The majority of the players on the Colorado Rapids that we expected to be gone by 2013 are already gone: the eight original released players that included Scott Palguta and Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and Hunter Freeman are all out of the picture going into next season. If there's one player left on the list that we wouldn't be surprised not to see next year, it's Jeff Larentowicz.
Larentowicz has proven himself to be a good asset in Major League Soccer. His first few years with the New England Revolution were pretty good, and then he moved to Colorado and became really good sitting next to Pablo Mastroeni from 2010-2011. His solid play those two years earned him plenty of accolades around the league, All-Star appearances and caps with the US Men's National Team.
What happened in 2012 was a bit of a disappointment, of course. He was thrust into a position that he wasn't used to. Jeff was always good at passing the ball, but in Oscar Pareja's 4-3-3 he was forced into a sort of 'Anchor Man' spot that saw him making twice as many passes as before, while still needing to put all of his efforts into helping defend. With the defense often crumbling down around him last year, he looked a bit lost. His foul count went up, his successful passing rate went down and it was just disappointing all around for the ginger ninja.
To make matters worse, Hendry Thomas was picked up by Colorado near the end of the season and immediately started putting in absolutely class performances in the same position. Hendry then got a big contract, and he won't be going anywhere for a while. With Pablo Mastroeni coming back and Shane O'Neill knocking on the door as well, there might be too much depth at the position for Larentowicz to crack his way back into the starting XI.
Through all that, the question was, did his stock take a hit? I would argue that it shouldn't have. Larentowicz wasn't the only player to suffer from the big changes that Pareja implemented. Losing Pablo Mastroeni hurt what was already a tough transition, as it left him really the only defensive-minded player that wasn't actually a defender. He was never really meant to be an anchor man, and it showed.
Fortunately, most teams in the league don't play the same type of 4-3-3 that Pareja was going for. That means there are probably 10-12 teams in the league -- teams that play a 4-4-2 or some other formation that keeps their holding midfielders in the center of the field rather than the back -- who could probably do well with him in their Starting XI. Great defensive midfielders are hard to come by in MLS, and Larentowicz has had enough great years to prove that he's worth it. (Not a one year wonder like Omar Cummings was, for instance.)
Chris Bianchi, who probably has the most knowledge of anyone related to the club who isn't actually part of the club, has put out some varied reports on twitter about the trade situation.
My take: #Rapids would only trade Larentowicz in right deal. Not actively looking to move him.— Chris Bianchi (@Rapids_News) January 5, 2013
What's the right deal? That is the question.
Jeff Larentowicz was originally acquired, along with Wells Thompson, from the New England Revolution for two players. We'll ignore for the moment that those two players were absolutely terrible and the Revs got fleeced, and just say that in 2010, he was probably worth a straight player-for-player swap. At this point, his stock has risen a bit beyond where it was three years ago.
If I were to wager a guess as to what the Rapids are looking to acquire in a trade for Larentowicz, I would guess they would want a player and a draft pick -- the draft pick being the important part since the team has made it very clear that they want to build from the draft if possible. What teams have players that the Rapids need as well as high draft picks? Plenty of them.
We've talked before about how FC Dallas are always a possible trade target for Colorado, and could be in need of a Daniel Hernandez replacement. Vancouver has two picks in the Top 10 and for a player like Larentowicz, could let one of them go along with a player like, I don't know, Jordan Harvey or something. A possibility that could be really intriguing is seeing if Toronto FC would be up for a straight player-for-pick swap with their No. 3 overall selection, since they have two of the top three picks in the draft and are hurting very bad when it comes to experienced defensive-minded players. Larentowicz would certainly fit that bill.
Despite his bad 2012 season, I would be surprised if the Rapids asking price for the Ginger Ninja was any less than a Top 12 pick or so and a player who could at least make the Starting 18 every week. Then again, that asking price might be what keeps Larentowicz from leaving Colorado any time soon -- the team has already said that they really enjoy having so much depth at that anchor man spot.