The Colorado Rapids finished what they started last year this off-season, blowing up the team and replacing the old guard with a flood of youth and depth. Should there be optimism at DSGP for this year, or is this a team for 2014 and beyond?
2012 record: 11-19-4
Optimistic prediction: Colorado will not only make the playoffs on the back of a superb attack, but they will win a playoff game as well before bowing out.
Pessimistic prediction: Colorado will end up second or third to last in the Western Conference after a few injuries to the defense and another season of discombobulated offense leaves the team high and dry again.
To say that the Rapids made some adjustments in the off-season would be the understatement of the century. Seemingly the second the season ended, nine players had already been released. That was only the start of the insanity that was this off-season. The team that Gary Smith took to the 2010 MLS Cup is all but destroyed now, replaced by a team that looks like it's going to be incredibly fearsome... some time around 2015.
Oscar Pareja has started something of a 'Youth Revolution' in Colorado, with the majority of the players on the team now around or under the age of 24. Gone are Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and Luis Zapata. The only move the team seemed to have made all off-season that involved someone over 30 was to pick up Edson Buddle to shore up the center forward position.
One big change that seems to have come out of last year is Oscar Pareja's willingness to make a bit of a switch to his preferred 4-3-3 formation: before, he worked with two attacking midfielders making something of a pentagon with the outside strikers and center forward. Now, he is working with more of a spine to it -- an anchor man in the back, a linking player roaming the center and the No. 10 type in the front. It's going to be interesting how that, combined with the players getting more license to roam the field and change the shape, will work out with the young, attack-minded team that has been assembled. It certainly will fit much better with the flowing football that Pareja is looking to squeeze out of his squad.
If there is going to be optimism, it's because of this: the team this season is chock full of players who know the system, something that troubled the team last year, and full of depth to the point where no player going down injured will be an 'oh, shit' moment for us any more. (Going into the first game against FC Dallas, we'll be missing both our goal and our assist leader from last season, but this time around we have the guys to step in and try to keep things moving.)
This is a team that is either going to succeed fairly well -- well enough to get a playoff spot, at least -- or is going to crash and burn as the youthful core fails to adapt as the season goes along. As I said up there, this strikes me as a team that is going to be fabulous in 2014 once everything has finally fallen into place. That makes the current, upcoming season all the more intriguing. Is there room for optimism in the Mile High City? I honestly can't say.