kind of guy who can make offense happen no matter what kind of guys he is playing with - kind of like Conor Casey, come to think of it - but under new offensive management he might finally be used in the role he was seemingly born for. He might just be used in the center of midfield as an offensive spark. We saw his ability in the center when he started there against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto early in 2011, after all. Either way, he only had 3 goals and a couple assists in 2011 when we know he's capable of so much more. He's probably the least worrying member of this list, but might be the most exciting one to watch if the offensive renaissance actually takes place that we're hoping for.
Anthony Wallace - Anthony Wallace has had a rather sad story in MLS. A very promising defensive midfielder turned left back raising quickly through the ranks of the US Men's National team system, he was snagged by Dallas in his late teens via the SuperDraft and eventually started to get first team appearances. Injuries and coaching decisions started to hit him in 2009 though, and the once promising kid out of UCF started to look like he would end up an afterthought. Fortunately the Rapids picked him up for a 4th round pick and began to try and build him up to his former glory, and for the most part it worked. Wallace was the starting left back for the MLS Cup Champion Rapids in 2010 after growing into his role well as the season rumbled along, showing flashes of brilliance at his position and slowly but surely learning how to be an attacking fullback as well.
2011 came along and even as the Rapids started to falter to injuries, Anthony Wallace stopped getting played even while healthy. We're still not sure why Wallace ended up in Gary Smith's doghouse, but it seemed to be the second time that it had happened in his young career. (#FREEWALLY!) Another dead end for the kid hit its peak when he finally got injured for good against the Columbus Crew.
2012 is probably the last chance for Wallace to finally hit his peak. It's with a guy he's been coached by before and a guy who knows how to deal with youth players - remember that Wallace is only 22! - so if there's any time that Wally will become the future USMNT left back we've been hoping for, it's the present. Even if he doesn't, there's hardly any way that his game can get worse from 2011, is there?